Alexander Luria’s 6 Best Quotes

· September 19, 2018

Alexander Luria was born in Kazan, Russia in 1902. He’s considered the father of modern neuropsychology. This branch of psychology found its foundation thanks to his research, leading to the conclusion that the brain is the source of behavior. We’ll be exploring Luria’s autobiography and main contributions through his best quotes.

Luria grew up in a wealthy Jewish family that gave a lot of importance to multilingualism. He and his sister were fluent in German, French, and English, plus their mother tongue, Russian. He participated in more than 300 scientific publications.

Multicultural education, multidisciplinary training

The outbreak of the Russian Revolution interrupted Alexander Luria’s education when he was only 7 years old. His father, a famous professor/gastroenterologist, encouraged him to go to college at the age of 16. The following quote is part of his autobiographical book The Autobiography of Alexander Luria: A Dialogue with The Making of Mind (1979). In it, Luria reflects on his interest in the mind and psychology.

“It’s really difficult to know why I chose psychology as my profession.”

Photo of Alexander Luria.

Luria’s flexible hierarchy

Instead of considering that the mind was fragmented, Luria and his teacher Lev Vygotsky considered the brain as a whole. They claimed that the parts of the brain were related and that its functions were never isolated or lodged in specific areas. These ideas countered the ideas of other important researchers such as Paul Broca or Karl Wernicke. These last two believed that determined functions were located in specific areas of the brain.

The localization-antilocalization debate lasted for decades. As of today, people have accepted a mixture of both positions. They believe that the brain functions as an interrelated system, but that certain parts are also in charge of specific processes. For example, there could be a direct relationship between Broca’s area and language. Another one of Luria’s quotes summarizes the passion he felt towards the functioning of the brain:

“Speaking is a miracle.”


For this neuropsychologist, the brain is organized in three levels: primary, secondary and tertiary. In each one, there are regions that are in charge of specific functions:

  • Vigil, primary memory, and internal homeostasis: brain stem, hypothalamus, the limbic system.
  • The storage and processing of information: temporal, occipital, and parietal lobes.
  • Mobility and behavioral programming: frontal lobe.

These three levels form a functional, interconnected system in which higher-level functions depend on many brain areas and work in coordination.

“Our mission isn’t to “locate” a man’s superior psychological processes in limited areas of the cortex. It’s to find out, through a thorough analysis, the groups of concerted areas of the brain that are responsible for the execution of complex mental activities.”

Brain in a blue background.

Neuropsychology

Unlike physiology, neuropsychology doesn’t cause any type of injury for experimental purposes. Instead, it takes advantage of injuries that the patient already has or the ones that resulted from surgeries with therapeutic purposes. One of Luria’s most famous quotes illustrates this:

“The responsibilities we endured and the opportunities we had to study a large number of patients with brain injuries were impressive (…). They allowed us to advance science.”

His contributions don’t focus only on people with acquired damage and his interest in the organization of mental processes. In fact, he also designed one of the first lie detectors ever. In addition, he focused on psychophysiology in his first studies. Luria became very interested in psychoanalysis and studied human affective states to develop methods of “conjugated motor responses”.

“In a certain Siberian village, all bears are white. Your neighbor visited that village and saw a bear. What was the color of the bear?”

This was one of his most famous quotes. Alexander thought of it while visiting an indigenous village in Central Asia. He had a goal, which was to know about the existence of a universal, logical reasoning. “How should I know?” and “Why don’t you ask our neighbor yourself?” were the responses that the inhabitants of the village gave him.

Woman thinking in front of a chalkboard.

The brain is still an enigma

As this neuropsychologist discovered decades ago, the knowledge that we currently have regarding the brain is relatively small in comparison to everything that’s left for us to discover. However, in comparison to what we knew about it a few years ago, it’s actually very large. The truth is that there’s still so much to know, regardless of the great advances that have been made. One of Luria’s quotes reflects this. It says:

“To be able to move forward from the onset of the symptom (the loss of a given function) to the location of the corresponding mental activity, there’s still a long way to go.”

Through Alexander Luria’s quotes, many authors have been able to delve deeper into more concrete aspects such as the neuropsychological foundation of reason. Luria’s contributions were decisive for the development of neuropsychology. They’ve allowed a better comprehension of the functioning of the brain.