Phrenology is a hypothesis claiming that the personality traits of a person can be derived from the shape of the skull.
Derived from the Greek phren ('mind') and logia ('study')
Phrenology is a very ancient object of study that deals with the relationship between a person's character and the morphology of the skull. The first philosopher to locate mental faculties in the head was Aristotle. Several typologies have been defined that link physiognomy with character.
The first study of Phrenology was developed by the Austrian physician, Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828). He was one of the first to consider the brain as the home of all mental activities. In the introduction to his main work The Anatomy and Physiology of the Nervous System in General, and of the Brain in Particular, Gall makes the following statement regarding the principles on which he based his theory:
- That moral and intellectual faculties are innate
- That their exercise or manifestation depends on organisation
- That the brain is the organ of all the propensities, sentiments and faculties
- That the brain is composed of many particular organs as there are propensities, sentiments and faculties which differ essentially from each other.
- That the form of the head or cranium represents the form of the brain, and thus reflects the relative development of the brain organs.
These statements can be considered as the basic laws on which the science of Phrenology has been built. Through careful observation and extensive experimental measurements, Gall was able to link aspects of character, called faculties, to precise brain localizations. The most important collaborator of Gall was Johann Spurzheim (1776-1832, who successfully disseminated Phrenology in UK and USA.
Other important authors on the subject in the last century include the Scottish brothers George Combe (1788-1858) and Andrew Combe (1797-1847). George Combe was the author of some of the most popular works on Phrenology and the hygiene of the mind, like The Consitution of Man or Elements of Phrenology.
The American brothers Lorenzo Niles Fowler (1811-1896) and Orson S. Fowler (1809-1887) were the leading Phrenologists of their time. Lorenzo spend much of his life in England where he set up the famous Phrenological publishing house of L.N Fowler and Co.
In the early 20th century however, Phrenology benefited of a new interest, particularly in the viewpoint of evolutionism on one hand and criminal anthropology on the other hand.
The most important British Phrenologist of this century was the famous London psychiatrist Bernard Hollander (1864-1934). His main works, The Mental Function of the Brain (1901) and Scientific Phrenology (1902) are an objective appraisal of the teachings of Gall.
Phrenology was also very popular in the United States, where even automatic devices for phrenological analysis were devised.
In Belgium, Paul Bouts (1900-1999) started working on Phrenology from a pedagogical background, using the Phrenological analysis to define an individual pedagogy. Combining Phrenology with typology and graphology, he coined a global approach called Psychognomy.
Prof. Bouts has been the main promoter of the renewed interest in Phrenology and Psychognomy in Belgium. He has also been active in Brazil and Canada where he founded institutes for characterology. His works Psychognomie and Les Grandioses Destinées are considered as standard works in the field. Besides his works in the field of caracterology, he has written some works about healthy lifestyles (Modern Hygiene for Intellectuals) and some spiritual-philosophical essays.
After his death, the work of Bouts has been continued by the foundation PPP (Per Pulchritudinem in Pulchritudine) animated by Anette Müller, a pupil of Bouts.
In 1983, the London psychologist Peter Cooper founded The London Phrenology Company in order to revive interest in Phrenology and to act as a source of books, busts and other Phrenological items. Cooper's approach to Phrenology is quite interesting and goes well beyond the mere anatomical aspects. The understanding of the development of the mental faculties through Phrenology allows enlightement of the mind, allowing the improvement of self-knowledge. Phrenology thus gives a new dimension to the well-known adage “Know Thyself”.
Phrenology was a complex process that involved feeling the bumps in the skull to determine an individual's psychological attributes. Franz Joseph Gall first believed that the brain was made up of 27 individual 'organs' that created one's personality, with the first 19 of these 'organs' believed to exist in other animal species.
Phrenologists would run their fingertips and palms over the skulls of their patients to feel for enlargements or indentations. The phrenologist would usually take measurements of the overall head size using a caliper. With this information, the phrenologist would assess the character and temperament of the patient and address each of the 27 “brain organs”. This type of analysis was used to predict the kinds of relationships and behaviors to which the patient was prone.
In its heyday during the 1820s-1840s, phrenology was often used to predict a child's future life, to assess prospective marriage partners and to provide background checks for job applicants.
An enlarged bump meant that the patient utilized that particular “organ” extensively. The 27 areas were varied in function, from sense of color, to the likelihood of religiosity, to the potential to commit murder. Each of the 27 “brain organs” was located in a specific area of the skull. As a phrenologist felt the skull, he could refer to a numbered diagram showing where each functional area was believed to be located.
The 27 “brain organs” were:
- The instinct of reproduction (located in the cerebellum).
- The love of one's offspring.
- Affection and friendship.
- The instinct of self-defense and courage; the tendency to get into fights.
- The carnivorous instinct; the tendency to murder.
- Guile; acuteness; cleverness.
- The feeling of property; the instinct of stocking up on food (in animals); covetousness; the tendency to steal.
- Pride; arrogance; haughtiness; love of authority; loftiness.
- Vanity; ambition; love of glory (a quality “beneficent for the individual and for society”).
- Circumspection; forethought.
- The memory of things; the memory of facts; educability; perfectibility.
- The sense of places; of space proportions.
- The memory of people; the sense of people.
- The memory of words.
- The sense of language; of speech.
- The sense of colours.
- The sense of sounds; the gift of music.
- The sense of connectedness between numbers.
- The sense of mechanics, of construction; the talent for architecture.
- Comparative sagacity.
- The sense of metaphysics.
- The sense of satire; the sense of witticism.
- The poetical talent.
- Kindness; benevolence; gentleness; compassion; sensitivity; moral sense.
- The faculty to imitate; the mimic.
- The organ of religion.
- The firmness of purpose; constancy; perseverance; obstinacy.
Phrenology came under attack because of the ongoing development of psycho-analysis. The introspective and subjective method of psycho-analysis only looks to the individual psychology through the psychological structure of the examiner, who will see the other subject through his own temperament and through his prevailing faculties. This subjective approach is clearly opposed to the objective analysis of Phrenology. Furthermore, fascist ideologies like Nazism have misused some elements of craniometry in the framework of their infamous racist doctrines. These theories, albeit completely distinct from scientific Phrenology, have given a very bad name to the science.
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