Stephen Hills (UCL) - 2017-18 Students

Pavlov’s Dogs in the Press, Literature and Cybernetics 1928 – 1961

My project focuses on the popular and intellectual responses to Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning in Britain. Pavlov’s science catalysed debates about the manipulation of language, identity and scientific knowledge in the interwar years. As electronic engineers used Pavlov’s work to create early mechanical brains, writers experimented with forms that imitated, refuted or satirized its perceived implications to language and identity. During a period of growing anxiety about mass political movements, Pavlov’s conclusions seemed to presage mass manipulation, and yet they were themselves read in the context of – and adapted to suit – the political concerns of the time. Through archival research and analyses of newspapers, periodicals, literature and cybernetics research, I will investigate how Pavlov came to influence the work of Aldous Huxley, Samuel Beckett, George Orwell, Nigel Dennis and William Burroughs.

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