October 3, 2011

Gall's Phrenology

written by Rosa Morgan

Standing at his lectern, the priest stared steadily upon one man in the congregation: Franz Joseph Gall. With his angry voice echoing off the church's hallowed walls, he pronounced,"There are those amongst us, who have lost their way from our Lord's divine path. With pomposity, they state the mind is situated in an organ as mushy and insubstantial as the brain. What ludicrousness is this, when all intelligent men know that God has imbued our thinking into our very soul, whereupon no one can put his finger precisely on the spot!"

The German doctor had heard similar diatribes from his own peers in scientific circles, so the priest's virulent attack was merely as bothersome as the faint buzz of an offending fly.

The priest bellowed, "This quackery declares human conduct to be innate, and is determined by localized areas of the brain. Do they suggest we disregard our spiritual makeup as well as God and the Devil's influence upon us?"

Shifting uncomfortably in the pew, Gall wanted to swat the boorish priest, saying, "Aristotle, himself, believed mental ability originated in the brain, but I have taken it one step further. I have developed a system called phrenology, which correlates a person's skull formation with his traits and proclivities."

The priest wiped his sweaty brow and continued his rant, "This parlor game of running one's fingers over a person's head in search of bumps and indentations has been taken up with much vigor in England and America. They actually employ it to determine a child's future, or who they shall marry."

Losing his composure, Gall fumed to himself, "What does a man of the cloth know about science? My calculations of the twenty-seven individual organs of the brain are based on precise measurements with calipers. And my methods were enthusiastically received by the prestigious Institute of France, that is until Napoleon Bonaparte reprimanded the professors for being taught anatomy from a German."

By this time the priest was fit to be tied as he railed against Gall's colleague, Johan Spurzheim, who evangelized these preposterous teachings to justify discrimination.

Having had enough abuse, Gall stood up before a shocked congregation, and with head held high, walked out from the church. The popularity of his phrenology would fluctuate throughout the 19th century, and though it eventually was completely disregarded, it went onto influence the development of psychology, criminology, and anthropology.

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