Ivane Beritashvili

Ivane Solomon Beritashvili (Beritov) was born on the 10th January, 1885 in Georgia, in the village Vejini (Gurjaani district, Kakheti region), in a priest’s family. Primary education he received in Telavi theological school, secondary education – in the theological seminary of Tbilisi.

In 1906 he passed school-leaving examinations in the Tbilisi 2nd secondary school for boys and got a certificate. In the same year he matriculated in Petersburg University, Department of Natural Sciences of the Physics and Mathematics faculty and very soon attracted professor-teachers’ attention by his talent and hard-working. Being a third-year student, he began experimental work in physiological laboratory under Professor N.Wedensky and studied the problem of reflexive movement by spinal cord coordination. The results of his first scientific research appeared in 1910.

After having graduated from the university with honors he was left by N.Wedensky for two and a half year at physiological Chair and even granted a scholarship. And afterwards, for the first time in the history of the Chair – N.Wedensky left him still for more two years. In this period he served as Professor P.Leshaft’s assistant in the Female higher courses.

In 1911 I.Beritashvili was sent to Professor of Kazan University A.Samoilov on scientific mission to acquire the method of registration of bio-current by means of a string galvanometer. In 1914 he went to Holland, Utrecht, to scientific laboratory of great physiologist and pharmacologist Rudolf Magnus to master the method for conducting experiments on the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals.

In 1914-1915 I.Beritashvili passed exams at the Petersburg University and earned master’s degree.

In 1915 he moved to Odessa, in the Imperial Novorossiysk University, as a senior assistant of physiological Chair at the Department of Physics-Mathematics. In 1916 as a private docent he started to give a special course in physiology of the muscular and nervous system. At that time he pursued research into conditioned defensive reflexes.

In 1919 I.Beritashvili was invited to newly launched Tbilisi University and was elected as a professor of Physiology. He headed the Human and Animal Physiologic Chair of Biological Faculty.

I.Beritashvili began his teaching activity at Tbilisi University with publication in Georgian of a comprehensive theoretical and practical handbook. He at once organized the student’s practical work and in a short time succeeded in preparing national specialists for conducting research. Together with his associates he started to study lawful occurrence of muscular contraction and animals’ behavior. He was awarded by the All-Union Socialist Competition Committee an honorary certificate for well organization of teaching. Until 1960 he was Head of Physiology Chair and supervised scientific activity at the Chair to the last lees of his life.

In 1934 I.Beritashvili founded Experimental Institute of Biology at the Tbilisi State University, which in 1935 was transformed into Institute of Physiology, which on the occasion of 25th-anniversary of I.Beritashvili’s scientific activity was named after him. In 1941 after foundation of Georgian Academy of Sciences the Institute of Physiology became a part of its system. At the Institute I.Beritashvili supervised complex research related to the problems of central inhibition, brain electric activity. During the World War II the Institute was engaged in studying in military hospitals the percussion wave action on human organism and electroencephalographically diagnosed brain injuries. For this activity I.Beritashvili was awarded medals "For Valiant Labor in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" and "For Defence of the Caucasus".

In 1950 in Moscow a joint scientific session was held of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Soviet Medical Academy dedicated to I.Pavlov’s physiological doctrine where academicians L.Orbeli, I.Beritashvili, L.Stern and other famous scientists were declared to be enemies of Pavlov’s doctrine. I.Beritashvili because of the trauma received in a car accident could not attend the session. He addressed the session with a letter in which he clearly expressed his own conception and determined to read it publicly.

In 1951 at the session of Pavlovian Council I.Beritashvili’s conception was publicly discussed and was said that I.Beritashvili had fallen deeply into idealism slough, that he by his activities jeopardizes the Soviet Science, so on. As a result, I.Beritashvili was dismissed from the post of director of the Institute of Physiology, many of his co-workers and pupils were fired.

In 1953 after Stalin’s death the campaign against “the enemies of Pavlov’s doctrine” has ceased. A new stage of I.Beritashvili’s scientific activity was started. He began a complex research into animals’ spatial orientation, and in the middle of the 1960s designed a broad programme for studying the structural, physiological, and physic-chemical basis of memory. The publications dealing with these most topical issues of neurophysiology and neuropsychology appeared to be a swan song for I.Beritashvili.

I.Beritashvili was a brilliant experimenter and great theorist. The evidence he provided was distinguished by maximal accuracy and the results of his experiments have never become debatable. In many of his theoretical deductions he anticipated that which many years later has been discovered thanks to new technical advances. The investigations of this celebrity concerned with the problems of neurophysiology and neuropsychology unite a general conception of the nervous system activity that he had formulated for decades.

I.Beritashvili is the author of several monographs and more than 400 scientific papers, most of which have been translated into many languages. His multifarious scientific interests and scope of experimental work which dealt with different parts of brain, muscular and nervous system physiology enabled I.Beritashvili to create a unique handbook on “General Physiology of Muscular and Nervous Systems», which has been published several times and has become a reference book for neurophysiologists of several generations.

Methodologic basis of I.Beritashvili’s research work was materialism that is clearly manifested in all of his work, and namely in papers concerned with brain higher functions, and also in his permanent efforts to link the structure and function. Such an approach played a great role and does play even now in establishing monistic approach to physic phenomena.

I.Beritashvili’s contributions are great to establish biological Science in Georgia. He led a biological section of Marxism-Leninism Institute, the Transcaucasian branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Natural Science Department of Georgian Academy of Sciences and later on, Department of Biological and Medical Sciences. He was an initiator of development of a number of scientific directions, namely of biophysics and radiobiology.

With the efforts of I.Beritashvili founded was the Society of Georgian physiologists, biochemists and pharmacologists (now Ivane Beritashvili Society of Physiologists). He was an active participant of several International, All-Union and Transcaucasian Congresses of physiologists.

In May of 1948 I.Beritashvili initiated physiological conferences in Gagra to which a narrow circle of experts was invited to consider the topical issues of neurophysiology. This event was named “Gagra Talks”. Gagra Talks made an important contribution to the development of physiological science. The scientific legacy of Ivane Beritashvili has been widely acknowledged in the Soviet Union and abroad and promoted development of physiology.

He was a full member of three academies: of the Soviet Academy of Sciences (since 1939), Georgian Academy of Sciences (since 1941) and the Soviet Academy of Sciences (since 1944). He was elected an Honorary member of New-York Academy of Sciences, was a member of Electroencephalographic Society (USA), of International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) and others. For the book “General Physiology of Muscular and Nervous System” I.Beritashvili in 1944 was awarded the USSR State Prize, while for the book “Memory of Vertebrate Animals: Characteristics and Origin” – the State Prize of GSSR. For his discoveries in the nervous system physiology he was awarded I.Pavlov and I.Sechenov Prizes.

For great merits, active public and teaching services I.Beritashvili in 1964 was conferred the title of a Socialist Labor Hero. He was a recipient of Lenin Order, Red Banner Order of Labor – twice, and medals.

I.Beritashvili died at the age of 90 and was buried in the yard of the State University of Tbilisi.