In no other scientific field discussed in this volume does there exist an identifiably Russian tradition of interpretation to the degree that there does in physiology and psychology. Long before the Revolution the study of physiology and psychology in Russia was known for its materialism. To be sure, there were many supporters of idealistic psychology in pre-Revolutionary Russia, but materialism in psychology received unusual support there at a fairly early date. In 1863 Ivan Sechenov ( 1829-1905) published his Reflexes of the Brain, a book the true purpose of which is better revealed by the title that Sechenov originally gave it, but that was disapproved by the tsarist censor: An Attempt to Establish the Physiological Basis of Psychological Processes.1 Sechenov wrote in this work that "all acts of conscious or unconscious life are reflexes."
Surrounding Sechenov's views there soon grew up a controversy among the St. Petersburg educated public. The particular political and ideological scene of late-nineteenth-century Russia influenced the course of the debate, with the radical intelligentsia usually, but not always, responding favorably to Sechenov's opinions and the government bureaucracy usually disapproving. In 1866 the book was prohibited for sale by the St. Petersburg censors, and Sechenov himself was threatened with court action for allegedly undermining public morals. Eventually Sechenov escaped trial, but the already existing link between materialism in science and radical politics was strengthened and made more apparent.