Luria’s childhood was passed in Kazan, where his father taught at Kazan Medical School. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, despite the fact that he had completed only six years of an eight-year Gymnasium curriculum, Luria entered Kazan University and began a program of study which covered major trends in European philosophical, psychological, and psychoanalytical thought. The most powerful influence on Luria’s thought in this period was the Revolution itself. He writes in the first chapter,The Revolution freed us . . . to discuss new ideas, new philosophies and social systems. . . . We were swept up in a great historical movement. Our private interests were consumed by the wider social goals of a new, collective society.
In addition to the Marxist social theory which pervaded the intellectual climate during his youth, other influences on his work and thought included German neo-Kantian theory, the psychoanalytical school (dominated by Sigmund Freud), Anglo-American psychology (such as that of William James), and Russian psychology. Even at this early stage of his career, Luria noticed the tendency within psychological study to distinguish too sharply between the “nomothetic” approach, that is, the application of generalized laws which characterize scientific inquiry, and the “idiographic” approach, that is, the study of individual cases, which seems to prevail in the human and social sciences.
When Luria went to Moscow in 1923 to study with Kornilov, he encountered another of the rifts in psychological theory and practice which was to concern him throughout his long career: “the idea of splitting the brain from the mind.” This split was clearly an example of the rift in psychology which Luria had already defined as the distinction between the nomothetic and the idiographic. The association with Kornilov also had practical results; with him, Luria began the clinical and experimental work which culminated in The Nature of Human Conflicts: Or, Emotion, Conflict, and Will (1932), a pioneering study leading to the development of the lie detector. The Moscow experience confirmed Luria’s commitment to clinical and experimental psychology, along with his interest in theory.
The following year, Luria met Lev Vygotsky, who was to be a lifelong inspiration and, even after his death, a mentor. The project of the psychologists in the Vygotsky circle was to create a new psychology which would synthesize conflicting trends which they saw in their profession. A student of Karl Marx, Vygotsky took the approach that all human behavior must be studied as the product of human interaction, as well as individual growth; he believed that higher psychological functions, in particular, must be studied as interactive phenomena. The most significant single element in Vygotsky’s theory was the principle of “mediation,” that is, the process by which the human mind breaks down and recombines elements in complex mental operations. Attention to language, the principal means of mediation, more clearly focused Luria’s work into the areas of theoretical and applied linguistics, brain damage which affects language competence and acquisition, and, more generally, the interaction between brain and mind in the production of language. These...
(The entire section is 1337 words.)