Intelligent Design Mind Science

The scientific revolution depended in part on disproven theories

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Many true tales of science are not the subjects of lectern oratory. Here’s one: brain localization. How did the idea develop? Originally via phrenology:

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, none of these functions were known, and the very idea of functional localization—that different aspects of the brain could be connected with different personality traits or actions of a living body—was not under serious consideration. The anatomy of the brain had been studied extensively, but no parts of it had been identified with specific functions.

This changed thanks to the ideas of a researcher whose work is now considered infamously wrong, the German physiologist and anatomist Franz Josef Gall (1758–1828). From a very young age, Gall became convinced that certain facial and skull features of people he knew could be correlated with aspects of their personalities and intelligence—for example, one classmate had an odd-shaped skull but was also exceedingly skilled in language. When Gall entered medical school at the University of Strasbourg, he developed these observations into a hypothesis about brain function, later known as phrenology…

By the late 1800s, then, it was well appreciated that different functions of the brain are localized to different regions, and that complex functions may involve the coordination of multiple areas. Ironically, our modern understanding of brain behavior has its origins in one of the most infamously incorrect ideas of science: the phrenology of Franz Josef Gall.

Gregory J. Gbur, “Scientific Revelation through a Disproven Theory” at Yale University Press Blog

One Reply to “The scientific revolution depended in part on disproven theories

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Well, phrenology isn’t exactly incorrect. Like astrology, it starts with a valid but weak correlation, and expands the correlation into a mostly invalid rigid system. Both of the original correlations could have been expanded in other ways that were more useful.

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