The Making of Mind. A R Luria
So I shall never waste my life-span in a vain useless hope, seeking what cannot
be, a flawless man among us all who feed on the fruits of the broad earth.
But I praise and love every man who does nothing base from free will. Against
necessity, even gods do not fight.
LURIA'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY, as well as my introduction to it, were written in accord with Alexander Romanovich's philosophy that people are transitory, that only their ideas and actions are of enduring interest. In an important sense he was right. But as applied to the story of his own scientific life, this depersonalized view of ideas belies the substance of his theory of psychology as well as his view of the importance of social circumstances in shaping individual human achievements.
When my wife Sheila and I first read the manuscript that served as the foundation of this autobiography, we were forcefully struck by the omission of all personal information. The march of ideas and experiments are presented in a vacuum. In a series of exchanges by letter and in the course of several discussions that I held with Alexander Romanovich in the year prior to his death in 1977, I attempted to extract some details of the social and personal context of his work. This effort met with slight success. He manifested as little interest in his personal history as his autobiography suggests. But my curiosity would not permit me to let matters rest.
To find out about Alexander Romanovich's career, I had to ask others. I learned a great deal from conversations with Lana Pimenovna Luria, his wife of forty years, with former students, and with colleagues. During my last visit to Moscow before Alexander Romanovich's death I also asked him to arrange a gathering of the small band of psychologists who had labored in the 1920s with him and Lev Vygotsky to construct a new, Soviet psychology. It was my hope that their reminiscences would spark his memory. Miraculously, all were alive. Six arrived for tea. In the course of the discussion I heard old women recite poems they had composed fifty years earlier in honor of the group's struggles with their detractors. Alexander V. Zaporozhets, only slightly junior to Alexander Romanovich, smiled broadly as he recalled the energetic way that Alexander Romanovich had organized their work and how he had proudly presented them to Vygotsky at their oral exams. These people had not forgotten, nor did they want the world to forget, what they had done and how they had struggled. I promised those people, Alexander Romanovich among them, that I would not forget, nor would I allow their efforts to be forgotten. I decided then to write this essay.
Because I lack training as an historian of science and society, and because only a limited amount of documentary material is available about both the life of Alexander Romanovich and Soviet psychology at the time, I cannot pretend to present a comprehensive account of his life and times to supplement the portrait provided by his autobiography. Excellent discussions of Soviet science are already available, particularly Loren Graham's Science and Philosopby in the Soviet Union. But very little of the personal flavor of what life and work were like for a Soviet psychologist comes through these scholarly treatises. To construct a picture of the precise conditions, the excitement, the fears, and the hopes that energized Alexander Romanovich's work through more than half a century of relentless hard work, I have supplemented this information with not only the limited documentary evidence but also details I cannot document, picked up in casual conversation.
In writing this essay, I could not escape the perspective and limitations of my own education and my own views concerning the quest for a more powerful and humane scientific psychology. Trained in the tradition of American learning theories of the 1950s, I arrived in Moscow in prepared to understand the work of a man whose scientific, political, and philosophical ideas constituted a coherent world view very different from any I had previously encountered. And although styles of American academic theory and research in psychology have changed considerably in the past twenty years, they still differ from Soviet research and theory in their limited range and pragmatic focus.
The gulf that separates Soviet scientists of Alexander Romanovich's generation from American psychologists of mine cannot be overcome by ignoring its existence. Rather, sympathetic study of our respective overall goals, the history of our ideas, and the structure of our theories must be carried out with the differences very much in mind. Once the dimensions and contour of our misunderstandings have been discerned, rational attempts at rapprochement can be considered. In the present embryonic state of such activity, however, the impossibility of a complete and objective account of the life and work of a Soviet psychologist by an American psychologist should be as apparent to the reader as it is to me.
Faced with these difficulties, I begin the account where it began for me, with my first visit to Moscow in 1962. In that fall Sheila and I, fresh from graduate school at Indiana University, arrived in Moscow where I was to engage in a year of postdoctoral research with Alexander Romanovich. He was at his dacha on the day of our arrival, but he thoughtfully sent a former student and colleague who spoke rather good English to help us find our way to the university. The following afternoon we went to the Lurias' for tea. Alexander Romanovich introduced us to Lana Pimenovna and ushered us into the sitting room, which doubled as his bedroom. In excellent English he asked if we spoke Russian. “A little,” I admitted. It was the last time we spoke together in English, although my skill in Russian never matched his in English.
In the course of the next hour we wrote a “scientific plan” which laid out my work for the year. Since I had arrived in Moscow with only the vague hope of learning about “semantic conditioning,” or the study of conditioned responses to word meaning, the idea of committing myself to a concrete plan on my first full day in Russia was appalling. It was also necessary. The plan might be modified, but it could not be ignored. It was my first lesson in doing things in the Soviet style. Only as I learned how written plans could be modified to fit on-going needs did I come to appreciate Alexander Romanovich's own unique style of work.
The scientific plan disposed of, Alexander Romanovich turned to Sheila. What, he inquired, were her plans? And what did we intend to do besides study? Sheila was uncertain of her future, although eventually she studied at Moscow University's journalism school and, thanks to Alexander Romanovich's intervention, wrote for an English language newspaper. But we were both certain that we wanted to learn as much as possible about Russian culture.
This declaration pleased Alexander Romanovich greatly. Complaining of a former foreign student who had done nothing but study, he forthwith wrote out a “cultural plan” that was every bit as detailed as the scientific plan. We soon learned that Alexander Romanovich was a devotee of Central Asian art, a connoisseur of the opera and theater, and one of the world's most omniverous consumers of detective novels. We left the Luria apartment filled with cake, tea, and a strong sense of having encountered a whirlwind.
This impression was only reinforced by further experience. On Monday I found my way to Alexander Romanovich's laboratory in the Institute of Neurosurgery. There was a guest speaker that day, the physiologist Nicholas Bernshtein. His topic, mathematical models in psychology, surprised me because I had been taught that Soviet psychologists rejected quantification. My surprise quickly turned to distress when Alexander Romanovich introduced me as a mathematical psychologist and asked me to speak on recent developments in the field in the United States. I doubt if my audience learned anything, but under such unremitting pressure my fluency in Russian improved rapidly.
In the following months Alexander Romanovich graciously arranged for me to do the kinds of conditioned reflex experiments I had come to learn about. Although I soon discovered that he had ceased using this technique a decade earlier, my experiments were made part of a general series of investigations that his colleague Evgenia Homskaya was conducting. I worked as conscientiously as I could, little realizing how uninteresting my labors were to my host.
From time to time Alexander Romanovich would take me on rounds as he visited patients awaiting surgery or recovering from a recent operation at the Institute of Neurosurgery. The enormous respect he evoked was transferred to me, a youthful foreigner in an ill-fitting white laboratory jacket. I understood nothing of the significance of his clinical examinations, although I found the tasks that he set for patients and their responses an interesting curiosity.
My overwhelming impression of Alexander Romanovich during that year was of a man in a hurry. His appetite for work exhausted me. Even his lunch breaks were more than I could keep up with. On occasions when we lunched together, he would walk rapidly from his laboratory to a small coffee-shop near the institute. Although he was sixty years old at the time and I was only twenty-four, I found it difficult to keep in step. At the coffee shop he would then order two rolls and two scorchingly hot cups of coffee, which we ate standing at the counter. At least I ate and drank. Alexander Romanovich seemed to inhale the scorching coffee while I blew timidly on the glass to cool it. Leaving me to deal with my tender palate, he loped back to the laboratory, where I could catch up with him when I was ready.
At irregular intervals during the year he talked a little about his past and about his mentor, Vygotsky. He gave me copies of Vygotsky's recently reprinted works, urging me to study them. On one occasion he took me into his study and sat me down at a large, glass-covered table, then went to a bulging cabinet and brought out some bulky folders tied with string. Opening one, he began to tell me about a trip he had made to Central Asia many years ago to conduct psychological experiments. The unusual, not to say bizarre, responses that he had obtained from peasants in these experiments amused me, but I attached little significance to them at the time.
Nor could I make much of Vygotsky. He had been Luria's teacher, and Luria made it clear that he considered him a genius. But both Vygotsky's prose and the style of his thought defeated my attempts to understand Luria's admiration for him. I had read Vygotsky's Thought and Language as a graduate student, but except for some observations on concept learning in children, which at the time I knew nothing about, I could see little in his work to generate enthusiasm. Still, I was polite. I read what I could and listened. Alexander Romanovich did not push the topic unduly. He knew that he could only plant seeds of understanding and hope they would germinate. He also knew that the more seeds he sowed, the more likely that one would grow. He waited a long time.
In the years that followed I maintained contact with Alexander Romanovich and visited him on several more occasions. He was anxious to arrange for publication in English of a two-volume compendium of Soviet psychological research, and I agreed to help. At about the same time that my co-editor, Irving Maltzman, and I completed work on this project, I became the editor of Soviet Psychology, a journal of translations. Over the years I thus had several opportunities to read the work of Alexander Romanovich and the many other Soviet psychologists who grew to maturity before or shortly after World War II. Consistent with the traditions of my graduate training, I continued to be interested in the Soviet research using Pavlovian conditioning techniques. On my initial visit to Moscow I learned of research on the conditioning of sensory thresholds, of internal organs (which suggested an important approach to understanding psychosomatic symptoms) and of early adaptive responses in newborn infants.
Other lines of research were also intriguing. I learned of Soviet studies with chimpanzees that threw new light on Wolfgang Kohler's classic studies of insight, of interesting attempts to link methods of programed instruction to theories of mental development, and of unusual demonstrations of the human capacity to learn sensory abilities such as perfect pitch. I even succeeded in applying a little of this information in my own work. For example, when happenstance led me to do research in West Africa, I remembered Alexander Romanovich's work in Central Asia and arranged to replicate some of his observations.
What impresses me in retrospect is how little I understood about the key concepts and concerns of those whose work I studied. Finding individual experiment interesting, I selected an idea here, a technique there. But the threads that bound the individual elements escaped me. I often found myself totally bored by work that absorbed Alexander Romanovich. For example, he urged on me the work of Alexander Zaporozhets on the development of voluntary movement in children or the studies of Lydia Bozhovich on motivation in young school children. Yet I could make nothing of such global, “soft” topics. Alexander Romanovich seemed to see their connection with his clinical work or his studies of language and thought in children using Pavlovian conditioning techniques. But I could not.
I experienced the same difficulty in trying to reconcile different stages of Alexander Romanovich's own career. What did the cross-cultural work have to do with his work in the Institute of Neurosurgery? Why was he no longer doing conditioning experiments? Why, in his book about S. V. Sherashevsky, the man with an unusual memory, did he spend so much time discussing his personality when his memory was at issue?
When I tried to discuss these issues with Alexander Romanovich, I got little help. He would answer with formulas. Phases of work done long ago were treated as youthful aberrations, almost as accidents of personal history. Mention of his work in Central Asia quickly drifted into anecdotes about the food, the difficulties of travel, or the errors of Gestalt psychologists. His very early work using the combined motor method was reduced to “some experiments which created the first lie detector.” Talk of Sherashevsky and his memory generated additional anecdotes. At the same time, Alexander Romanovich's steady pressure on me to read Vygotsky and Vygotsky's students continued. When I discovered some bygone tidbit of information, Alexander Romanovich would be pleased. But rarely did a small discovery unlock more than a little new information from the man within whom was held an entire history.
Then two projects began significantly to alter my understanding of the links between the many activities that had occupied Alexander Romanovich and his colleagues for so long. The first project was the publication in 1978 of selected essays of Vygotsky, which had not appeared previously in English. Alexander Romanovich had urged this undertaking on me almost from the beginning of our relationship. But as I did not understand Vygotsky well, I could see no point in it. Then, as part of a large publishing enterprise in which both old and new Soviet psychological monographs were to be published, I agreed in the early 1970s to see to it that two of Vygotsky's long essays would appear in English. The enterprise turned out to be an extremely difficult one, occupying the energies of three colleagues and myself over a period of several years. But it was crucial in allowing me to glimpse the vast terrain covered by Alexander Romanovich's view of psychology and society. In struggling to understand Vygotsky well enough to resolve our editorial group's different interpretations of his ideas, I slowly began to discern the enormous scope of his thinking. His goal had been no less than the total restructuring of psychological research and theory. This undertaking would never have occurred to me or, I suspect, to very many other psychologists of my generation as anything but a crackpot scheme. Yet Vygotsky was no crackpot, and his scheme was extremely interesting.
The second project was Alexander Romanovich's autobiography. It began as an outline for a documentary film about his work. But when he fell ill at the beginning of the project, he decided to turn the scenario into a full-blown intellectual autobiography. Having started in English because the film makers were American, he continued in English, and a rough manuscript emerged. Sheila and I began to edit the manuscript at the same time as I was working on the Vygotsky manuscript. The confluence of the two tasks was instrumental in helping me understand Alexander Romanovich's career.
Alexander Romanovich often spoke of his work as merely continuation of Vygotsky's. Although there were important similarities between their two approaches, the autobiography made it immediately apparent that the topics of concern to Alexander Romanovich at the beginning of his career differed from those to which he turned after meeting Vygotsky. To understand how Alexander Romanovich's career and thought developed, I had to go back to the books and ideas that stirred him when he was still a university student in Kazan. Many of the names were unfamiliar to me: Windelband, Rickert, Dilthey. Others I had heard about, or even read, but always from a different perspective: psychologists such as William james, Franz Brentano, and Kurt Lewin; writers and social thinkers such as Alexander Herzen, Nikolat Cherneshevsky, and Leo Tolstoy. I read, or reread, the work of these people, trying to imagine myself into Alexander Romanovich's mind as he pondered the social and political problems of his day.
Then I turned to the writings of Alexander Romanovich himself, beginning with the little monograph on psychoanalysis that he had published himself in 1922 just before leaving Kazan. I searched American libraries for long-forgotten articles of the 1920s and 1930s. Alexander Romanovich was a tenacious collector of his own writings. After I had learned enough to question him about a particular article, a copy, or the copy of a copy would materialize in his study. Those early works, most of them published in limited editions or in small circulation journals, are now difficult to obtain, even in the Soviet Union.
I also read all of his writings available in English, beginning with the brief abstract describing his work in the Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Psychology held in New Haven in 1929. When I correlated the content and style of his writings with the general political and social controversies of the day, the otherwise disjointed, zigzag course of Alexander Romanovich's career began to make sense. His interest in psychoanalysis no longer appeared a curious anomoly in an otherwise single-minded career. His strong attraction to Vygotsky, his cross-cultural work in Central Asia, the Pavlovian style of his writings in the 1940s and early 1950s, and his apparent shifts of topic at frequent intervals, all took on the quality of an intricate piece of music with a few central motifs and a variety of secondary themes.
It is not known when the Luria family moved to Kazan, a major commercial center on the Volga southeast of Moscow. But Luria is a very old family name, which was associated in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with Jewish scholarship.
In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the Jews of Russia led lives that were as stringently regulated by the state as the tsarist government could manage. Travel, education, and work were all restricted. The severity of the restrictions varied with where one lived and how much money one had to evade them. These constraints affected the Luria family's educational and professional opportunities. When Alexander Romanovich's father, Roman Albertovich, was a young man, only 5 percent of the students in the University of Kazan were permitted to be Jewish. Those who failed to qualify in this tiny quota and who had the financial resources went abroad to Germany to study. It was a matter of family pride that Roman Albertovich had qualified and had completed medical school in Kazan.
But academic distinction did not guarantee work upon graduation. Roman Albertovich, after being invited to join the faculties of medicine in Kazan and St. Petersburg, was denied employment in both cases because he was a Jew. For a time he practiced medicine privately in the countryside near Kazan. Then he returned to the city to open a private office. Practice was difficult, because hospitals and clinics were closed to him.
While internal opportunities were restricted, travel abroad was not, so Roman Albertovich spent several summers in Germany, where he continued to study medicine. Whether or not Alexander Romanovich ever traveled to Germany with his father is not known, but German was the second language of the household, and Alexander Romanovich mastered it at an early age. By his own account nineteenth-century German political, social, and scientific ideas were very important in shaping his intellectual life prior to the Revolution.
Equally important to his intellectual development were the Russian intellectuals who wrote about the serious problems in tsarist Russia and who proposed solutions of varying degrees of radicalism. As a youth, Alexander Romanovich considered himself a follower of Tolstoy, whose works on social injustice in Russia had wide appeal at the turn of the century. In many of his writings, especially War and Peace, Tolstoy struggled to reconcile two conflicting approaches to history and the role of individual human effort in producing social change. One approach, popular among such intellectuals as Herzen, Cherneshevsky, and Marx, was to assume that history can be studied as a science in which general laws can be abstracted from the flux of small events and accidents that make up daily life. However attractive this idea, Tolstoy repeatedly chose the opposite notion that historical events can be understood only in terms of the complex interplay of individual decisions and human effort. Abstract notions such as “power” or “historical necessity” by their very nature obscure the reality they purport to describe. Tolstoy's efforts to reconcile these conflicting approaches came to naught with the Revolution, which swept aside his exhortations to reform. But the basic contradictions remained, because they were not the creatures of his imagination alone. In a different form, they were exactly the problems Alexander Romanovich found in the conflict between Dilthey and Wundt, between the “nomothetic” and the “idiographic” views of psychology. These paradoxes, the province of no one social science discipline, were the common uncertainty of all.
Against this background, the liberating effect of the Revolution on the Luria family was profound. Instead of having to struggle for years in a gymnasium in the hope of securing a place in the university, without any certainty that places would even be open, Alexander Romanovich was able to race through his education, molding it to his own expansive intellectual ambitions. Meanwhile his father, so long excluded from Russian professional life, was provided an outlet for his talents. First he was offered a position at the University of Kazan, where he helped to create a new postgraduate medical school program. From there he went to Moscow, where he became a leading organizer of medical education throughout the USSR.
By all reports, Roman Albertovich was a man of strong opinions who took an active interest in his son's career. The younger Luria, in search of direct links between his utopian socialist ideals and his professional life, entered the social science department at the University of Kazan. His father never approved of his choice of careers, wanting him to go into medicine instead. Their disagreement was long a matter of tension between them. Perhaps it was to placate his father that Alexander Romanovich maintained a connection with medical schools and medical psychology throughout the twenty-year period between his entrance to the university and his full-time commitment to medicine following the death of Vygotsky in 1934. But whatever their disagreements about career, father and son shared an interest in German medical science, particularly psychosomatic medicine. One of Alexander Romanovich's last accomplishments was to oversee the reissue in 1977 of a small monograph on psychosomatic medicine that his father had written decades earlier.
In the chaos that immediately followed the Revolution Alexander Romanovich simultaneously held down a research position in one institution, did graduate work in another, attended medical school part-time, and ran tests of therapy on mentally ill patients. He also started a journal, organized a commune for wayward adolescents, directed a psychoanalytic discussion group, and published his own study of psychoanalysis. The contrast between these diverse activities and the limited possibilities for professional fulfillment that existed before the Revolution reveals the fundamental source of Alexander Romanovich's strong identification with the Revolution and the party which organized it. An activist down to his toes, he was set free by the Revolution. It gave him life. In return, he applied all of his energy to realizing the hopes and ideals that had been liberated in October 1917.
The situation that greeted Alexander Romanovich in Moscow was a challenge. Kornilov, who had succeeded in removing the prerevolutionary director of the Institute of Psychology in 1923, seemed to have a free hand in molding a Marxist, Soviet psychology. The similarity between Kornilov's and Luria's uses of the reaction time experiment gave them reason to think that they were at the beginning of a fruitful collaborative relationship.
Once in Moscow, Alexander Romanovich took up his research where he had left off in Kazan. The work proceeded on two fronts. First, he initiated a major series of experiments designed to perfect the combined motor method for diagnosing the way in which emotions organize, and disorganize, voluntary behavior. His audaciousness in this enterprise was astounding in light of the present-day atmosphere surrounding psychological experimentation. Nowhere is there an account of how the twenty-one year old Luria and his equally youthful companion Alexey Leontiev managed to get permission to pull students out of the line where they were awaiting interrogation by university authorities. Perhaps they managed the feat informally. Even more puzzling is how they convinced the criminal prosecutor to allow them to interrogate murder suspects.
An irony in this work was their naive good faith in the benign outcome of the research. When Horsely Gaunt translated Alexander Romanovich's The Nature of Human Conflicts, he referred to the authorities' interrogation of Moscow University students as a “cleansing.” Not until the 1930s did the procedure in question come to be known as a purge. The shadow of that word was very dim as Alexander Romanovich set out to do his work. Instead, before him loomed the notion of a unified science of man in which the distinction between laboratory and everyday life was rendered irrelevant.
To create such a science, he needed to develop its theoretical underpinnings in addition to developing experimental techniques. Alexander Romanovich saw in an experimental version of psychoanalysis the promise of an approach which would bridge the experimental, objective, but arid, research growing out of German structural psychology and the humanistic descriptive psychology of Dilthey. But what this formulation left out, and what conditions in Moscow now demanded, was a way of linking psychological and sociohistorical theory as embodied in the writings of Marx and Engels. Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of a psychological theory, its eventual acceptance depended heavily on questions of methodology. In Soviet parlance, “methodology” referred to the assumptions and logic of the overall approach to the subject. No psychological theory that failed to take Marxism as a starting point could succeed.
In the winter of 1924 in an article entitled “Psychoanalysis as a Theory of Monistic Psychology,” Alexander Romanovich made his first contribution to the debate on how to create a properly Marxist psychology. Psychoanalysis and Marxism, he argued, share four important suppositions. First, they both hold that the world is a single system of material processes of which human life, and psychological processes in particular, are only one manifestation. Second, they both hold that the philosophical and scientific principles that apply to the material world apply to man as well. As Alexander Romanovich phrased it, both psychoanalysis and dialectical materialism require one “to study objectively ... the true relations among perceivable events; and this means to study them not abstractly, but just as they are in reality.” Both approaches also require that events be studied “in such a way that the knowledge we acquire will help us later to exert an active influence on them.” And finally, both approaches require that events be studied dynamically in the process of changing: the interacting influences of man on his environment and the environment on man must always be kept in view” (Luria, 1925, pp. 8-10).
In the same article Alexander Romanovich defined the major shortcoming of psychoanalytic study as its failure to consider the influence of the social environment in shaping individual psychological processes. Although he promised to take up this topic again, the promise went unfulfilled for two major reasons. First, in 1924 he met Vygotsky, who had a far broader view of psychology as a social and natural science than Alexander Romanovich had yet imagined. Second, in the Soviet Union psychoanalytic ideas were increasingly considered anti-Marxist.
American scientists have long held the stereotype that articles by Soviet psychologists begin with an obligatory bow to Marx, Engels, and perhaps Pavlov, then go on to the real substance of the topic. The implication is that such philosophical framing is irrelevant to the scientist's work. There have been periods in the history of the Soviet Union when this was indeed the case. Alexander Romanovich was himself by no means immune to pressures to make his views conform to political and philosophical requirements, the distinction between political policy and philosophy being one that is not always easy to maintain in Soviet science. However, it would be a mistake to interpret the inclusion of Marxism in Soviet psychology in the 1920s as the reflection of political pressure. Quite the opposite spirit seems to have motivated those who engaged in the many-sided debate over the future direction of Soviet psychology. There was uncertainty, and there was sharp disagreement; but there was also enthusiasm and optimism.
In psychology, the initial discussions of Marxism in the 1920s were characterized by what I call a “conjunctive” approach. Each scholar – including Chelpanov, whose Wundtian orientation made him an unlikely candidate – explained how his brand of psychology was consistent with Marxist principles, and here I include Alexander Romanovich. Points of contact were noted between Marxism and the psychological theory, be it Kornilov's reactology, Bekhterev's reflexology, or Luria's psychoanalysis, and their interdependence was argued. But all the discussions had an ad hoc quality, for it was unclear whether the wedding of a particular psychological theory and Marxism would generate new kinds of research, let along form the basis for a wholly new approach to psychology. It was in precisely this respect that Vygotsky's approach to psychology and Marxism was distinctive. He held that a new kind of psychology could be derived from Marxist principles.
The volume Psychology and Marxism, edited by Kornilov in 1925, reveals the difference between Alexander Romanovich's and Vygotsky's approaches at the time. Luria's Marxism was based on the peripheral Marxist writings with obvious psychological implications, such as Marx's Theses on Feuerbach or Engels' Anti-Dühring. Vygotsky began with Das Kapital. When Engels' Dialectics of Nature appeared in 1925, Vygotsky immediately incorporated it into his thinking. Whatever other shortcomings Vygotsky's thinking may have had, opportunistic parroting of Marxism was not one of them. As he remarked: “I don't want to discover the nature of mind by patching together a lot of quotations. I want to find how science has to be built, to approach the study of mind having learned the whole of Marx's method” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 8).
Despite initial differences of emphasis, Alexander Romanovich was attracted to Vygotsky in part because he possessed a more comprehensive view of the relation between Marxism and psychology. Vygotsky's approach pointed the way to an all-inclusive study of man in nature and in society, which subsumed Alexander Romanovich's previous work. Although he had always been concerned with the larger social forces that organize individual psychological processes, Alexander Romanovich had only succeeded in developing techniques for the study of individual motivations and actions. In his modifications of psychoanalytic method through the use of the combined motor method he may have provided one means of bridging laboratory precision and clinical complexity. But society was conspicuously missing from his work. He acknowledged this shortcoming when he promised to explore the applications of psychoanalytic theory to problems of social determinism. Vygotsky's approach, which gave him such an analysis as a derivation from Marxism, was a gift not to be overlooked.
Alexander Romanovich, Vygotsky, and Leontiev began meeting regularly in the mid-1920s to work out the new Soviet psychology. Their program proceeded simultaneously on several fronts. At the level of theory they reviewed major developments over the preceding fifty years of psychology, sociology, and biological theory. Vygotsky and Luria read German, French, and English. Leontiev read only French, which became his specialty among the group. What they read they also wrote about. Both Luria and Vygotsky were prolific writers. They published many articles summarizing important lines of foreign work in the late 1920s and early 1930s. They also promoted the translation of books, for which they wrote prefaces interpreting foreign ideas. In addition to analyzing western European and American authors, they studied the major pre- and post-revolutionary Russian social and biological thinkers. Both the linguist A.A. Potebnya and the biologist V.A. Vagner influenced Vygotsky and, through him, Alexander Romanovich who referred to Potebnya's work in his last book on language and the brain. In the 1920s no Soviet psychologist could ignore Pavlov, though he was by no means accorded the role of supreme arbiter of Soviet psychology that he would acquire in the 1950s. Rather the “troika” – as Vygotsky, Luria, and Leontiev regarded themselves – accorded Pavlov a restricted role in psychological theory and had the temerity to question the generality of his physiological theory as it applied to integrated behavior. This critical attitude came through clearly in The Nature of Human Conflicts, where Alexander Romanovich rejected the “telephone switchboard” analogy of the brain, which he identified with Pavlov, opting instead for a “systems” approach which he identified with the Karl Lashley. At the same time, Pavlov's contribution to a physiological theory of mind was acknowledged, and his experimental studies of conflict and neurosis were important to Alexander Romanovich's thinking.
Initially the troika, located as they were in the Institute of Psychology, borrowed ideas from Kornilov's reactology. But that narrow framework could not contain them. As their ideas branched out, so did they. In 1927-1928, while continuing to hold positions in Kornilov's institute, the troika became associated with the psychology laboratory at the Institute of Communist Education, and Vygotsky began to put together the Institute of Defectology, where the development of anomalous children was studied.
In addition to surveying and criticizing existing schools of psychology, the troika began to train students in their own style of thinking and research. Forced to the conclusion that their new theory required new methods, they used a small but enthusiastic group of students to try out their ideas. They were joined by the “pyatorka,” or group of five, including L.I. Bozhovich, R.E. Levina, N.G. Morozova, L.S. Slavina, and Alexander Zaporozhets. These students, several of whom would become prominent in Soviet psychology following World War II, conducted their work directly under Luria's guidance. As they later related to me, Luria, Vygotsky, and Leontiev would meet to discuss a set of issues and speculate on how to create experimental models of them. Alexander Romanovich would interpret the discussion for the students, who in turn conducted pilot studies. In the main this work was aimed at constructing concrete models of the idea that adult thought is mediated by culturally elaborated “instruments of thought.” Vygotsky's experiments on the idea that language is the major adult means of mediating thought produced the best-known results of the period, first reported fully in his introduction to Piaget's Language and Thought of the Child. An entire year was also spent studying children's growing ability to represent thought in schematic pictures. Luria himself conducted studies of protowriting activities, showing how very young children come to understand the mediated nature of remembering by using marks on paper long before they learn the formal written code for spoken language.
Although centered in psychology, Alexander Romanovich's curiosity about human nature was virtually boundless. He and Vygotsky, for example, met regularly with Sergei Eisenstein to discuss ways in which the abstract ideas that formed the core of historical materialism could be embodied in visual images projected upon the movie screen. By happenstance Zaporozhets, who had been an actor in the Ukraine before going to Moscow and had been recommended to Sergei Eisenstein, eventually ended up a psychologist. At the end of the 1920s he played the role of psychology's “ear” in the world of film, attending Eisenstein's discussions, which he reported to Vygotsky and Luria. Eisenstein enlisted his psychologist friends' help in solving not only the difficult problem of translation between verbal and visual concepts but also the empirical problem of assessing success. With their aid he constructed questionaires for audiences composed variously of students, workers, and peasants, to determine if they had understood his images as he intended. It is a measure of the breadth of his interests that, for Alexander Romanovich, the relation between modes of representing ideas and modes of thought was no less important in the cinema than in the laboratory.
During the last half of the 1920s Alexander Romanovich continued to study adults by elaborating on the applicability of the combined motor method as a technique for probing the workings of complex behavior. But more and more of his energies went into tracing the rise of organized behavior in the history of the individual and human history. Simultaneously he began to explore the dissolution of behavior under conditions of trauma and disease. Through it all, he increasingly had to defend his work against charges that he borrowed uncritically from non-Soviet sources.
Little of Luria's thought during this period is available in English. Read in the proper way, The Nature of Human Conflicts, spanning the period 1924-1930, is a unique source of information; but read in isolation from his 1925 article on psychoanalysis or the early articles influenced by Vygotsky, this book seems opaque because of its many theoretical positions. Three articles, one each by Vygotsky, Leontiev, and Luria, which were submitted to the American Journal of Genetic Psychology in 1928, contain formulations of their theorizing at that early date, along with descriptions of experimental procedures.
Particularly important in the light of later controversies was the fact that they saw a significant relation between the cognitive development of the child, which they referred to as the cultural development of the child, and the evolution of human culture. The same notion can be found in The Nature of Human Conflicts where Luria approvingly cites the custom of drumming as an accompaniment to farm work in primitive groups to show how people at an earlier stage of culture rely on an external mediator to maintain their attention in a manner analogous to the way adults in “civilized” societies maintain the attention of young children. This analogue between cultural evolution and individual development was very much a part of early twentieth-century developmental psychology. It was explicit in the writings of Lucien Levy-Bruhl, who influenced Piaget and the German developmental psychologist Heinz Werner, both of whom were known to Luria in the mid-1920s. It was also compatible with the general idea, which the troika had been pursuing, that development is characterized by the evolution of ever more complex forms of mediated behavior. Further explorations of the developmental analogy were made in Studies in the History of Behavior by Vygotsky and Luria, published in 1930. The dangers of a strong interpretation of the developmental analogy were made very clear by one reviewer:
“These authors consider a primitive still not a human being ... Cannibals, Indians, etc., are not primitives from our point of view, but people whose culture is not a reflection of biological capacities (as Vygotsky and Luria assert) but the result of specific means of production” (Frankel, 1930).
Frankel went on to the mistaken claim that the sociohistorical theory implied that once a child had passed the chimpanzee-like stage, he or she progressed to the stage of primitive man, whose illiteracy and “weak” memory were the reflection of biologically determined capacities.
Other lines of research into which Luria was led in the last half of the 1920s were natural extensions of ideas being developed as part of the sociohistorical approach to the study of psychological processes. Developmental studies, whether of individual children or of entire cultural groups, were only one aspect of the general conception. Just as important were studies of the dissolution of psychological processes, since disease and trauma undo what evolution and cultural experience have helped to construct. Here Alexander Romanovich's family tradition atuned him especially to the theoretical possibilities of problems that might otherwise have been considered purely medical.
One of his earliest statements on the possibility of a fruitful interplay between psychology and medicine appeared in 1929 in the article “Psychology and the Clinic.” In it he reviewed contemporary psychology, including not only Pavlov's work on experimental neuroses and his own work on the combined motor method, but also such western European work as Jung, Freud, and Adler's on psychogenic disorders, Binet's on differential psychology, and Piaget's on the development of thought. One of his central messages was the possibility of using clinical methods to conduct scientific research on human behavior. Thus, while doubtful about the therapeutic claims of the psychotherapists or about the basis for alternative personality theories, he saw in their attacks on the classical laboratory methods a common, healthy movement toward a psychology that would be both scientific and relevant to medical practice: “Little by little the abstract and statistical psychology of Wundt has been reborn in a fundamental way; it has approached the concrete tasks of life and willingly or not it has begun to overcome the mechanistic nature of previous natural sciences. With the new content have come new principles and a new method” (Luria, 1929, p. 51).
The troika's attack on problems of the dissolution of behavior proceeded on several fronts. Leontiev carried out studies with mentally retarded subjects, first using the combined motor method and later the mediated memory task, which was one of the first standard experimental techniques devised by the sociohistorical school. Vygotsky had a long-standing interest in the retarded from his early days as a schoolteacher. Working with his collaborator L.S. Sakharov, he developed a concept formation task which he used in studies of both mentally retarded and schizophrenic subjects.
At some point in these investigations, Alexander Romanovich obtained a copy of Henry Head's classic description of thought disorders associated with aphasia. Not only the general phenomena but his very terminology seemed to match perfectly Vygotsky's notion that thought is crucially mediated by language, so that if language is lost, thought should regress to a “prelanguage, unmediated” state. According to Head, in aphasics the direct perception of the likeness of two figures is “complicated by failure to record their similarity by means of a name,” whereas in normal persons “the power of recording likeness and difference by means of a symbol enormously extends the power of conceptual thinking and underlies all scientific classification” (Head, 1926, p. 525). The great potential which brain disorders held for their approach to the study of the mind induced both Luria and Vygotsky to enter medical school, adding clinical studies to their already full schedules.
The period 1925-1930 was one of incredible enthusiasm and excitement. All of the participants in the nascent psychological movement felt themselves part of a vanguard. Far from experiencing resistance, the most prevalent response they reported was indifference. Perhaps the major exception was the response to psychoanalysis. During this period, articles critical of Freudian theory appeared in both theoretical journals and Pravda. This criticism came from Luria's friends and colleagues, including Sapir, as well as from his antagonists. As a result, in 1927 Alexander Romanovich resigned from his position as Secretary of the Soviet Psychoanalytic Society.
Despite this pressure, Alexander Romanovich, who had plenty of reason to join in the renunciation of Freudian theory as a result of his own theoretical work, failed to engage in denunciations. Instead, he confined his references to psychoanalytic research to purely methodological and empirical points. For example, his development of the combined motor method, which dominates The Nature of Human Conflicts, was conceived as a kind of neo-Freudian experimental reconciliation of experimental-explanatory and clinical-descriptive approaches to the study of mind and emotion. Although Freud and Jung are barely mentioned in the monograph, this fact is not an egregious slight but rather, considering the pressure to expunge them altogether, a stubborn insistence that the historical record not be completely obliterated.
The same characteristic of Alexander Romanovich's writing was in evidence a decade later when he contributed an article on psychoanalysis to Volume 47 of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. In a more or less straightforward description of the major concepts and history of psychoanalysis, he asserts that the psychoanalytic method for studying unconscious drives is a central contribution. His major criticism of psychoanalysis as a general system is that it errs in giving too much weight to biological drives in the determination of behavior, underplaying the significance of historically evolved cultural factors. These ideas, which were apparent in his thinking as early as 1925, were fully consistent with the viewpoint he had developed in conjunction with Vygotsky.
Around 1930, public attention veered suddenly to the field of psychology, including the hitherto unnoticed Vygotskian school. As a result, constraints were placed on much of the work in progress. In discussions held by educational and scientific research organizations throughout the country, all existing schools of psychology and their participant members came under scrutiny. Psychological research was assessed in terms of its contribution to scientific-Marxist goals.
The attitude of Alexander Romanovich and his colleagues toward this controversy is unclear. In the beginning they may have viewed it as little more than a continuation of a debate over the course of Soviet science that had lasted throughout all of their careers. Certainly they did not back away from the positions they had adopted, although there is evidence that they were not insensitive to what they viewed as serious criticism. In response to the situation, Vygotsky continued to refine his understanding of developmental abnormalities and methods to deal with them, at the same time that his basic treatment of mediated behavior, especially his view of the relation between signs and meaning, underwent important change. For his part Alexander Romanovich continued in his role as data gatherer, embarking on two projects designed to test, for almost the first time, the implications of the cultural-historical theory. These were the expeditions to Central Asia and the massive study of the roles of culture and heredity in shaping mental development in twins.
Perhaps the clearest institutional response to the varied pressures was the group's effort to found their own department of psychology in 1930. Failing to find an institution in Moscow that would accept the entire group and allow them to set up a curriculum and research program, they accepted an invitation from the Psychoneurological Institute at Kharkov University to form a new department of psychology under its auspices. Luria, Leontiev, Vygotsky, Zaporozhets, and Bozhovich all moved to Kharkhov. But the group did not stay together for long. Soon Alexander Romanovich was back in Moscow, where he carried out a variety of developmental studies. Vygotsky traveled regularly between Kharkhov, Moscow, and Leningrad until his death from tuberculosis in 1934. Only Leontiev, Zaporozhets, and Bozhovich remained, forming a distinctive school of psychology. In time distinguished new figures such as P.I. Zinchenko and P. Y. Calperin were added to its ranks. But the dream of a unified department was never realized.
In the spring of 1931 Alexander Romanovich and a number of staff members from the Institute of Psychology in Moscow traveled to Samarkand where they held a two-month seminar with members of the Uzbek Research Institute to design an expedition into remote areas of Uzbekistan. The purpose of the expedition, as explained in an article in the American journal Science upon completion of the first trip in the summer of 1931, was “to investigate the variations in thought and other psychological processes of people living in a very primitive economic and social environment, and to record those changes which develop as a result of the introduction of higher and more complex forms of economic life and the raising of the general cultural level.” A great variety of topics were investigated, including several forms of cognitive activity, the perception of printed material, personality formation, and self-analysis. A similar expedition was planned for the following summer, “to continue the same work. It will have an international character, as it is planned to invite foreign psychologists to participate” (Luria, 1931, pp. 383-384). When the second expedition set out, the Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka was a member. Although Koffka became seriously ill shortly after arriving in Central Asia and had to return home, Alexander Romanovich and his colleagues completed the second summer of experimentation. This work, begun with such high hopes and high ideals, led to consequences that were far more dangerous and complex than anyone at the time anticipated.
Alexander Romanovich's enthusiasm for the research was enormous. He and Vygotsky were particularly anxious to show that Gestalt perceptual principles were the result not of enduring characteristics of the brain but of ways of perceiving intimately bound up with culturally transmitted meanings of objects. One of their first experiments demonstrated the virtual absence of classical visual illusions, which caused Alexander Romanovich to wire excitedly to his friend and teacher Vygotsky: “The Uzbekhs have no illusions!” The relish with which he anticipated reporting these findings to his German colleagues is easy to imagine.
Unfortunately, Alexander Romanovich's work proved problematic. The central issue of debate in 1932-1933, as foreshadowed in Frankel's reactions to Studies in the History of Behavior, concerned his concept of culture and the nature of the link between culture and individual development. In Alexander Romanovich's description of his expeditions and in all of his other writings at this time, his use of the term ‘culture’ derived from a tradition of European, especially German, thought in the nineteenth century. Culture in the tradition of the German Romantics was associated with the progressive accumulation of the best characteristics of mankind in science, art, and technology, all those accomplishments that reflected mankind's increasing control over nature and his freedom from domination by reflex, instinct, and blind custom. This sense of culture, which is still extant, orders human societies on an evolutionary scale. Those societies with writing systems and advanced technologies are considered more cultured or more advanced than societies without such tools. Since the cultural-historical school held that the development of the higher psychological processes proceeded according to the culturally organized means of intellectual activity, among which writing was considered primary, it followed that there would be qualitative differences between “cultured” and “uncultured” adults with respect to their higher psychological functions.
Depending upon just how cultural development was conceived and how cultural mechanisms were thought to become individual mechanisms of thought, this style of theorizing could be used to justify a number of conclusions about the mental and cultural status of Central Asian peasants in the period around 1930. Alexander Romanovich's work had a dual emphasis. Sometimes he stressed the fact that different cultural traditions led to qualitative differences in the kinds of higher psychological functions in people. But overall, his writings emphasized the “improved” status of people following the advent of literacy and modern technology.
For a combination of reasons, including negative value judgmerits that could be read into his work and loose identification of his research methods with mindless IQ-testing, Alexander Romanovich's studies met with strong, not to say vitriolic, disapproval when he began to report his results. Whatever the scientific justification for criticism of the cultural-historical theory, the mixing of scientific and political criticism in 1934 had far-reaching implications. For example, I could not find any report of the results of the Central Asian expeditions prior to the late 1960s, save in an abstract in the Journal of Genetic Psychology.
Understanding little of this background but knowing of the existence of Alexander Romanovich's Central Asian data, I began to discuss it with him in the summer of 1966. At that time I had conducted some cross-cultural cognitive experiments in Liberia and was interested in seeing if the phenomena he reported could be replicated there. For an hour a day over the course of two months we worked our way through his meticulous notes. Seeing the volume of data he had collected and realizing that they would disappear forever if he did not organize and report them, I urged him to publish a monograph about that long-ago research. He was very reluctant to discuss the matter, feeling that the time was not ripe. But in 1968 he published a brief article about the research in a volume on history and psychology. Encouraged by the reactions it evoked, he dug into his files and produced a slim monograph on the subject which he felt lived up to current standards of scientific research. In the changed conditions of the early 1970s, this work was accepted as a positive contribution to Soviet science.
At almost the same time in the 1930s when he was engaged in controversy over his Central Asian work, Alexander Romanovich was participating in another ambitious undertaking which was to place yet another cloud over his career. In 1925, a medical-biological institute was founded in Moscow, whose task was to apply modern biological science, particularly genetics, to problems of medicine. The institute was directed by S.G. Levit, an academician of international standing, who was an early supporter of the Bolshevik party. It included as part of its research plan a study of the development of identical and fraternal twins. The controversy over genetic theory which was later to inundate Soviet biology had not yet taken shape, but the highly political nature of the institute's research, aimed at demonstrating the mechanisms that could be used for creating the Soviet citizen of the future, did not need a Lysenko to make it visible.
The point of view that Alexander Romanovich brought to this work was directly shaped by his cultural-historical theory. He expected a simple dominance of neither genetic nor socializing factors in his studies of twins; rather, he expected “nature and nurture” to interact in a pattern that would lead to the eventual dominance of “nurture” in the form of culturally organized, higher psychological functions. Few reports of this work have survived. Alexander Romanovich coauthored two or three articles for the proceedings of the institute in 1935-1936, and he published a partial account in the now defunct American journal Character and Personality, which was edited by the psychometrician Charles Spearman. But except for a brief early report in a Georgian journal and an equally brief report in Problems of Psychology in 1962, the developmental comparisons carried out on a massive scale have been lost, along with any report of the effects of different kinds of early educational experience on later development. Only a little monograph co-authored with F.A. Yudovich, which did not appear until 1956, offers some insight into the broad pedagogical aims and accomplishments of the work. Clearly, the data on twins was very controversial in 1935 and 1936. The controversy never had a chance to clear, since work at the institute was brought to a close in 1936.
By the middle of that year, Soviet psychology was a virtual minefield of explosive issues and broken theories. Every existing movement in the field had been examined and found wanting, including Vygotsky's. Of course, Soviet psychology, like any other science, had its share of mediocre figures. Moreover, enormous sacrifices were being asked of the Soviet people, and science was expected to make its contribution. In the early postrevolutionary days in particular a great deal of faith had been placed in the power of psychology to transform schools and clinics in line with the aspirations of the Soviet leaders.
Although the present political climate in the United States provides a reassuring contrast with events in the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s, the attitude of important American government figures toward science in general and psychology in particular is not so different as to defy comparison. Consider, for example, the attacks on basic research in the social sciences by members of the Senate who question whether tax dollars should be spent on identifying the behavioral basis of material bonding or the social forces that organize dialect variation. In many such cases the researchers in question have proven scientific merit and deep social commitment. But they, like Soviet psychologists of the 1930s, are vulnerable to criticism because they cannot fulfill society's highest expectations of their work. The pressures shaping budgets and priorities of American psychological research today reflect a noticable kinship with the pressures faced by Alexander Romanovich and his colleagues many years ago.
Just as all the different movements within Soviet psychology were scrutinized by 1936, so too was the work of each psychologist, including those on the staff at the institute. In this highly charged atmosphere, one voice spoke up against the blanket condemnation of Soviet psychology: “It must be said that Professor Luria, as one of the representatives of the cultural-historical theory, also did not consider it necessary to admit his mistaken theoretical position in front of this meeting” (G.F., 1936, p. 94). Yet at the time there was no real forum for Alexander Romanovich's point of view. Obvious lines of attack on the problems that had preoccupied him were closed, and nothing could be gained by continuing to protest the course of events.
It was in such circumstances that Alexander Romanovich decided to return to medical school as a full-time student. Perhaps because he had taken medical courses on and off for almost twenty years, he quickly completed his medical training and went to work in a neurological clinic. Blocked in the attempt to develop his ideas in developmental psychology or cross-cultural research, he picked up that strand of his theory which hypothesized specific changes accompanying the loss of language and began what was to be more than thirty years of research on the cerebral basis of those higher psychological processes that he had been studying in children. This was not to be the last shift in activity resulting from changes in social conditions, but it was the most timely. When World War II broke out, there could be no question of the relevance of Alexander Romanovich's neuropsychological research.
Just how important Alexander Romanovich's conversion into a neuropsychologist was for his future career is virtually impossible to judge. There is no doubt that from the beginning he viewed this activity as yet another extension of the cultural-historical theory into a new empirical domain. Even while studying in medical school and then working as a physician, he continued to be active in psychology to the limited degree that such activity was possible, as in the article on psychoanalysis that he contributed to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. By this time in the late 1930s, self-criticism was absolutely essential, yet in this article Alexander Romanovich managed to say everything he believed to be true and to be self-critical at the same time. Each paragraph about important contributors to Soviet psychology contains a brief, factual account of their ideas, carefully differentiated from the criticism. When he turns to the important concepts of psychology, his own views shine through clearly.
The war provided him with an enormous store of data concerning the brain and psychological processes, which he reported on in a series of papers and monographs. When Moscow was no longer threatened, he returned from the Ural Mountains, expecting to continue this line of work at the Institute of Neurosurgery. For a while he continued his work uninterrupted. But once again, history intervened.
In 1948 when the Cold War was in force, Soviet science was again racked by a series of upheavals, the best known of which was the controversy over genetics. Less well-known in the United States was the debate throughout many branches of Soviet science, including physics and linguistics, which mixed issues of national and international politics with scientific philosophy and day-to-day scientific practices. In the midst of this controversy, in early 1950, Alexander Romanovich was dismissed from the Institute of Neurosurgery.
Although matters seemed grim, they were not hopeless. As a full member of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, Alexander Romanovich was entitled to a job in one if its institutions. Almost immediately he picked himself up and began where he had left off, providing the empirical basis for Vygotsky's theory. Blocked from work with children, the non-literate, or the brain-damaged, he turned to an area close to Vygotsky's heart, the mentally retarded. Nor was he alone in this enterprise. Several of his students from the 1920s, including Levina and Morozova, were working at the Institute of Defectology, which was to become his scientific home for almost a decade.
In many respects, the decade from 1948 to 1958 must have been one of the most difficult periods in Alexander Romanovich's life. He was not only working in his third or fourth area of scientific specialization but was experiencing difficult social and scientific restraints as well. It was a time when science was emphasized as one of the basic factors shaping Soviet society, and when Pavlov's work was held up as a model to be adhered to strictly. The situation was peculiarly trying for Alexander Romanovich because he agreed with a good deal in the Pavlovian scientific program, especially the necessity for building psychological theories on a sound physiology of brain activity. But agreement on such matters of basic principle was not sufficient. A measure of the seriousness and narrow-mindedness of this “Pavlovian revolution from the top” can be gleaned from comparing Alexander Romanovich's self-criticism at meetings in the early 1950s with his analogous statements on similar occasions in the 1930s. No longer could he offer careful expositions of his basic views set apart from critical evaluation. Now he had to state that his work on aphasia and the restoration of brain function was deeply flawed because of his failure to apply Pavlovian teaching, without specifying which branch of Pavlovian physiology could or did apply. He also had to praise the work of men like A.G. Ivanov-Sinolensky whose interpretation of the combined motor method he could not abide (and which he freely criticized later). His only freedom was to be self-critical where it counted least. Thus, he could say with a clear conscience, for it represented his highest aspirations, that “only with the help of detailed physiological analysis of even the most complex psychological facts can we construct a materialist theory of man's psychological processes; and this applies to both medical and general psychology” (Luria, 1950, p. 633).
In this highly charged atmosphere, Alexander Romanovich could continue his research within the Institute of Defectology, but he could not openly pursue Vygotsky's line. His solution to these constraints was an ingenious one. He returned to the combined motor method which has the general structure of a conditioning experiment and carried out research on the transition from elementary psychological functions, which according to his theory could be handled within a Pavlovian framework, to higher psychological functions, which existing Pavlovian theory could not encompass. Moreover, he concentrated on the role of language in producing the transition from elementary to higher psychological processes. This choice of foci was fortunate, because toward the end of his life Pavlov had begun to speculate on ways in which the principles of conditioning could be extended to account for human language. A very old man at the time, Pavlov made it clear that this was one area in which his theory needed to be elaborated; it was not terra cognita. Hence, anyone wishing to tackle it could do so with minimum need to ensure conformity to physiological theory laid down in the 1920s on the basis of Pavlov's research with dogs.
Reading Alexander Romanovich's publications during this period is unnerving to me now. Always an excellent student of languages, he used the Pavlovian argot like a true expert. In some cases I am relatively certain that he believed it a fruitful way to describe and explain the phenomena, as in his experimerits with mentally retarded children. But in other cases, as in his study of the twins who developed their own language, he certainly believed Pavlovian theory to be inappropriate. In such cases, it is necessary to translate what he is saying into his own theoretical language. Sadly, in the 1950s many young Soviet psychologists could not make the translation, nor could I.
By the time my wife and I reached Moscow in 1962, these events were largely behind Alexander Romanovich. It was not that the search for a Marxist psychology had ceased to be of concern or that fierce arguments over the proper theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of mind had been settled. Rather, the terms of the discussion were now a matter of normal debate, with no one dictating a single acceptable route.
In 1955, after a twenty-year hiatus, psychology had been allowed its own journal, Problems of Psychology, with Kornilov as its editor. Both Alexander Romanovich and Leontiev sat on the editorial board. Then in 1956 the first edition of Vygotsky's collected works was published, with a long preface by the two remaining members of his troika, for the first time making his ideas available to a generation of students who scarcely knew his name.
In the late 1950s Alexander Romanovich once again began to travel abroad. The large glass cabinet in Lana Pimenovna's sitting room filled with mementos from Japan, England, western Europe, and the United States, to complement her collection of Soviet and eastern European memorabilia. Wherever Alexander Romanovich went, he lectured, often in the language of his hosts. He appeared before the world's psychological community in many different guises. At first he appeared as a developmental psychologist in the Pavlovian tradition, a specialist on mental retardation whose conditioning experiments on the properties of the “second signal system” were in tune with the theorizing then in progress in many different laboratories around the world. Later, when he returned to the Institute of Neurosurgery, another Luria appeared on the world scene, this time an aphasiologist with distinctive techniques for restoring damaged brain functions and a typology of aphasia that appeared somewhat askew of current ideas on the topic available outside the USSR.
In both his lecturing abroad and his publishing activities at home, Alexander Romanovich was working to reconstruct and make available the contents of Soviet psychology, which represented his own life's work, but which the vagaries of time had made inaccessible. The enormity of the task sometimes produced strange anomalies in the order and timing of his publications. His work on twins and his Central Asian research were published only in part, twenty and thirty years respectively after they had been carried out. No sooner had they appeared in Russian than English translations became available. Traumatic Aphasia, published in the USSR in 1947, contained material that was a part of Alexander Romanovich's doctoral dissertation, supplemented by the enormous quantity of material gathered during the war. That major work did not find its way into English until 1965, thanks to the prodigious effort of Douglas Bowden, a physician who had studied with Alexander Romanovich in the early 1960s. Because the Pavlovian phase of his work which postdated this research was summarized in lectures delivered in English in London in the mid-1950s, it was the first to become generally available to an English-reading audience. Nowhere did Alexander Romanovich hint at the complex ideological and institutional constraints that had produced his various research careers and which had shaped the conditions under which they were being made available to a wide audience.
For me, the misunderstandings produced by this series of events was fortunate. The message provided by the work being published in the 1950s was one that could attract my interest, if not my deep understanding. It brought me to Moscow.
During my year at Moscow University a constant stream of visitors came by the laboratory to visit with Alexander Romanovich. Except when severely pressed for time or when ill, Alexander Romanovich would not turn them away. Several times a week he lectured at one of the many institutions with which he was associated: Moscow University, the Institute of Neurosurgery, and the Institute of Psychology. He also headed a discussion group for foreign students to which he took visitors, and he was active in Party affairs.
Early in the morning and late into the night he would read and write, scratching out a voluminous, multilingual correspondence with an old-fashioned fountain pen. Before leaving for work , he would be on the phone. Many directors of departments and institutes around Moscow joked to me of being awakened weekday mornings by Alexander Romanovich, reminding them of a job undone or an enticing project to be carried out.
In addition to his other chores, Alexander Romanovich followed his lifelong habit of reading the latest in foreign psychological research and seeing to it that the most important articles and monographs found their way into Russian, as likely as not with his own introduction. He was a consulting editor for foreign as well as Russian journals, and when conditions permitted, he wrote original articles in English, French, Spanish, and German for publication abroad. Mindful of his students and colleagues, he tirelessly promoted their work, arranging many translations from Russian into English and other European languages.
I realize now that by the time I reached Moscow, Alexander Romanovich was devoting as much of his energy to preservation of the past as to contemporary and future work. No wonder he was in such a hurry. There was a great deal to be done if that past were to survive the ravages of the historical epochs through which he had traveled.
My greatest sadness is that I understood so little of the content of Alexander Romanovich's work for so long. Only in the last year of his life was I prepared to ask him the kinds of questions that I should have been able to ask in 1962. He appreciated my questions – about Vygotsky, the rationale for the combined motor method, the events surrounding his work in defectology. But full answers, real discussion, were rarely forthcoming. It was then more than forty years since his first meeting with Vygotsky, and he could no longer tell me why the man had so excited him. “He was a genius,” I was told again and again. Alexander Romanovich's early inclination toward psychoanalytic concepts was passed off as a boyhood caprice. His use of the combined motor method was reduced to a means by which he had stumbled on the prototype of the lie detector. All true, but so misleading.
As I reached the end of my own research on Alexander Romanovich's life, I began to understand, and to regret, the way in which living ideas from his past had been reduced to formulas. In the course of a single lifetime he had found it necessary to think in several different scientific languages, each of which coded the same reality in different, seemingly disconnected ways. His standard formulas were not intended as obfuscations; they were rather the benchmarks of the different epochs through which his career had passed. He never succeeded completely in creating a unified language for the entire corpus of his work. The meaning of the whole could be learned only with years of apprenticeship and was difficult if not impossible to discern until each of the parts had been understood, forcing the issue of their integration to the fore.
My fifteen years as an apprentice were insufficient to render me a master. But they made me a witness to the full complexity and range of issues that concerned Alexander Romanovich in a way that was not generally available to his other students. This experience opened before me the picture of an integrated understanding of his life's work.
A highly personal testimony to the power and endurance of the ideas that first attracted Alexander Romanovich to psychology was given me on the day I sat down to write this account. In a modern psychology building on a campus of the University of California seven colleagues and I had gathered to discuss a recent paper by a leading practitioner of the branch of computer science known as the study of “artificial intelligence.” We represented an unusually broad cross-section of the social sciences-anthropology, psychology, communications, sociology, and linguistics. All of us are considered competent practitioners of our sciences' most modern technologies, including mathematics, computer modeling, and experimental design. But our topic that day was not one of method or fact, narrowly conceived. Rather, we had gathered to discuss a far-reaching attack on artificial intelligence research by one of its leading practitioners. His point: our models of mind are nomothetic idealizations that fail to capture the real nature of human experience. He exhorted us to find new methods that would bridge the chasm between our technologically sophisticated, but arid, scientific present and the still unobtainable, but necessary, future of a psychology that encompasses the full range of human experience.
It is indeed ideas that endure. But it is human beings who give them life.