You Ought To Have Your Head Examined!

The sign of Aries rules all things connected to the head including (with a little injection of Uranian Logic) a popular system of divining known as Phrenology.

Phrenologists believe that an individual’s character and future can be read by analyzing the size and location of bumps on the skull. This peculiar form of divination and personality analysis was popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries and as with most things of this nature, Phrenology had its advocates and foes.

The original discovery is credited to Viennese physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) whose theories were idiosyncratic to say the least. For example, as Gall studied a picture of Mozart who had a tendency to rest his finger on a particular part of this head as he composed, Gall assumed that this section of the skull must be the part associated with musicality. Two low life characters of whom Gall was acquainted happened to have bumps above their ears so this became known as the section of acquisitiveness. There was no actual basis in fact associated with any of the Phrenological assignments - there were merely based upon assumptions connected to observations. Further, Gall and his fellow Phrenologists only sought only confirmations for their hypotheses and did not apply the same standard to contradictory evidence.

The basic tenants of Gall’s Phrenology Theory are quoted as follows:

1. The brain is the organ of the mind.

2. The mind is composed of multiple distinct, innate faculties.

3. Because they are distinct, each faculty must have a separate seat or "organ" in the brain.

4. The size of an organ, other things being equal, is a measure of its power.

5. The shape of the brain is determined by the development of the various organs.

6. As the skull takes its shape from the brain, the surface of the skull can be read as an accurate index of psychological aptitudes and tendencies.

The examination of the unevenness skull therefore would yield information regarding the various cerebral "organs" responsible for different intellectual aptitudes and character traits.

Two American brothers, Lorenzo Niles Fowler (1811-1896) and Orson Squire Fowler (1809-1887), were leading phrenologists of their time. Orson and his associates Samuel Wells and Nelson Sizer ran a phrenological business and publishing house Fowlers & Wells in New York City. Lorenzo spent much of his life in England where he initiated the famous phrenological publishing house, L.N Fowler & Co. There he gained considerable fame with his phrenology head - a china head showing the phrenological faculties. Regarding his phrenological studies Lorenzo said the following:

“For thirty years I have studied Crania and living heads from all parts of the world, and have found in every instance that there is perfect correspondence between the conformation of the healthy skull of an individual and his known characteristics. To make my observations available I have prepared a Bust of superior form and have marked the divisions of organs in accordance with my research and experience.”

Below is a photo of Fowler’s bust and a listing of the cranial sections.

CRANIAL SECTIONS According to Fowler

Domestic Propensities
Selfish Propensities
Selfish Sentiments
Moral & Religious Sentiments
Perfecting Group
Intuitives*Reasoning*Reflective Faculties
Literary*Observing*Knowing Faculties
Language*Verbal Memory*Verbal Expression
Reasoning*Causality* Planning
Hope*Hope Future*Hope Present
Sense of Character*Display*Approbativeness*Ambition
Sublimity*Granduer*Sense of Terrific
Desire for Liquids
Desire for Solids*Executiveness*Destructiveness*Extermination
Mastoid Process
Reproduction*Love*Amativeness*Love Of Sex
Occiptal Spine
Gregariousness*Love of Family*Friendship*Socialbility
Inhabitiveness*Love of Home*Patriotism
Philoprogenitiness*Parental Love*Love of Chidren*Love of Animals
Self Esteem*Dignity*Self Love*Independence
Veneration*Firmness*Repent*Worship*Antiquity*Perserverance*Stabiity*Power of Will
Human Nature*Foresight*Intuition

Phrenology was based in Britain but seemed to die down by 1850 until it was re-introduced there by the Fowlers during 1860-1870. The British Phrenological Society, founded by L.N. Fowler in 1887, lasted for eighty years until it was finally disbanded in 1967. In 1830 it spread to America and France and in 1840 to Germany. These years were the heyday for phrenology with the Fowlers using and promoting their own modified system that was based upon Gall’s original precepts. During the 1820-1840s Phrenology was so popular it was often used by employers as a character reference source when considering work ethics potential employees as well as suitable to define what type of actual job or labor was a good “fit.” As the pseudo-science became more diverse and applicable to different life situations, it was also used to determine a good love match and compatibility. Phrenology ranked right up there with astrology and other forms of divination that offered important life advice. Most scientists began to abandon phrenology as a science by the early 20th century but it still exists today. On October 1, 2007 the State of Michigan began to impose a tax on phrenology services.


In 1901, Henry C. Lavery, of Superior, Wisconsin became convinced that phrenology was valid and true and he spent his next 26 years endeavoring to put this science into a machine.  On January 29, 1931, he and his partner, businessman Frank P. White, a businessman announced the invention of such a machine known as the "Psychograph." According to the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices ( “The machine consisted of 1,954 parts in a metal carrier with a continuous motor-driven belt inside a walnut cabinet containing statements about 32 mental faculties. These faculties were each rated 1 through 5, "deficient" to "very superior," so that there were 160 possible statements but an almost unlimited number of possible combinations.  The "score" was determined by the way the 32 probes, each with five contact points in the headpiece, made contact with the head.  The subject sat in a chair connected to the machine and the headpiece was lowered and adjusted.  The operator then pulled back a lever that activated the belt-driven motor, which then received low-voltage signals from the headpiece and stamped out the appropriate statement for each faculty consecutively.”

Further, “Thirty three machines were built in Minneapolis… they were leased to entrepreneurs throughout the country for $2,000 down plus $35 a month. They were popular attractions for theater, lobbies and department stores, which found them good traffic builders during the depression.  Two enterprising promoters set up shop in the Black Forest Village at the 1934 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago and netted $200,000 at their standing-room-only booth!”

During its heyday, Phrenology had many supporters and debunkers. Several of the rich and famous including Matthew Brady, P.T. Barnum, Horace Mann, Samuel Morse, the Wright Brothers, Andrew Carnegie, Andy Jackson, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln were analyzed phrenologically. Writer Walt Whitman supported Phrenology while Mark Twain did his best to debunk it.
References to phrenology have shown up in many venues. According to Wikipedia (

  • In Chapter XX of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Duke pulls several printed handbills out of his carpet-bag which were advertising past "performances" (scams and cons) he had been involved in: One bill said, "The celebrated Dr. Armand de Montalban of Paris," would "lecture on the Science of Phrenology" at such and such a place, on the blank day of blank, at ten cents admission, and "furnish charts of character at twenty-five cents apiece." The Duke said that was "him"." (97) (Dover Thrift Edition)
  • In Bram Stoker's Dracula, several characters make phrenological observations in describing other characters.
  • Charlotte Brontë, as well as her sister Anne Brontë, display the belief in phrenology in their works.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Sherlock Holmes makes occasional references to phrenology; namely in The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle where he deduces the intelligence of a hat's owner by the size of his head and also regarding to his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty, deeming that his highly domed forehead as a mark of his superior intellect. Most importantly, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dr Mortimer makes an examination of Holmes' skull, remarking on the dolcicophalic features and the supra-orbital fossa.
  • Popular Indian-English writer Amitav Ghosh's first novel The Circle of Reason (1986) has one of the main characters, Balaram practice phrenology obsessively.
  • The hip hop band The Roots have an album called Phrenology.
  • Terry Pratchett, in his Discworld series of books, describes the practice of Retro-phrenology as the practice of altering someone's character by giving them bumps on the head. You can go into a shop in Ankh-Morpork and order an artistic temperament with a tendency to introspection. What you actually get is hit on the head with a series of small hammers, but it keeps the money in circulation and gives people something to do.
  • The comedy-musical play Heid (pronounced 'Heed', a Scottish inflection of the word 'Head') by Forbes Masson alluded to the phrenology work of George Combe, citing the pseudoscience's influence on a young Charles Darwin as an inspiration for writers.
  • The film Pi depicts the main character, Max, outlining a portion of his skull according to a phrenology chart and proceeding to drill into that section to destroy a part of his brain that contained important information of a mathematical sequence that he thought nobody should know.
  • In the film Men at Work, the character of Charlie Sheen claims to be a phrenologist to his love interest, unwilling to confess his real profession (garbage collector). When she seems skeptical, he goes so far as to give her a phrenology reading, offering hit or miss insights, including her love for mangos.
  • Several literary critics have noted the influence of phrenology (and physiognomy) in Edgar Allan Poe's fiction.
  • In the novel The War of the End of the World from Latin American writer Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the main characters is Galileo Gall, who is phrenologist and had adopted his new name because of Galileo Galilei and Franz Joseph Gall, founder of the science of phrenology.
  • In the novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville many references are made to phrenology and the narrator identifies himself as an amateur phrenologist.
  • In NBC's hit series 30 Rock Kenneth the page mentions that he doesn't trust his superior, Pete Hornberger, because he has a ridge on a section of his skull associated with deviousness.
  • Dr. House has a white phrenology bust often seen in his office on House M.D.
  • In The Simpsons TV episode "Mother Simpson" - when Smithers mentions phrenology was dismissed as quackery 160 years ago Mr. Burns replies "Of course you'd say have the brainpan of a stagecoach tilter!"


Even though advances in modern medicine and neuroscience lead scientists to universally concur that the conformations of the outer skull are not an accurate predictor of human behavior, it still remains amazing how a simple whimsical notion based upon observation can lead to real and useful breakthroughs for mankind. Here are some offshoots of Phrenology that have proved both interesting and sometimes useful.

Craniology is the use of precise quantitative measurements of cranial features in order to classify people according to race, criminal temperament, intelligence, etc.

Anthropometry is the documentation of facial characteristics of criminals for identification purposes, which is still in use today. It was created by French Security policeman Eugene Vidocq in the nineteenth century and is still used today. One of Vidocq’s coworkers, Alphonse Bertilion expanded the system by including body measurements of criminals. An infamous use of Anthropometry was used by Nazi anthropologists and physicians who proposed and supported the “scientific classification of Arians and non-Arians on the basis of quantitive measurements of the skull.”

Craniometry is the technique of measuring the bones of the skull.

Neuroimaging is the use of various techniques to either directly or indirectly image the structure, function/pharmacology of the brain.

Modularity of Mind is the notion that a mind may, at least in part, be composed of separate innate structures which have established evolutionarily developed functional purposes.