Franz Joseph Gall


Franz Joseph Gall was born in Germany in 1758. He began his study of medicine in Strasbourg in 1777 and completed his medical degree in Vienna in 1785. In Vienna, he worked as researcher in neuroanatomy and as a practicing physician. It was in Vienna where he developed his basic ideas concerning the relation between psychological faculties and the brain, proposing that each faculty was associated with a particular organ of the brain. He called his theory organology.

Inherent in the premises of organology was the idea of cerebral localization. For example, Gall located language and verbal memory in the anterior portions of the brain because of his observation that people with bulging eyes had good memories. Gall laid out a map of the skull showing placing faculties in a particular locales. This skull-mapping of faculties on the brain was eventually called "phrenology."

In 1791 Gall traveled throughout Europe lecturing on the topic of phrenology. He claimed in his lectures that different parts of the brain have different functions related to the different abilities and personal qualities of the individual. What got him into trouble was that he also claimed that a particular person's personality and abilities could be detected by examining the shape of the person's skull. For example, in his book On the Activities of the Brain, Gall argues:

I would often divide [the lower classes] into three classes. The first would include the thieves; the second, those who had an abhorrence of theft; and the third, those who regard it with indifference. On examining their heads, I was astonished to find that the most inveterate thieves had a long prominence, extending from the organ of cunning, almost as far as the supraciliary ridge; and that this region was flat in all those who showed a horror of theft. [These cases] conclusively prove that the propensity to steal is not the result of moral depravement, nor of a defective education, but is an inherent quality in human nature. (Gall, 1805, p. ).

Gall was in great demand as a speaker in Vienna. However, because his ideas on the material nature of what was then considered to be an immaterial soul, Gall was chastised by the church. The officials of the church in Vienna regarded his views as politically dangerous. He was officially banned from speaking in public on the topic by Emperor Franz II for his "materialistic" and "fatalistic" views.

In 1805 Gall left Vienna to lecture on phrenology throughout the Europe. In 1807, he settled in Paris. Although he was exposed to extreme hostility from the leading political powers in Paris, he was not forbidden to give private lessons. Furthermore, his doctrine quickly became as fashionable there as it had been in Vienna, especially among upper-class women. While Gall was successful financially, he and his theory were not accepted by the scientific community.

Gall remained in Paris, where he died in 1828 as a result of a stroke. He donated his skull and brain to his pupils, who added it to his large collection of specimens.

The following is a summary of Gall's beliefs and scientific contributions (adapted from: Bates, Roth and Heeschen, 1994)

  1. The human mind can be divided into several individual components or "organs" with each being located in different places in the cortex.
  2. The organs are autonomous and independent of one another.
  3. Certain "faculties" are localized (language, music), others (general reasoning, memory) are not.
  4. All faculties are innate.
  5. A well developed faculty requires an organ that is relatively large, when compared to less developed faculties.
  6. Well developed faculties leave their traces show up as a bump in the formation of the skull and underdeveloped faculties as a depression.
  7. There is a distinction between gray and white matter in the brain
  8. Nerves do not descend from a single brain center
  9. There is a contralateral neural control of the brain over body functions (e.g. left brain controls right hand).

Gall's Translated Writings

Gall, F. J. & Spurzheim, J. C. (1835). On the functions of the brain and of each of its parts: With observations on the possibility of determining the instincts, propensities, and talents, or the moral and intellectual dispositions of men and animals, by the configuration of the brain and head (W. Lewis Jr, Trans). Boston: Marsh, Capen, & Lyon). (Spurtzheim was a student of Gall who worked with Gall on the first two volumes of the Anatomie. In 1813, Spurtzheim and Gall parted ways. Spurzheim went to England, where popularized phrenology. Gall remained in Paris, where he died, 15 years later.)

Eling, P. (1994). Selection from the work of Franz Joseph Gall (1798): Letter from Dr. F. J. Gall to Mr. Joseph F. von Retzer on the prodromus he has completed on the functions of the human and animal brain (pp. 18-27). In: Reader in the history of aphasia. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Writings about Gall

Brown, J. W., & Chobor, K. L. (1992). Phrenological studies of aphasia before Broca: Broca's aphasia or Gall's aphasia? Brain and Language, 43, 475-486.

Clarke, Edwin & L. S. Jacyna (1987). Nineteenth-century origins of neuroscientific concepts. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. (Pages 220-224 on Galls "organology."

Heeschen, C. (1994). Introduction to Franz Joseph Gall. In P. Eling (ed). Reader in the history of aphasia. (pp. 5-15). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Schwartz, M. & Schwartz, B. (1984). In defense of organology. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 1, 25-42.

Writings about phrenology

Cooter, R. (1976). Phrenology and British alienists, c. 1825-1845. Medical History, 20, 1-21; 135-151.

Cooter, R. (1976). Phrenology: The provocation of progress. History of Science, 14, 211-234.

Cooter, R. (1984). The cultural meaning of popular science: Phrenology and the organization of consent in nineteenth-century Britain. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

De Giustino, D. (1975). Conquest of mind: Phrenology and Victorian social thought. London: Croom Helm.

Hedderley, F. (1970). Phrenology: A study of mind. London: Fowler

Shapin, Steven (1975). Phrenological knowledge and social structure in nineteenth-century Edinburgh. Annals of Science, 32, 219-232.

Shapin, Steven (1978). The politics of observation: Cerebral anatomy and social interests in the Edinburgh phrenological debates. In R. Wallis (Ed.) On the margins of science: The social construction of rejected knowledge. Sociological Review Monographs, 27, pp. 139-178. University of Keele.

Shapin, Stephen (1979). Homo phrenologicus: Antropological perspectives on an historical problem. In B. Barnes and S. Shapin (Eds.) Natural order: Historical studies in scientific culture (pp. 41-71). London: Sage.

Young, R. (1990). Gall and phrenology: Speculation versus observation versus experiment. In R. Young, Mind, brain, and adaptation in the nineteenth century: Cerebral localization and its biological context from Gall to Ferrier (pp.9-53). NY: Oxford University Press.