Neo-Phrenology, Psychiatry and the Brain

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In 1815 AD, Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gaspar Spurzheim came up with a new and improved version of the junk-pop psychology theories of Lavater's physiognomy, who taught the shape of a persons skull determined their mental abilities. Phrenology taught that the shape and size of the joints between the 22 bones of the human skull, determined all mental and personality traits. "he [Gall] observed any mechanician, musician, sculptor, draughtsman, mathematician, endowed with such or such faculty from birth, he examined their heads to try whether he might point out a particular development of some cerebral part. In this way, he found in a short time, in musicians and mechanics, the development of particular cerebral parts. ... individuals who from birth were stubborn, proud, courageous, thieves, murderers, religious &c., and if he found that the size of some cerebral part was corresponding to these actions, he called these parts of the brain, organ of pride, of firmness, of courage, of theft, of murder, of religion .. . He [Gall] was also bold enough to speak to every person in whose head he observed any distinct protruberance" Phrenology was later popularized by Samuel Wells in 1891 AD. This tradition of quack psychiatry continues today with the God Helmet in 2002 AD, where magnetic impulses on the side of the are supposed to generate spiritual experiences in the wearer. Poor gullible atheist Richard Dawkins actually tried on the God Helmet. How else could he expect to see God? So the stupid junk science of phrenology has a dark tradition that continues into modern chemical psychiatry. Gall taught that since a person's mental and moral characteristics are determined by the shape of the skull he was born with, criminals really couldn't be blamed for their crimes. This thinking is seen today in the insanity plea and chemical evolutionary psychiatrists. "In criminology he advocated reform by re-education rather than punishment and suggested at a time when the criminal was thought to be made and not born, that there were degrees of responsibility proportionate to innate propensities which could also be determined by craniological examination. In this he anticipated much of Lombroso's work at the end of the century as well as the concept of irresistible impulse and diminished responsibility." (300 years of Psychiatry, Richard Hunter, 1963, p 711) (The Physiognomical System of Franz Joseph Gall Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, phrenologists, phrenology, 1815 AD)

Modern psychiatry holds that man is nothing but chemicals and neurons. Phrenology has had a profound impact on the thinking of Modern psychiatry. While they reject the idea that personality traits are mapped to different parts of the brain into distinct regions, as in phrenology, they continue to search the 4 pounds of brain matter to find the exact place that triggers anxiety, depression, delusions and schizophrenia. Same old theory with a new scientific sounding twist!

"The latest deadweight dragging us closer to phrenology is "evolutionary psychology," or the science formerly known as sociobiology, which studies the evolutionary roots of human behavior. There is nothing inherently wrong with this enterprise, and it has proposed some intriguing theories, particularly about the evolution of language. The problem is that evolutionary psychology suffers from the scientific equivalent of megalomania. Most of its adherents are convinced that virtually every human action or feeling, including depression, homosexuality, religion, and consciousness, was put directly into our brains by natural selection. In this view, evolution becomes the key--the only key--that can unlock our humanity." Jerry A. Coyne, Evolutionary biologist, "The Fairy Tales of Evolutionary Psychology," New Republic, March 4, 2000)

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Modern psychiatry is attempting to map various mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia into different parts of the brain. The problem is that almost every region of the brain is activated for most thinking processes. (see below)

Phrenology, like blood letting, is an extinct scientific theory of the 19th century. It says that personality traits are located in distinct parts of the brain. By rubbing the hand over the scull, you can feel the general shape, including bumps. This was then used to calculate a "horoscope style" interpretation of your personality.

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The God Helmet

Psychiatrists are using Phonology in the year 2002! Still alive and well!

The God Helmet

The humour of the male and female brain is actually founded in phrenology. Modern psychiatry is attempting to isolate regions of the brain, like the temporal lobe, that are responsible for religious experience and belief in God. This of course has been scientifically proven false, since most thoughts and feelings activate the neurons in many different parts of the brain at the same time.

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Fit for a carnival attraction rather than real science, phrenology has made a recent comeback with diagnostic brain imagery like fMRI.

The science of modern psychiatry is no more scientific than the carnival "handwriting personality analyzer computers". At least you only waste $5 at the carnival!

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Physiognomy

Lavater's physiognomy, that taught the shape of a persons skull determined their mental abilities. He created line drawings of what idiots and those prone to insanity looked like.

A quackery known as "Iridology" was popularized by a Chiropractor (ChiroQuackery) in 1960's named Bernard Jensen. It maps both mental (inherent mental ability, ego pressure, mental speech etc) and physical functions to specific locations of the Iris. Problem is that scientifically, the iris never changes like a finger print. It shares its past with phrenology, Lavater's physiognomy, that taught the shape of a persons skull determined their mental abilities.

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Thinking and emotions activate many parts of the brain:

  1. "Our findings demonstrate that there is no single "God spot" in the brain located in the temporal lobes. Rather our objective and subjective data suggest that RSMEs [religious/spiritual/mystical experiences] are complex and multidimensional and mediated by a number of brain regions normally implicated in perception, cognition, emotion, body representation, and self-consciousness." (The Spiritual Brain, Mario Beauregard Ph.D., Neuroscientist, 2007, p272)
  2. "We learned two valuable things from our studies. The results of the two studies, taken together (QEEG and fMRI), dispose of the notion that there is a God spot in the temporal lobes of the brain that can somehow "explain" RSMEs [religious/spiritual/mystical experiences]. The results of our fMRI and QEEG studies suggest that RSMEs are neurally instantiated by different brain regions involved in a variety of functions, such as self-consciousness, emotion, body representation, visual and motor imagery, and spiritual perception. This conclusion correlates well with subjects' descriptions of RSMEs as complex and multidimensional." (The Spiritual Brain, Mario Beauregard Ph.D., Neuroscientist, 2007, p274)
  3. "The main goal of this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study was to identify the neural correlates of a mystical experience. The brain activity of Carmelite nuns was measured while they were subjectively in a state of union with God. This state was associated with significant loci of activation in the right medial orbitofrontal cortex, right middle temporal cortex, right inferior and superior parietal lobules, right caudate, left medial prefrontal cortex, left anterior cingulated cortex, left inferior parietal lobule, left insula, left caudate, and left brain stem. Other loci of activation were seen in the extra-striate visual cortex. These results suggest that mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems." (Mario Beauregard and V. Paquette, "Neural Correlates of a Mystical Experience in Carmelite Nuns," Neuroscience Letters 405 (2006): 186-90)

 

By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.

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