Saturday, June 2, 2012

Phrenology: A Whacked Out Idea Still With Some Merit Today

Thanks to the Skeptic Dictionary
for this illustration of a brain map
circa 1850.
I was reading an article about phrenology in one of the naturopathic doctor journals I receive.  Phrenology was a quirky medical theory/system in operation around the end of the 19th century.  It was based on an idea that the brain could be divided into 43 different areas with each area in charge of different human attributes, such as combativeness, hope, inquisitiveness, mirth, etc.  The theory suggested that all illness arose out of an imbalance in these human qualities, and further, that the dominant and weak points of character could be read by carefully measuring the skull and noting the depressions and bumps on the head.  Sounds whacky by our modern definition of medicine.  Yet, while phrenology has been pretty soundly dismissed as a viable diagnostic/treatment modality, I believe it still has traction in this time because phrenology still points to a larger medical truth: we are a composite of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual elements.

I am convinced we are principally spiritual entities striving to find balance and happiness in physical form.  Newer investigations into the mind-body connection are increasingly discrediting the brain as the sole focal point for all thought and memory.  So, phrenology went too far to map out the brain as though everything was located "upstairs."  But, the notion that illness arises out of an imbalance in the character, spirit -- or as the ancient Greeks argued, the "humours" is more fact than fiction.  While modern germ theories have dominated modern medicine, these older thought-forms bring a vitality and wholeness perspective to wellness that has largely been ignored for roughly the past 50-60 years.  Instead of narrowly asking what bacteria is making someone sick, we should just as importantly be asking why this person is susceptible, what imbalance is causing them to be vulnerable to attack. Is there some sickness in the air, water, earth, or fire humours?  Is there an imbalance in the emotions?  Is the person's spirit bereft of hope, optimism, and eternal security?  All these things point to the larger picture, the larger truth that we are complex persons of sacred worth in need of unique individualized assistance to find health in the balance of life.

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