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Man with His Head in His Hands Giclee PrintOr shall I inquire more pointedly, how does your head read? If you are unsure how to reply, allow me to introduce the methods used to arrive at an undisputed answer. Supposedly the brain is a composite of at least 27 regions or organs. From these areas a skilled person can explain how a person behaves, if they have a capacity to learn, whether they are truthful and honest, if they will pay their bills on time and save the poor dog in the street. Welcome to Phrenology!

Also known as craniology, organology, and bumpology. By measuring the surface of the skull, the relative size and strength of the organs can be estimated. This information can then be used to assess an individual’s personality, moral capacity, and intellectual aptitude.

But of course! Phrenology came to light at the end of the 18th century, beginning of the 19th century. When as a young man, German-born Franz Joseph Gall noticed people with remarkable recall commonly possessed bulging eyes. Oddly, he did not seek to investigate the ancestral lines of these people, nor their diet, nor habits that might increase better memory. From this observation Gall then hypnotized mental ability and behavior is in direct correlation with the brain. At least this part is true.

The 27 organs were grouped into two categories, those of baser instincts that humans and animal share and those that are strictly human traits such as religious sentiment, wit, and wisdom. Franz Joseph Gall was a medical student and today it seems a bit astonishing and mystifying how a scientific mind could arrive at this conclusion. His goal was always to develop an “understanding of  human psychology based on anatomy and physiology.”

Gall’s American advocate Orson Fowler did much to further the pseudoscience of Phrenology. Together with his brother and brother-in-law they set up shop in New York that was an amalgamation of head reading salon, museum, and publishing house. Fowler wrote numerous articles and books that were best sellers during their day; some saw upwards of 40 editions! (Goes to prove Best-Seller, does not a Classic make). Most fans were artisans and middle class individuals. In part of this interested demographic and their openness and sympathy to new ideas, Phrenology became melded with reform movements. I am still unsure on the particulars of how exactly this occurred. Reform took place in shape of humane treatment of the mentally ill, public education, temperance, vegetarianism, water cures and the movement against tight corsets for women! Again, how skull bumps correlate with these reforms came about requires more investigating!

At the on set there were a slew of critics, skeptics, and detractors many coming from the scientific community itself. They commented on the external appearance, bone, skin, and tissues vary vastly from person to person. They cited it is impossible for a standard determination of a head reading. By the way, a head reading, is basically a scalp massage and made the hair a mess. Other critics doubted the 27 categories such as Hope. Those poor souls who did not have pronounced ridges in this place were deemed utterly hopeless!

By the middle of the 19th century the general masses agreed, more or less, that the idea was too far fetched and Phrenology was demoted to a Pseudoscience. Advocates remained well into the early 20th century. However, the true practices from Gall’s original goal contributed to the disciplines of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology.

Language is under the eye and Hope is a very small spot . . .