America’s National Library of Medicine have put scans of beautiful old medical texts online including Jospeh Vimont’s wonderfully illustrated 1832 anatomy book entitled Trait√© de phr√©nologie humaine et compar√©e that compares the skull and brain of humans and animals.
Despite the French title, it’s annotated in both English and French and contains some fantastic illustrations of both normal and abnormal neuroanatomy.
Apparently, it was an attempt to investigate the links between brain structure and the ‘science’ of phrenology which claimed that bumps on the head indicated personality because they suggested how the brain was developing underneath.
Although phrenology has been discounted as rubbish, it is credited with sparking some of the first ideas on whether specific brain areas could be involved in specific mental abilities, an idea that is now central to modern cognitive neuroscience.
People who take this idea too far, by suggesting that there is a ‘brain centre’ for some particular complex behaviour are often accused of being ‘modern day phrenologists’ (usually with an accompanying look of disdain or a loud tut).
Unfortunately, the media loves stories that go something like “‘Dream centre’ of the brain found” (a real headline) which encourages reporters to distort the usually ambiguous findings of research studies, and scientists to over-simplify their conclusions.
In contrast, Vimont’s book is a form of innocent and sincere phrenology and, perhaps, should be enjoyed as such.