Phrenology and the emergence of modern Western culture

Brock University

The explosive reception that greeted phrenology was out of all proportion to the scientific arguments made in its favor. I will outline an argument that its attractiveness had to do with aspects incidental to its issues in neuroscience. First, cultural changes related to religious developments starting in the late Middle Ages favored Phrenology over the Cell Doctrine in its view of humans as individuals. Second, Phrenology represented an approach more in tune with peoples' view of the human mind in terms of faculty psychology. These two factors mutually reinforced each other, especially in the context of the Protestantism. Thus, Phrenology filled a cultural as well as intellectual need developed during the Enlightenment that was in full fashion by the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America.

18th Century Neuroscience Symposium -- Function in the "Long" 18th Century: The Transition from Medieval Cell Doctrine to Cortical Localization Doctrine
Saturday, 26 June 2004, 9:00 am - 6:30 pm

Ninth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Montreal, Quebec, Canada