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The Loose Foundations of Criticism against Phrenology

The Position of Academic Psychology against Phrenology

In today's psychological environment, it has become fashionable to criticise and reject Phrenology. One should look at some basic textbooks of psychology to see how the science is disdained and despised: one can read statements like "Phrenology is unscientific", "Phrenology is a quackery" and other crap of this kind. In most these cases, these rejections are stated without prior assessment of the values of Phrenology as a science. 
This leads to a derisory attitude to phrenology  among  the psychologic community and the "intelligent" public.  They "knew", because their teachers  had told them so, that phrenology was a pseudo-science, discredited, and of no value. And so generations of medical and psychological students have been only too happy to pursue their studies  with a distorted view of what phrenology is and has to offer. 
The classical works about Phrenology went into oblivion: With so much essential reading to do, which student is going to waste time reading what authority has told him is unnecessary ?
The brave psychologists who recognise Phrenology's values have often to do so in secret, out of fear of being ostracised by their colleagues.

The History of Criticism against Phrenology

This criticism goes back very far in history. In fact, in 1808 Dr. Gall presented a Memoire to the Institute of France which was referred to a committee of five, including Cuvier. At first the Committee considered the claims of Gall favourably, but when Napoleon Bonaparte came to hear about it, he severely reprimanded the Institute for submitting to be taught anatomy by a German, who even had the impertinence to state that the Emperor had no philosophical mind (Napoleon had in fact the sloped front of the practical realist)! With the result that the Committee was forced to present an unfavourable report. Since then Gall and his teachings were ridiculed and attacked in virulent words.  And as Bernard Hollander wrote (cited by Frances Hedderly): "Forthwith the journals, schools and academics formed a sort of holy alliance against the system of Gall, and all would have been over with it long ere now, were it possible for the triumph of any alliance over truth to continue for ever." 

Without any further objective investigation of the science, this criticism is held up to today, and handbooks and encyclopaedias copy each other's negative propaganda about Phrenology since nearly 200 years. 

This absurdly based criticism is further illustrated in the following two quotations: 
Phrenology is always criticised by those who never studied the science, using rather obscure reasonings and aprioristic statements 
- - - Dr. DESCURET, "La Medecine des Passions" 
No subject has ever been so thoroughly misrepresented, even by learned men of acknowledged authority, and no author has ever been so libelled and with such malice as Gall, and this notwithstanding the fact that there is not one man of scientific repute who has written anything which would indicate that he examined Gall's chief works. 
- - - Dr. Bernard HOLLANDER, "The Mental Function of the Brain" 

Why Criticism is wrong

It would be an absurdity to reject Phrenology as such, without first assessing thevalue of the science, as is unfortunately too often done today. 
Extensive experimental verification of the Phrenological localisations have proven their practical value. The Phrenological analysis of personality remains of incomparable value to assess the character. 

A Critical Appraisal of Modern Phrenology

Phrenology and the influence of the environment

Phrenology is a science based on observation. It is experimental and constructed on an analytical-synthetical base. 

Starting from the measurements made on a subject's skull, it is possible to state which character faculties are more or less developed. The combination of these faculties yields an overview of the subject's character and personality. These are the innate propensities of the subject, the real foundations of the personality, which may be adjusted but not changed by external factors like environment an education. 
One can compare this as follows: whileas the Phrenological analysis describes a person's naked body, external factors provide the clothes, which, even when influencing exterior appearance, will never change the body itself. 

Errors in the Phrenological diagnosis

Some errors in the diagnosis may however occur. They can be attrituted to the following causes which can easily be recognised: 
  • Subjective causes of error; due to errors in the Phrenological interpretation of the skull
    • Incorrect or incomplete examination of the skull (for example when the observer is misled by the subject's hairstyle)
    • Insufficient attention for the interaction between faculties. This is a very common cause of errors. It is not correct to make a judgment on one single faculty; the interaction of other faculties must always be taken into account. Example: a strong Destructiveness does not in itself stand for a violent, aggressive person; a strong development of Moral faculties may lead this person's dynamic forces towards higher aspirations.
  • Objective causes of error. This are disorders in the brain of the skull which distort normal development of the brain.
    • Pathological deformation of skull
    • Brain damage
    • Major psychological disorders
    • Drug addiction leading to brain disorders
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