Phrenology was a theory in the 19th century which hypothesized that certain personality characteristics could be determined by the shape of the human cranium. The belief was that certain parts of the brain had distinct functions. The functions were representative of the individual’s naturalistic instinct. Phrenologists believed that different areas of the brain caused the cranial bone to expand or contract in specific regions. This led them to conclude that an individual’s capacity for certain personality traits could be specified by measuring that area of the cranium.
Physiognomy is another theory that dates back to as early as the 5th century. It is the study of predicting a personality through studying a person’s physical characteristics, and most importantly their facial features. It was determined that qualities such as aggression and trustworthiness are affected at the age of puberty by differing testosterone levels. The height and width of a face are the variants that are affected; antagonistic people were found to have a wider face.
Franz Joseph Gall, a German medical practitioner, is considered the founder of Phrenology. His ideas established the foundation from which phrenology grew. People of the time consulted phrenologists to help them find suitable significant others and employees for their businesses. A phrenologist would run his/her fingers over the patient’s head and determine the spots where growths or depressions had occurred. They would then assess their findings according to the 27 different organs of the brain. Charles H. Olin wrote in his book Phrenology that “by its aid we are able to gauge our own capacity, to know our strong and weak points, and to learn what vices most easily beset us” (Olin 19).
Two sources are responsible for Johann Kaspar Lavater’s establishment of Physiognomy in 1772; Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici and Giambattista della Porta’s writings. Physiognomy focuses on major sections of the face, such as the nose, eyebrows, cheeks, mouth, and forehead. These features were thought to disclose a person’s ethnicity, race, genetic diseases, etc. Personality traits were much more indistinct. Olin also wrote about Physiognomy: “it has been made possible by the knowledge that men express their feelings, passions, and thoughts in their faces and bodily attitudes” (Olin 19). Phrenology was believed to be a form of physiognomy.
Both sciences have been discounted by some and intensely studied by others. These ideas have passed through many cultures, countries and regions over the past 300 years, including the United Kingdom and United States. Studies of these sciences have inspired academics to produce albums, motion pictures, novels, and television shows. Also, as evident in January’s issue of Cardiology Today, Phrenology, and its origin Physiognomy, are still significant in neurological studies and discussions:
Despite the fact that phrenology is not considered a legitimate science today, many of the theories that Gall developed as a basis for phrenology were, at the time, important insights into a still-young neurology and neuro-anatomy field. Gall is credited with discovering that the nervous system was uneven and the cervical and lumbar spinal enlargements. He also described the origins of the second, third, fifth, and sixth cranial nerves. In addition, through his dissections, Gall was able to describe the differences between gray and white brain matter. He correlated the prefrontal lobes with language, and maybe most importantly, his theories and discoveries established the fact that the brain as an organ did not function as a whole, but instead had many parts that had unique functions. It is important to always remember, as one author put it, that “undoubtedly in the future we will look at some of today’s medical tenets as inappropriate and pseudoscientific, as we now think of phrenology” (Lawrence 29).
This leads me to believe that my faux-scientific study has pertinence, importance and validity.
I feel that the ideas of Phrenology and Physiognomy are directly associated with the ideas behind my faux-scientific study. The hypothesis for my study is that the physical characteristics of a wisdom tooth mimic the body from which they were extracted. The historical context of my investigation is that it suggests the previous thoughts of early scientists. Unbeknown to me at the commencement of this project, these studies had been around for over two hundred years. Their existence reinforces the concepts behind my study and presents a premise for this visually based comparison.
Taken on a white background, the portraits focus the viewer’s attention on each individual’s distinct characteristics. Paired with the portrait is a scientific photo of a tooth (as if appropriated from a dental office) and statistics. I hope to suggest to the viewer that this is a real scientific study that highlights the individual’s unique physical and personality traits. Lastly, a unique piece of metalwork will be made for each of the respective characters. The created object is the embodiment of the idea that emerges from the comparison. Thus, Phrenology and Physiognomy directly correlate to the metalwork I am producing and influence me as an artist.
I hope to stimulate the viewer into believing that this is a real scientific study. By studying these two types of former sciences, I am more capable of creating a more plausible scientific argument. Also, studying them is broadening the vocabulary that I have to facilitate the description of the metalwork.
Carroll, Robert T. "Phrenology." The Skeptic's Dictionary. Robert T. Carroll, 23 Feb 2009. Web. 7 Apr 2010. <http://www.skepdic.com/phren.html>.
Fowler, Orson Squire, and Lorenzo Niles Fowler. The illustrated selfinstructor in phrenology and physiology; with one hundred engravings, and a chart of the character.... 1st ed. Ann Arbor, MI: Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library, 2005. 9-151. Print.
"Franz Joseph Gall." Phrenology.com. Phrenology.com, n.d. Web. 8 Apr 2010. <http://www.phrenology.com/franzjosephgall.html>.
Hager, Joseph C. "A Human Face." Science of Physiognomy. Corel Corp., 2003. Web. 10 Apr 2010. <http://www.face-and-emotion.com/dataface/general/homepage.jsp>.
Lawrence, Leah. "F.J. Gall and phrenology's contribution to neurology.." Cardiology Today Jan. 2010: 29. Print.
"The Loose Foundations of Criticism against Phrenology." Phrenology.org. LHOOM, 1 May 1998. Web. 7 Apr 2010. <http://www.phrenology.org/kritiek.html>.
Olin, Charles H. Phrenology: How to Tell Your Own and Your Friend's Character From the Shape of the Head 1910. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2004. 7-172. Print.
The Phrenological journal and science of health. 1st ed. 1. New York City, NY: Fowlers & Wells, 1839. 8-491. Print.
"Phrenology and the Fine Arts." Boston College, n.d. Web. 10 Apr 2010. <http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/fnart/phrenology/>.
Raines, Ken. "Reading Bumps and Faces; Phrenology and Physiognomy." JW Research. Ken Raines, 23 Aug 2003. Web. 5 Apr 2010. <http://www.seanet.com/~raines/phrenology.html>.