The Echoes of the Mind (9-25) Francis Galton

Francis Galton

Characteristics cling to families. ~ Francis Galton

English polymath Francis Galton (1822–1911) possessed an obsessive nature which early in life caused a mental breakdown, but which he later harnessed to prolific output, producing over 340 papers and books.

Whenever you can, count. ~ Francis Galton

A statistically inclined empiricist, Galton founded psychometrics (measuring mental faculties), differential psychology (identifying differences in individuals’ behaviors), and the lexical hypothesis of personality (that a person’s lexicon becomes imbued with one’s personality).

Galton took to measuring all sorts of attributes that he thought of, both physical and mental. He developed color, taste, and touch discrimination tests.

Comparing men to women, supremely sexist Galton concluded that men had the more delicate powers of discernment. Everyday experience confirmed Galton, or so he thought.

The tuners of pianofortes are men, and so I understand are the tasters of tea and wine, the sorters of wool and the like. These latter occupations are well salaried, because it is of the first moment to the merchant that he should be rightly advised on the real value of what he is about to purchase or sell. If the sensitivity of women were superior to that of men, the self-interest of merchants would lead to their being always employed: but as the reverse is the case, the opposite supposition is likely to be the true one. ~ Francis Galton

Galton is generally considered the first to identify nature and nurture as determinants of personality that could be measured and compared. Nurture took the short tally in Galton’s ledger, though he recognized that even the greatest natural endowments may be “starved by defective nurture.”

Galton’s lackadaisical empirical rigor did not match his enthusiasm for quantification. He relied heavily upon anecdotes, subjective reports, group evaluations, and his own judgment. Galton ignored that his sample came from the most advantaged men in England, who had the best opportunities of education and profession correspondent with their families’ wealth. He simply chalked their performance up solely to their nature.


The science of improving stock, which is by no means confined to questions of judicious mating, but which, especially in the case of man, takes cognisance of all influences that tend in however remote a degree to give to the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable than they otherwise would have had. ~ Francis Galton

Convinced that human ability is strongly inheritable, Galton was an enthusiast for selective breeding, which he termed eugenics. To this end, Galton envisioned developing eugenic examinations to be administered by the state to all eligible singles.

Galton’s efforts to suss hereditary intelligence – by measuring head size, reaction time, and sensory acuity – failed. Nonetheless, thanks to Galton, eugenics met a welcome reception in Western countries.

In the early 20th century, governments took to identifying undesirables – the poor, mentally ill, blind, deaf, promiscuous women, homosexuals, and certain ethnic groups, such as Jews and Roma (gypsies) – as candidates for segregation, marriage restrictions, forced sterilization, abortions, and even elimination.

Eugenic policies were first implemented in the United States in the early 1900s. In the 1920s–1930s, several countries – including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, and Sweden – sterilized mental patients as a matter of policy.

Nazi Germany embraced eugenics. That later tarred eugenics’ reputation, though countries continued practicing eugenics in various ways.

By the end of World War 2, many state eugenics programs were curtailed. The more odious elements were proscribed by proclamation from international committees. But Sweden condoned its own eugenic practices until 1975. And forced sterilization continues to this day to be selectively employed by many nations, especially on incarcerated victims, albeit as furtively as possible.