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Above: A nineteenth-century ‘phrenological head’. This one is from Berlin, but a similar one was recently offered for sale by a Dublin antiquarian for the modest price of €40.

Phrenology assumed that if someone had a tendency to act in a certain way, for instance admiring the landscape, the part of the brain building up the aesthetic experience would be well developed to support such over-activity, at the expense of a diminished development of some other area. This differential brain development would be reflected—they proposed—as corresponding bumps and shallows in the surface of the skull immediately above the corresponding regions of the brain. With training, skulls from live subjects could be read—they again proposed—like an open book, and if something untoward was detected with regard to a person’s tendencies, a preventive treatment or a phrenology-aware educational system could hopefully iron it out.


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