Scientific Contributions to Current Understanding
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Over the centuries, philosophers and scientists have theorized about the mechanisms of the human body. Prior to the mid-18th century, however, most of these theories were highly speculative, sometimes founded on keen observation or rudimentary experimentation, but generally lacking scientific rigor.
While the study of physiology advanced in the 1700s with rudimentary experimentation, it was not until the mid-1800s, that the modern era of neuro-physiology began with a wide variety of scientists providing objective and scientifically sound contributions to the field. In the mid-1800s and early 1900s, scientists such as Ivan Sechenov of Russia and Charles Sherrington of England advanced and deepened the neuro-physiological understanding of the reflex. By 1898, the basic structure of the autonomic nervous system was first explained and, by the 1930s, the important role the autonomic nervous system plays in automatically regulating the body’s internal state to ensure both long-term and immediate-term survival was uncovered. While many researchers ultimately contributed to the modern day understanding of the autonomic nervous system, there are a few specific findings of a handful of scientists that profoundly changed the thinking in the scientific community.
In reviewing the historical development of the understanding of the function and structure of the autonomic nervous system, it is possible to trace a path from Bernard to Langley to Cannon to Seyle and to Hess, each laying stepping-stones for the next. Following Hess, autonomic nervous system research advanced and branched out into specialties and sub-specialties. Yet, with all of this research, we find that the question of reflexes and their central importance to our quality of life remains unsettled. Even today we find researchers advancing new ideas, some like Dr. Masgutova proceed with an eye toward practical application, and others, seek to improve our theoretical understanding. A good example of the latter is psychologist Steven Porges, who in the 1994 published the Polyvagal Theory, a theory in which he proposes that the autonomic nervous system plays a broader role in the automatic engagement and regulation of adaptive behavior than previously thought. The work presented thus far suggests that distinct neural circuits automatically engage physiological responses that reflexively organize the body for social engagement, defensive mobilization or immobilization before we are consciously aware of what is happening.
The study of reflexes has fascinated early philosophers and modern day scientists alike. Through the links listed below you can learn more about the contributions made to the field over the past centuries. Our Timeline of General Reflex Contributions, although not comprehensive, especially as research advanced and branched out in the latter half of the 20th century,includes a broad range of contributions. The second link, Overview of Specific Reflex Contributions, provides a deeper perspective of the contributions we believe are most important to understanding the important role of reflexes within the context of the MNRI Method.