The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Monday, 21 July 2008

24. Mysterizingness in the Limbo of Effete Heresies

"PHRENOLOGY. The name was given by Forster in 1815 to the empirical system of psychology formulated by Gall and developed by his followers, especially by Spurzheim and Combe. At first it was named "cranioscopy," "craniology," "physiognomy," or "zoonomy," but Forster's name was early adopted by Spurtzheim, and became that whereby the system is now known. The principles upon which it is based are four : (1) the brain is the organ of the mind ; (2) the mental powers of man can be analysed into a definite number of independent faculties ; (3) these faculties are innate, and each has its seat in a definite region of the brain ; (4) the size of each of these regions is the measure of the power of manifesting the faculty associated with it. While phrenology is thus, on the one hand, a system of mental philosophy, it has a second and more popular aspect as a method whereby the disposition and character of the individual may be ascertained. These two sides of the subject are distinct from each other, for, while it can only serve as a reliable guide for reading character on the assumption of its truth as a philosophic system, yet the possibility of its practical application does not necessarily follow from the establishment of the truth of its theoretic side."

The author of this essay, A. Macalister, M. D., Professor of Anatomy, University of Cambridge, is necessarily careful in his introduction of this subject. It is worth considering that while today we can easily dismiss Phrenology as an amusing, faith-based pseudo-science, in the 19th Century, however flawed the scientific method , the products of the subject were worth considering, in the absence of more rigorously achieved data.

Macalister gives us the history of the subject - from the work of early Greeks and Egyptians, through Albertus Magnus to Theodore Gall, and the heyday of Phrenology as a respected scientific philosophy in the early 19th Century.

"The popularity of phrenology has waned, and few of the phrenological societies now survive ; the cultivation of the system is confined to a few enthusiasts such as will be found attached to any cause, and some professional teachers who follow phrenology as a vocation. Like many similar systems, it has a much larger following in America than in Europe. Based, like many other artificial philosophies, on an admixture of assumption and truth, certain parts will survive and become incorporated into scientific psychology, while the rest will in due course come to be relegated to the limbo of effete heresies.

The faculties and their Localities.- The system of Gall was constructed by a method of pure empiricism, and his so-called organs were for the most part identified on slender grounds. Having selected the place of a faculty, he examined the heads of his friends and casts of persons with that peculiarity in common, and in them he sought for the distinctive feature of their characteristic trait. Some of his earlier studies were made among low associates, in jails, and in lunatic asylums, and some of the qualities located by him were such as tend to become perverted to crime. These he named after their excessive manifestations, mapping out organs of murder, theft, &c. ; but as this cast some discredit on the system the names were changed by Spurzheim, who claimed as his the moral and religious considerations associated with it."

Doctor Macalister proceeds admirably by cataloguing all thirty five propensities, sentiments and faculties of the system of Spurzheim and Combe. A selection follow :

[...](3) Concentrativeness, below the obelion and over the lambda. This is a region of uncertain function, unnoticed by Gall, but described as Inhabitiveness by Spurzheim, because he found it large in cats and in a clergyman fond of his home. [...]
(4) Adhesiveness (Amitie), over the lateral convoluted area of the lambdoidal suture. This region was prominent in a lady introduced to Gall as a model of friendship, and is said by him to be the region where persons close to each other put their heads together.
(5) Combativeness (Instinct de la defense), above the asterion ; it was found by Gall by examining the heads of the most quarrelsome of his low companions whom he had beforehand stimulated by alcohol. It was verified by comparing this region with the same part of the head of a quarrelsome young lady."

Now that is what I call a scientific study : administering alcohol to low companions, measuring their heads, then measuring that of a quarrelsome young lady for confirmation.
"(6) Destructiveness (Instinct carnassier), above the ear meatus. This is the widest part of the skulls of carnivorous animals, and was found large in the head of a student so fond of torturing animals that he became a surgeon, also large in the head of an apothecary who became an executioner.
[...](8) Acquisitiveness (Sentiment de la propriete), on the upper edge of the front half of the squamous suture. This part of the head Gall noticed to be prominent in the pickpockets of his acquaintance.
(9) Constructiveness (Sens de mechanique), on the stephanion ; detected by its prominence on the heads of persons of mechanical genius. It was found large on the head of a milliner of uncommon taste and on a skull reputed to be that of Raphael. [...]

Lower Sentiments
(10) Self-esteem (Orgueil, Fierte), at and immediately over the obelion ; found by Gall in a beggar who excused his poverty on account of his pride. This was confirmed by the observation that proud persons held their heads backwards in the line of the organ. [...]

Superior Sentiments
[...](14) Veneration (Sentiment religieux), median at the bregma. Gall noted when visiting churches that those who prayed with the greatest fervour were prominent in this region, and it was also prominent in a pious brother."

I wonder if there's any possibility that Gall made up these observations, off the top of his head, as it were.
"(15) Conscientiousness, unknown to Gall ; recognized by Spurzheim usually from its deficiency, and placed between the last and the parietal eminence.
[...](18) Wonder, said to be large in vision-seers and many psychic researchers. A second similar organ, placed between this and the next is called Mysterizingness by Forster, and is said to preside over belief in ghosts and the supernatural.
(19) Ideality (Poesie), noted by Gallfrom its prominence in the busts of poets ; said to be the part touched by the hand when composing poetry.
(20) Wit (Esprit caustique), the frontal eminence, the organ of the sense of the ludicrous, prominent in Rabelais and Swift. [...]

Perceptive Faculties
(22) Individuality, over the frontal sinus in the middle line ; the capacity of recognizing external objects and forming ideas therefrom ; said to have been large in Michelangelo, and small in the Scots.
(23) Form (Memoire des personnes), capacity for recognizing faces ; gives a wide interval between the eyes ; found by Gall in a squinting girl with a good memory for faces. [...]
(28) Number, on the external angular process of the frontal bone, large in a calculating boy in Vienna.
(29) Order, internal to the last, first noted by Spurzheim in an orderly idiot. [...]

Reflective Faculties
(34) Comparison (Sagacite comparative), median, at the top of the bare region of the forehead, where a savant friend of Gall's, fond of analogies, had a promonent boss."

And finally
"(35) Causality (Esprit metaphysique), the eminence on each side of Comparison, noticed on the head of Fichte and on a bust of Kant ; the seat of the faculty of correlating causes and effects."

Which one cannot help but imagine to have been somewhat lacking on the bonces of Messrs Gall, Spurzheim, and company.

You can enjoy the rest of Doctor Macalisters slightly sarcastic presentation of this entertaining pseudo-science in the full PHRENOLOGY posting at the 1902 Encyclopedia website. The term 'mysterizingness' seems not to have achieved wider currency in the last few hundred years, returning only 22 hits at present from the Google. Accordingianists might see it as their duty to remedy this situation, perhaps by leaving snide comments on the web forums of modern-day phrenology enthusiasts. Eg : "Your propensity to mysterizingness will leave you stranded in the limbo of effete heresies."

The Phrenology article in the current edition of Britannica is clearly a summary based on Doctor Macalister's 9th Edition article, which strikes a pleasing note of continuity across 130 years.

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