Thursday, March 08, 2007

Noggin on Heaven's Door

Friday would be the 249th birthday of Franz Joseph Gall. Don't guess that he's the inventor of the gallstone--that would just stick in my craw, or someplace. Nope, he is the Father of Phrenology (or is that the Phather of Phrenology?). Gall decided that it was as plain as the nose on your face that you could read a person's faculties by feeling the bumps on his head. For Gall the brain was composed of many organs (I'm hoping mine has at least one mighty Wurlitzer), and that those organs can be measured through your cranium. Indeed, many an Austrian under Gall's thrall was heard to say, "That's some organ you've got there, Franz! Now put it away before someone gets hurt." (This is a loose translation from the original Austrian, which turns out to be German, so you can see how it is confusing even to Austrians.) Gall's theory that different parts of the brain did different things got turned into quackery pretty quickly, and an excuse for racism and sexism, since there's always some idiot like Charles Murray waiting to prove "science" makes him superior, but the surest test that Gall was on to something true is that his work was quickly condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Most excitingly, Gall is largely responsible for there being a Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, which will soon open a new wing, The Collection of Hypochondriacal Maladies, if you can imagine that. Just wash your hands first.

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