Phrenology is a pseudo-science and was a term first coined by American, Thomas Foster. It was first developed by physician Joseph Gall from Vienna. He believed that the brain was made up of 27 individual ‘organs’ and that it created one’s personality. A person’s mental abilities and behavior could be determined by the contours of the skull, that the ‘dents’ and ‘bumps’ on a persons head determines their intellectual and emotional traits and he called this visible inspection ‘cranioscopy.
In America, word of this pseudo science spread quickly and people like George Combe and Johann Kaspar Spurzheim, made ‘the science’ even more outrageous, adding more designations to the brain, some of the designations were for ‘metaphysical spirit’ and ‘wit.’
Ironically Phrenology was correct in assuming different parts of the brain are responsible for, emotions, intellect and behavior. It goes very wrong when it make a link with the contours of the skull. Gall believed there was an ‘organ’ present for murderers, a theft organ for thieves, etc and the more an organ was used, the bigger it got. Gall’s early work was with criminals and the insane and his brain “organs” and it was reflected in his assumptions. Spurzheim ‘refined’ Gall’s work, dispensed with ‘organs’ and called them areas of ‘self-esteem’ and ‘benevolence’. Gall’s earlier work was done with criminals and the insane and his work showed his assumptions.
Throughout the nineteenth century phrenology remained popular, despite not having a scientific basis, and was highly praised by prominent people of time, like Thomas Edison, Alfred Russell Wallace and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The Scottish brothers George Combe and Andrew Combe were among the many followers, who began the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh. It included many social reformers and intellectuals, like the publisher John Pringle Nichol, the evolutionary environmentalist William A.F. Browne.
In Edinburgh, Combe’s Phrenological Journal was published from 1823 until 1847. His, The Constitution of Man sold more than 300,000 copies between 1828 and 1868 indicating the popularity of phrenology in the 19th century.
In 1934, at the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago, Lavery and White displayed the psychograph, a machine that gave phrenological readings and they sold their machine for a reputed $200,000. The results from the machine were no different than that of a horoscope and many people who took the readings were satisfied. The results were very subjective and not subject to objective scientific inquiry.