The Echoes of the Mind (9-22) Franz Joseph Gall

Franz Joseph Gall

Whoever would not remain in complete ignorance of the resources which cause him to act; whoever would seize, at a single philosophical glance, the nature of man and animals, and their relations to external objects; whoever would establish, on the intellectual and moral functions, a solid doctrine of mental diseases, of the general and governing influence of the brain in the states of health and disease, should know, that it is indispensable, that the study of the organization of the brain should march side by side with that of its functions. ~ Franz Joseph Gall

By the turn of the 19th century, the brain as the organ housing the mind was generally conceded. Furthering that fiction, German physiologist Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) founded phrenology, a pseudoscience which supposed that brain functions are localized.

According to Gall, the relative sizes of various brain areas, which can be measured on the skull by bumps and depressions, tell a person’s mental faculties and propensities. An analogous, ancient notion was Hippocrates’ teaching that personality was determined by the 4 humors.

Gall’s original conception was that the brain comprised 27 localized organs which determine personality. Other animals had the first 19 of these organs.

The term phrenology was coined by Thomas Foster in 1815, and popularized by his student and colleague, German physician Johann Gaspar Spruzheim. Gall rejected the term, preferring physiognomy.

Gall was ahead of the curve with his hypothesis of brain localization. He was condemned on opposing fronts by both the Catholic Church and scientists. That the mind, created by God, was supposedly seated within brain matter offended the Church. Scientists were simply put off by lack of evidence (which succeeding generations would amply supply, misguided in their fervor for matterism).

Gall lost teaching posts in Austria and Paris when his ideas were found unacceptable. Despite this, Gall was able to secure a comfortable living from his specialty of determining personality and brain wattage from skull readings.

Gall’s physiognomy shtick went down well in England, where the ruling class found it a satisfying rationalization for colonialism based upon the inferiority of its subjects.


Phrenology was extremely popular in Europe and North America during the last half of the 19th century. Several phrenologists claimed that mental faculties could be strengthened with exercise, as if the brain was a set of muscles for the mind. This belief influenced educators, who sought to systemize instruction to develop mind muscles. One’s reasoning ability, for example, could be pumped up by studying mathematics. Though faith in phrenology evaporated, the belief that educational experiences can be structured to enhance specific mental faculties persists to this day.

That brain functioning was localized is another fallacy with a lasting legacy. Instead of simple localization, the entire cortex is excited by different tasks, albeit with local areas of more intense electrical activity. Confusing correlation for cause and effect in attributing brain electrical activity as mentation is still a popular sport among deluded neurobiologists.