The Spiritist Review - Journal of Psychological Studies - 1860

Allan Kardec

Back to the menu
Phrenology is the science that studies the functions attributed to each part of the brain. The founder of this science, Dr. Gall, had thought that since the brain is the termination of all sensations and where every intellectual and moral manifestation begins, each one of the primitive faculties should have their special spot there. Thus, its system consists on the localization of those faculties. As the development of the skull is determined by the development of each part of the brain with its protuberances, he concluded that from the analysis of those protuberances one could infer the predominance of this or that faculty, and consequently the character or aptitudes of the individual. The other name, cranioscopy given to this science, also derives from that with the difference that phrenology aims at the study of the functions of the brain whereas cranioscopy is limited to the inductions resulting from the inspection of the brain. In short, what Gall did with the brain and skull Lavater did with the physiognomic traces.

We shall not discuss the merit of that science here or if it is true or exaggerated and its consequences. Nonetheless, it has been alternately defended and criticized by people of high scientific value. If certain details are still hypothetic it does not mean that it doesn’t rest on an incontestable principle, which is that of the general functions of the brain and about the relationships between the development or atrophy of that organ and the intellectual manifestations. Our purpose here is the study of their psychological consequences.

Some scientists concluded from the existing relationships between the brain’s development and the manifestation of certain faculties that the organs of the brain are the very cause of the faculties, a doctrine that is nothing more than materialism once it leads to the negation of an intelligent principle, alien to matter. It consequently turns human beings into a machine without free-will, with no responsibilities for their actions since they could always blame their physical organization for their mistakes and it would be unfair to punish them for faults which would not have depended on them. The consequences of such theory stuns us, and rightly so. Should phrenology be banned because of that? No, but instead a careful examination to what can be true or false in that way of seeing things should be carried out. In fact, that analysis demonstrates that the functions of the brain and even the location of the faculties may be perfectly appeased with the strictest spiritualist. Let us admit for a moment, and hypothetically so, the existence of a special organ for the musical instinct.

Let us go further and suppose, as taught by Spiritism, that a spirit whose existence comes from a much earlier period, than its body incarnates with a much-developed musical faculty. Such a faculty will naturally influence the corresponding organ, driving its development, like exercising a limb increases the muscular volume. In the infancy, since the skeleton offers little resistance, the skull suffers the expanding influence of the cerebral mass. Thus, the development of the cranium is produced by the development of the brain just as the development of the brain is produced by that of its source. The faculty is the primary cause; the state of the brain is a subsequent effect. Without the faculty there would not be the organ or it would just be rudimentary. Seen from that point of view, phrenology has nothing contrary to the moral because it leaves the individual with full responsibility and we still add that such a theory is at the same time logical and according to the observation of facts. There is objection based on the well-known cases where the influence of the body on the manifestation of the faculties is indisputable, such as insanity and idiocy, but it is easy to resolve the issue. We see every day very intelligent people becoming fools, and what does that prove? A strong man can break his leg, and then he cannot walk, yet the will to walk is not in his leg, but in his brain, and it is only that will that is paralyzed by his inability to move his leg. In the mad person, once the organ that served the manifestations of the ideas has been deranged by any physical cause, the thoughts cannot be regularly expressed, wandering wildly, doing what we call extravagances but keeping their integrity, and the proof is in that if the body can be restored, the thought returns as before, like the movement of the leg that is mended. Therefore thought is neither in the brain nor in the skull. The brain is the instrument of thought as the eye is the instrument of sight, and the skull is the solid surface that molds to the movements of the instrument. If the instrument is damaged, the manifestation no longer takes place, just as when an eye has been lost and one can no longer see.

Sometimes, however, it happens that the suspension of the free manifestation of thought is not due to an accidental cause; like in madness the primitive constitution of the organs may offer the spirit an unbreakable obstacle, since birth. That happens when the organs show atrophy or present an overwhelming deficiency. That is the case of idiocy. The spirit is somewhat imprisoned and suffers that constriction, but still thinks as a spirit, like the prisoner behind bars. The study of the manifestation of the spirit of living persons by the evocation sheds great light onto the psychological phenomena. By isolating the spirit from matter, one can prove by facts that the organs are not the cause of the faculties but simple instruments through which the spirit manifests with more or less freedom or accuracy; that often those instruments operate like dampers which inhibit the manifestations, explaining the greater freedom of the spirit once separated from matter.

In the materialistic concept, what is a mentally impaired person? It is nothing. At its best he is a human being. According to Spiritism, it is a rational being, like everyone else, but with an ill brain since birth, like others are with their limbs. By rehabilitating mental handicap isn’t this doctrine more moral, more human than the one that turns them into a reject? Isn’t that more consoling to a father who is unfortunate to have a son like that to think that his imperfect casing hides a thinking soul?

We ask those who, although not materialists, do not admit the plurality of existences: What is the soul of a mentally impaired person? If the soul is created at the same time as the body, why would God create such unfortunate beings? What would their future be? Now, on the contrary, if you admit a succession of existences then it all gets explained according to the justice: mental handicap may be a punishment or a trial and, in any case, it is no more than an incident in the spirit’s life. Isn’t that more deserving of God’s justice than the supposition that God had created an eternally frustrated being?

Let us now look into physiognomy. This science is based on the incontestable principle that thought is the driver of the organs’ actions, impinging certain movements to the muscles. It follows that it is possible to deduce invisible thought based on the study of relationships between thought and the visible and apparent movements. That is how we cannot be mistaken as for the intention behind an aggressive or friendly gesture; that we distinguish a person in a hurry from another who is not by the way they walk. The face holds the most mobile muscles. It is the face that often shows the most delicate nuances of thought. That is why it is said, and rightly so, that the face is the mirror of the soul. The muscles get used to the movements related to certain sensations and their frequency, thus forming the wrinkles. The exterior form modifies by the impressions of the soul, hence, sometimes it is possible to deduce those impressions, like one can deduce the thought from a gesture. That is the general principle of the physiognomic art, or science if you like. This principle is true. It is not only founded on a rational basis but also confirmed by observation and Lavater has the merit of having if not discovered it, at least developed and formulated it in a body of doctrine. Lavater unfortunately fell in the common mistake of the majority of authors of new systems. That is, starting from a true principle and in certain circumstances, they conclude by the universality, and out of enthusiasm for having discovered a truth they see it in everything. The exaggeration is right there and sometimes ridiculed. We will not examine Lavater’s system in detail here. We shall only say that he is as much coherent for associating moral to certain exterior physical signs, as he is illogical when attributing any given meaning to the forms or signs upon which thought may not have any action. It is the false application of a true principle that has often thrown it into the common ditch of superstitious beliefs, and that leads to the denial of those who see correctly and those who exaggerate, both equally confused in the same reproach.

However, let us in fairness say that the fault is more frequently of the disciples than of the master and that the former’s fanatical and thoughtless admiration sometimes leads to consequences of a principle beyond reasonable limits.

If we now analyze this science in its relationships with Spiritism we will have to combat several erroneous inferences that people could make. There is one physiognomic relationship that has suffered the influence of imagination in particular. It is the similarity between some people with certain animals. We will then try to seek the causes.

The physical similarity among relatives results from the consanguinity which transmits similar organic particles from one to the other, since the body derives from the body. However, nobody should suppose that someone who looks like a cat has cat’s blood. There is something else. To begin with, such similarity may be serendipitous and without any significance, being that the most common case. However, besides the physical similarity sometimes it is possible to detect certain analogy with respect to tendencies. This could be explained by the same cause that modifies the physiognomic traces. If the undeveloped spirit keeps as a human being some animal instincts, he shall have those traces and his passions may give those traces something that vaguely resembles the animal whose instincts he bears. But those traces fade away as the spirit depurates and the individual advances in the path of perfection.

In such a case it would be the spirit impressing the physiognomy; but from that similarity it would be absurd to conclude that the human being who may share the instincts of the cat could be the incarnation of the spirit of a cat. Far from teaching such theory, Spiritism has always demonstrated the ridicule and impossibility of that. It is true that one can detect a continuous progression in the animal chain; but between the animal and the human being there is a solution of continuity. Well then, even admitting that the spirit has passed through all levels of the animal scale, which is only a hypothesis, before arriving to human being, there would always be an interruption from one to the other, interruption which would not exist if the spirit of the animal could incarnate directly in a human being’s body. If that were the case, which is not, there would be animal spirits among the errant spirits, as there are spirits of human beings.

Without going into an in-depth analysis of this issue which shall be discussed later, we say that according to the spirits that are in agreement with the observation of facts, no human being is the incarnation of an animal. The animal instincts of the human being derive from the imperfection of the spirit, not yet depurated, and that under the influence of matter man gives more importance to the physical rather than moral needs and the not sufficiently developed moral sense. Since the physical needs are the same in humans as in the animal, it results that while there isn’t a moral counter weight there can be a certain analogy between human’s and animal’s instincts but the parity stops there. A definite line of separation between human beings and animal is established by the moral sense which is inexistent in the animal and grows incessantly in humans.

Another not less erroneous inference is taken from the principle of the plurality of existences. People’s similarities with certain persons lead them to conclude that they may have been those persons. Now, from the preceding it is easy to demonstrate that this is only an illusory idea. As we said, the relationships by blood may produce similarity of appearances, but that is not the case since Aesop might have later been a handsome man and Socrates a beautiful youngster. Thus, when there is no corporeal lineage there will only be a serendipitous similarity once there is no need for the spirit to inhabit similar bodies, and when taking a new body the spirit does not carry any component of the previous one. However, according to what was said above about the character impinged by the passions onto the physical traces, one could think that in the case of a spirit who had not evolved significantly, coming back with the same tendencies, that spirit could present similar facial traces as before. That is correct but it would be no more than a family trace, and from that to a real similarity there is a great distance. As a matter of fact, this should be an exceptional case since the spirit seldom returns to a new existence in conditions which are not significantly modified. Hence, it is not possible at all to grasp any indication from previous existences based on physiognomic signs. Those traces can only be found in the moral characters, in the instinctive and intuitive ideas, in the innate inclinations, those which do not stem from education, and also in the nature of the current expiations. And even all that could not indicate but the kind of existence, the character that one might have had, taking into account the evolution but not the individuality (see The Spirits’ Book, # 216, 217).

Related articles

Show related items