What is Phrenology

During the nineteenth century’s middle decades, the period from 1856 to 1870 approximately, people believed that the study of the human skull’s bony areas could give an idea about his behavior, character and the talents that he possesses. This science was known as Phrenology and the inventor of this science was an Austrian doctor by the name of Franz Joseph Gall. Born in 1758, his theories, studies and research attracted the interests of many prominent scientists and researches including the founder of the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin. His theories were highly recognized. So much so that even the queen Victoria of England got both her children examined by an expert phrenologist to know about the future events and level of success that they would have later in their lives.

Gall basically mapped the human skull into a total of thirty seven areas. This he did after examining, a number of skulls of many people from different walks of life such as professional executives, blue collar workers, criminals and even lunatics and the average citizens. With the help of the classification, Gall came to know that traits such as self-esteem, confidence, firmness and parental love are located in the top portion of the skull while cautiousness and a secretive attitude were placed by him on the left side of the skull. His theory was that the bony protuberance reflected different bulges and therefore the level of development. This means that greater the bulge, greater will be the level of development of that part of the skull and thus the traits that are located in that part.

Franz Joseph Gal’s theory of Phrenology became so popular that the world started looking up to him. It was only in the early twentieth century that a major flaw in the Phrenology theory came to light. This flaw was due to the fact that the contours of the human brain rested on an error which was a fundamental one in human anatomy.

When Gall invented the theory of Phrenology, he was under the impression that the skull of a person was molded by the brain and it developed along with the growth of the brain. Also, he propagated that it was the brain that gave shape and bulges which have the underlying tendencies and mental traits to the different contours of the brain.

This was proved wrong with the discovery of the space between the human brain and the skull, which is now known as the subarachnoid space. This space is known to contain the cerebrospinal functions and it also protects the brain from getting damaged by coming into contact with the human skull by means of cushions.

It was also discovered later that it is the brain that controls the different traits seen in a person and not the skull, a fact which was not considered by Gall at all. This discovery was made by Francois Magendie, a French doctor and general physician in the year 1828. Coincidentally Gall died in the same year.

However the support for Gall’s theory was eveident even then. So much so that an electronic “Phrenometer” was designed in the year 1907 by an Englishman to exactly measure the bumps and bulges in the human skull!

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