“When the cerebral organs are agreeably affected, a benign and vivifying nervous influence pervades the frame, and all the functions of the body are performed with increased pleasure and success” (Combe 1828, 115, 117–118).
Phrenology had a considerable impact on educational reform, particularly through the action of George Combe (1788–1858) and his brother Andrew (1797–1847). George was largely responsible for the transformation of phrenology into a scientifically respectable vehicle for ideas on social life and its organization (Cooter 1984, Van Wyhe 2004). For him, the cerebral organs had to be treated like muscles. The best way to increase their strength and energy was to train them regularly but judiciously, “according to the laws of their constitution”; as a result, “when the cerebral organs are agreeably affected, a benign and vivifying nervous influence pervades the frame, and all the functions of the body are performed with increased pleasure and success” (Combe 1828, 115, 117–118).
Andrew Combe (1836–1837, 7) claimed that “even in mature age the size of the individual organs of the brain may be increased by adequate exercise of the corresponding faculties.”
Phrenology therefore looked like an efficient philosophy of education, one based on the idea that the organs of the brain need as much training as those of the body and can be affected in targeted ways by physical exercise. This is the very premise of twenty-first-century “brain gyms,” whose pseudoneuroscientific bases have been debunked without apparent effect on their commercial success.
Frontispiece of the sixth edition of the book, published in 1851. Digitalized by the Internet Archiv...
Inspired by the homonymous book by Fernando Vidal and Francisco Ortega, this timespace presents the authors' genealogy of the cerebral subject and the influence of the neurological discourse in human sciences, mental health and culture.