Oh, phrenology

Becky
filed under: psychology
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It's been awhile since a psychic has tried to flag me down, and it's been awhile since any of my friends have subjected me to new ways of discerning my character flaws/intellectual capacity via my appendages, moles, et al. But I'm currently reading about infamous editor Max Perkins and how he clung to the blueprints offered by phrenology (the theory, not the excellent Roots album). I'm not sure whether he had a set of calipers and some string in his desk during his Scribner's reign, but he wasn't the only one calculating the topography of those 37 cranial nodes and making corresponding judgments.

Ever since phrenology was proposed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall at the turn of the 19th century, it clearly favored bumps and indentations of the gentry; however, should one exhibit any cranial texture that was less than desirable, exercises could be prescribed to lessen the negative impact of certain protrusions. The theory casually maintained itself well into the next century, when a man from Wisconsin burst onto the scene with The Psychograph, a contraption that still lives on at the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices:

In 1901, Henry C. Lavery, a self-described "profound thinker" of Superior, Wisconsin became certain that phrenology was true and spent his next 26 years endeavoring to put this science into a machine. On January 29, 1931, he and his partner, Frank P. White, a businessman who had taken his life savings of $39,000 out of stock in a local sandpaper manufacturer - the 3M company - to finance the venture, announced the invention of such a machine - the "Psychograph."

The machine consisted of 1,954 parts in a metal carrier with a continuous motor-driven belt inside a walnut cabinet containing statements about 32 mental faculties. These faculties were each rated 1 through 5, "deficient" to "very superior," so that there were 160 possible statements but an almost unlimited number of possible combinations. The "score" was determined by the way the 32 probes, each with five contact points in the headpiece, made contact with the head.

Hmm. It might interest me if it could give head massages in between diagnoses.

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July 18, 2007 - 3:14pm
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