phrenology today


As the nineteenth century doctrine of the skull gave way to the twentieth century doctrine of the neuron, the side-show spectacle of phrenology fell out of favor. But now, in the early twenty-first century, neuro-imaging technologies seem to have brought back the desire to attach behaviors and mental processes to specific cortical locales. Functional magnetic resonance imaging as well as positron emission tomography, electroencephalography, and computerized axial tomography make it seem all the more possible to gather concrete proof of various locational neuronal theories. William Uttal notes in his 2003 book The New Phrenology that the nineteenth century diagram of the phrenological head persists as “one of the most familiar icons of psychology,” and that the current “mentalist zeitgeist…has reified separate mental modules and their distinct cerebral localization.” The allure of localization (or as Uttal calls it, the “phantom” of modular mental activity) still holds sway.

more from Jena Osman at Triple Canopy here.