Phrenology: A Megapost

I have a strange fascination with dead sciences; the so-called discoveries, championed by experts for years and subsequently discarded as nonsense. Of course, we are by no means past our tendency to espouse a theory wholeheartedly until something comes along to disprove it.

Phrenology was a rather popular (now defunct) science in the nineteenth century, purporting that mental faculties and personality traits corresponded with cranial bone formation.


I love the old charts and models (I’ve used some of these images in jewelry, clothing and other craft designs)…





Equipment included measuring devices and even electric “testing helmets:”


Should you want your own model, you can purchase a Dr. Willarton Phrenology Head:


Or a L.N. Fowler Phrenology Head:


People seem surprised that I don’t already own one of these. In time…in time…

And look at this fantastic set of miniature head models, made by William Bally in 1831:



Although disproved long before, 1931 saw the advent of the Robot Phrenologist:


I must hand it to the phrenologists for being the first to roughly conceive cognitive localization.

Modern imaging technology presents a weighty issue when it comes to brain scans. Although certain connections can be made between activity, thought and specific brain regions, there are definitely limits of cognitive function localization.


There is a book about this topic.

Some have postulated that there are more connections in the human brain than atoms in the known universe. Whether or not there’s any validity to this statement, it is clear that neuroscience can’t transform raw data into complex thought patterns. We’ve yet to uncover exactly where “identity” is located.

Image: Lost Identity

Even as an avid student of mind-body medicine and neuroscience, I like that human beings can’t be relegated to a series of bits and bumps.

Note: while posting this I kept thinking of the Simpsons.

Smithers: Sir, phrenology was dismissed as quackery 160 years ago.
Mr. Burns: You WOULD say that! You have the brain pan of a stage coach tilter!

8 Responses to “Phrenology: A Megapost”

  1. theshiftingman Says:

    the brain pan of a stage coach tilter! hahaha god i love you

  2. RyogueShinigami Says:

    Sounds like something you’d see at the mutter museum

  3. 666

  4. the little heads are amazing. ahead of their time… (jeez, I really didn’t mean to impose such a terrible pun)

  5. fu*king interesting. at least my professor at NMSU has a wonderful sense of humor to go along with her PSY201 class’ handouts!

  6. […] Phrenology: A Megapost « SheWalksSoftlyApr 20, 2009 … Of course, we are by no means past our tendency to espouse a theory wholeheartedly until something comes along to disprove it. Phrenology … […]

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