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What is phrenology and is it worth believing in?
What is phrenology and is it worth believing in?

This theory became the basis for some really useful ideas.

What is phrenology and is it true that a person's abilities can be determined by the shape of the skull
What is phrenology and is it true that a person's abilities can be determined by the shape of the skull

Phrenology is a theory that connects a person's character, intelligence with the shape of his skull. "High-brow means smart" - if you still believe such statements, then phrenology probably took its roots in you.

However, this is not surprising. Echoes of this theory can be found in many modern scientific disciplines. Although in itself it is deeply unscientific.

Where did phrenology come from and what is it about

Researchers confuse Science or Pseudoscience: Phrenology as a Cautionary Tale for Evolutionary Psychology with the date of birth of the theory, but there is a version that it arose somewhere in the 1790s. It was then that Franz Josef Gall, a physician and anatomist from Vienna, suggested that the shape of the head could mimic the shape of the brain. That is, if somewhere on the surface of the skull there is a bulge, it means that there is the same on the brain. And vice versa: the cranial cavity duplicates the depression on the surface of the gray matter.

This idea came to Gall after one day, while still a teenager, he noticed a strange pattern. His classmates, who had a good memory, had bulging, slightly protruding eyes. The aspiring scientist came to the idea that, perhaps, the region of the cerebral cortex located behind the organs of vision is associated with the ability to memorize. This area is developed, enlarged - and, as it were, pushes the eyes out of the cranium.

Initially, Gall called his research on this topic craniology Phrenology in the Science and Culture of the 19th Century - "the science of the head." A little later, the term was changed to organology - "the science of the organs of the brain." Sounds strange, but only from a modern point of view. For a scientist of the late 18th - early 19th centuries, everything looked logical.

At that time, it was believed that the brain is like a muscle. More precisely, on their totality. The more actively you use a particular muscle, the larger it becomes. Or, on the contrary: it dries up if it turns out to be unnecessary.

Phrenology: a map of the skull according to Gall
Phrenology: a map of the skull according to Gall

The brain, as suggested by Gall, is divided into 27 segments (organs), each of which is responsible for a particular character trait, mental or intellectual function. If the function in a person is clearly expressed, the corresponding segment increases in size - and a tubercle appears on the skull. If it is underdeveloped, a depression forms.

According to this theory, by examining or probing the shape of the head, one can find out whether a person is smart or stupid. Brave or cowardly. Cruel or kind. Musical or completely deaf.

One of Gall's followers, physician-anatomist Johann Spurtsheim, gave this theory a new name - "science of mind" (phrenology). He was so impressed with the idea that the shape of the skull can fully reveal the character, talents and intelligence of a person.

Can phrenology be believed

Scientists categorically declare no.

Phrenology is considered Science or Pseudoscience: Phrenology as a Cautionary Tale for Evolutionary Psychology as a classic example of pseudoscience.

Back in the middle of the 19th century, critics noticed that Gall was not entirely honest with statistics. The physician recruited volunteers to participate in his research. But he published the results of the work only if they confirmed his theory. If a person with a certain bulge on the skull did not develop the quality suggested by the phrenological scheme, the doctor simply ignored this discrepancy and did not report it in publications.

In addition, scientists questioned whether the brain could be divided into separate "organs." One of the greatest opponents of phrenology, the French physiologist Marie-Jean-Pierre Florence, insisted on Marie Jean Pierre Flourens (1794-1867): an extraordinary scientist of his time that the brain acts as a whole and cannot be broken down into small local parts … Florence confirmed his point of view by numerous experiments on birds and animals. It was found that when a part of the brain is removed or damaged, its function is in most cases taken over by intact gray matter.

There was one more thing. Opponents quite reasonably reminded Gall that a skull is, in fact, a bone, hard and non-plastic. For example, Harvard professor Oliver Wendell Holmes compared the skull to a safe, which contains "jewelry" - the brain.

You can do Oliver Wendell Holmes. The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table Can you tell what amount and in what denominations is in the safe just by feeling it on the outside?

From an essay by Oliver Wendell Holmes

The objections were accepted. As a result, by the twentieth century, phrenology finally began to be called a pseudoscience - the same as physiognomy or spiritualism.

Why phrenology is useful

Despite its inconsistency, phrenology still gave impetus to science as a whole. For example, she forced scientists to dig deeper into the functions of the brain. Thus, it was possible to find out that different zones of the organ really have some specialization of their own: damage to one area can deprive a person of the ability to speak clearly, another - worsens the coordination of movements, and so on.

Phrenology has helped establish connections between psychology and neurology. This theory is the basis of the Encyclopedia of Counseling in many modern studies of consciousness.

A separate topic is forensics. It was phrenology that pushed The Murderous Dutch Fiddler scientists to the idea that criminal behavior can be caused by the peculiarities of the brain structure. And that criminals can not be destroyed or isolated, but successfully treated.

In general, Dr. Gall's pseudoscientific theory continues to move science. Even without looking for bulges and depressions on the skull.

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