A definition of phrenology with chart from Webster's Academic Dictionary, circa 1895

Phrenology (from Greek: φρήν, phrēn, "mind"; and λόγος, logos, "knowledge") is a pseudoscience primarily focused on measurements of the human skull, based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules.


  • Phrenology's fundamental assumptions remained constant throughout the history of the movement. They were succinctly stated by George Combe as consisting of the folowing three "fundamental principles':
    (1) That the brain is the organ of the mind ;
    (2) That the brain is the aggregate of several parts, each subserving a distinct mental faculty;
    (3) That the size of the cerebral organ is, ceteris paribus, an index of power or energy of function.
    • Terrell Ward Bynum (1976) in: Philosophical dimensions of the neuro-medical sciences: proceedings of the second Trans-disciplinary Symposium on Philosophy and Medicine, held at Farmington, Connecticut, May 15-17, 1975. Stuart F. Spicker, Hugo Tristram Engelhardt ed. p. 23
  • As originally put forward , there were four cardinal premises (of phrenology), namely that:
    (1) the brain is the material instrument through which the mind holds intercourse with the outer world ;
    (2) the mind entails a congeries of discrete mental faculties each with its own specific center or organ;
    (3) thesize of each organ corresponds with the functional efficiency of each faculty; and
    (4) the development of the organ is reflected in the shape, size and irregularities of the encompassing cranium.
    • MacDonald Critchley (1979) The Divine Banquet of the Brain, New York, Raven Press. cited in: Jerry Fodor (1983) Modularity of Mind: An Essay on Faculty Psychology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. p. 131-2
  • Faculty psychology is getting to be respectable again after centuries of hanging around with phrenologists and other dubious types. By faculty psychology I mean, roughly, the view that many fundamentally different kinds of psychological mechanisms must be postulated in order to explain the facts of mental life.
    • Jerry Fodor (1983) Modularity of Mind: An Essay on Faculty Psychology. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. p. 1
  • The origin of all science is in the desire to know causes; and the origin of all false science and imposture is in the desire to accept false causes rather than none; or, which is the same thing, in the unwillingness to acknowledge our own ignorance.
    • William Hazlitt. (1829). Burke and the Edinburgh phrenologists. The Atlas (15 Feb 1829).
  • 'Tis strange how like a very dunce,
    Man, with his bumps upon his sconce,
    Has lived so long, and yet no knowledge he
    Has had, till lately, of Phrenology—
    A science that by simple dint of
    Head-combing he should find a hint of,
    When scratching o'er those little pole-hills
    The faculties throw up like mole hills.
    • Thomas Hood (1799– 1845), Craniology, reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 597.

See also

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