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July 16: Luria’s Brain

Lawrence Bush
July 15, 2016

alexander-luria-russian-psychologist-ria-novostiAlexander Luria, a Soviet neuropsychologist who worked closely with Lev Vygotsky to gain insight into the interaction of environmental and social factors and the brain in shaping human behavior, was born into a medical family in Kazan, Russia on this date in 1902. At age 20, he organized the Kazan Psychoanalysis Study Group and apprised Sigmund Freud of its existence. In the 1920s, he worked with Alexei Nikolaevich Leontiev in Moscow on analyzing human behavior by monitoring motor reactions, and he soon developed the first lie detector used in a criminal justice setting. He and Vygotsky experimented with patients suffering brain injury or impairment to learn about different forms and levels of brain activity. Other subjects of study for Luria were indigenous peoples in Central Asia, identical and fraternal twins, and children in the process of acquiring speech. His many books include Higher Cortical Functions in Man (1962), a widely translated textbook, and The Man with a Shattered World: The History of a Brain Wound (1972). In 1959, with Stalin’s death having brought about some internationalization of Soviet science, Luria established the Neurosurgical Institute, where he hosted visits from numerous scientists and educators until his death in 1977. New York has, since 2011, been home to a successor organization, the Luria Neuiroscience Institute. To see Oliver Sacks describing his correspondence with Alexander Luria work, look below.

“Luria primarily concentrated on the cerebral organization of human mental processes. He introduced the concept of the three principal functional units of the brain, described the organ’s systemic structure and functioning, and laid down some of the core principles of neuropsychology.”--Maria Ilmarovna Kostyanaya and Pieter Rossouw, The Neuropsychotherapist

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.