Phrenology is a pseudo-science which attempts to map the morphology of the skull onto trait within a person's character. It was 'discovered' by the Austrian anatomist Franz Joseph Gall around 1790. Gall initially called his research "organology" , "cranioscopy" or "craniology" and proposed that the surface of the brain had 26 organs, the size of which determined what type of behavioural characteristics the person would display.

One of Gall's first converts was Johann Caspar Spurheim, who helped popularise Gall's ideas overseas, but the main event which brought phrenology to the masses was the highly critical review of Gall's book 'The Anatomy and Physiology of the Nervous System in General, and of the Brain in Particular' in the Edinburgh Review. In this book Gall states:

  • That moral and intellectual faculties are innate.
  • That their exercise or manifestation depends on organisation.
  • That the brain is the organ of all the propensities, sentiments and faculties.
  • That the brain is composed of many particular organs as there are propensities, sentiments and faculties which differ essentially from each other.
  • That the form of the head or cranium represents the form of the brain, and thus reflects the relative development of the brain organs.

From Britain the science spread to America and France in the 1830s and in the 1840s it was re-introduced to Germany. Important contributors to phrenology in the 19th century included the brothers George Coombe and Andrew Coombe who set up the Edinburgh Phrenological Society in 1920, and Orson Fowler and his brother Lorenzo Fowler, who set up a publishing house purely to deal with phrenological texts, called L.N Fowler & Co.

Usually phrenologists used their fingers and palms to study the shape of the head, but less frequently calipers, measuring tapes and other instruments were used. For a while the notion of automatic phrenology, the most famous attempt at this was Henry C. Lavery's Psychograph, a machine which could do a phrenological reading complete with printout.

The main reason for the downfall of phrenology was the fact that phrenologists sought only confirmations for their preconceived hypotheses and did not apply the same standard to contradictory evidence. Any evidence or anecdote which seemed to confirm the science was readily and vociferously accepted as "proof" of the "truth" of phrenology - which is hardly good scientific practice.

Sources include

Phrenology, the beleaguered sixth album by famed live hip hop crew The Roots, finally made it to the public on November 26, 2002 after at least one name change and several months of delays. It was originally titled Introducing The Roots, a somewhat playful title considering the previous studio effort Things Fall Apart went platinum and brought the group a Grammy. According to drummer, producer and mouthpiece ?uestlove, the "introducing" in the title hearkened back to album titles of soul records from the early sixties, and was also meant to turn forward to new sounds and styles for a group that, while always innovative, was in danger of getting into a rut or two. The album retains an experimental stance and a break from many of the group's norms. As far as the new title, ?uest's joke in interviews has been, "Why Phrenology? Because heads will love it!"

It's a dark, somewhat weird record, as befits its name. But it still manages to satisfy as a whole album in a way that recent competitors like Blackalicious' Blazing Arrow didn't. At the heart of the album, literally and figuratively, is "Water," an only barely veiled piece of tough love for erstwhile MC and keyboardist Malik B. (Malik has not toured with the group since before Things Fall Apart and is widely believed to be addicted to crack.) After three minutes or so of calm, confident, mature anger over a bed of minor-keyed bass, crackling percussion and off-kilter, weirdly comfortable handclaps, the track grinds to a halt in hip hop terms, leaving a thick soup of reverb and delay, screams, thuds and sampled answering machine messages. It skirts cliche now and again, but it holds together as an authentic statement - which is a damn sight better than the 12-minute track on the Blackalicious record, the (separately quite nice) parts of which add up to an aimless and pretentious whole.

Other album highlights include "Pussy Galore" (have you ever heard a rapper attack commercialized sex for a whole track? Me neither), the golden-age samples of the up-tempo "Thought @ Work," the drum-and-bass patches that crop up in the single "Break You Off" and the Amiri Baraka collaboration "Something In The Way Of Things (In Town)." Then there's the raunchy, uneasy truce between rap and blues on the Cody Chestnutt collaboration "The Seed (2.0)," the 45 seconds or so of punk thrash(!) near the top... the Roots are trying shit.

By and large, the production and mixing duties on Phrenology are handled by a similar crew as Things Fall Apart (mostly by the group itself, or a subset). Things don't sound as smooth, mostly deliberately, and the technical guests and new faces are generally not anyone you've heard of. As far as the performing guests, they are what delayed the album by five months, as cameo request after cameo request turned the group down or dicked around with them for weeks with promises to show up. Most of this was over the "Break You Off" single, which finally featured Musiq Soulchild in a staid chorus the label must have insisted on, for lack of anything else that approached a clone of "You Got Me." The song sounds decent as a whole, if you can forget about the video.


87. Phrentrow (featuring Ursula Rucker)
88. Rock You
89. !!!!!!!!!
90. Sacrifice (featuring Nelly Furtado)
91. Rolling With Heat (featuring Talib Kweli)
92. WAOK (AY) Roll Call
93. Thought @ Work
94. The Seed (2.0) (featuring Cody Chestnutt)
95. Break You Off (featuring Musiq Soulchild)
96. Water (featuring James "Blood" Ulmer)
97. Quills
98. Pussy Galore
99. Complexity (featuring Jill Scott)
100. Something In The Way Of Things (In Town) (featuring Amiri Baraka)
(The Roots number their tracks sequentially from album to album; there have been one hundred recorded Roots songs over seven releases, counting an EP.)

I cannot identify the guest MC on the first hidden track. Might be Kweli again. Pity me, for I am but a white boy.

Phre*nol"o*gy (?), n. [Gr. , , the mind + -logy: cf. F. phr'enologie.]


The science of the special functions of the several parts of the brain, or of the supposed connection between the various faculties of the mind and particular organs in the brain.


In popular usage, the physiological hypothesis of Gall, that the mental faculties, and traits of character, are shown on the surface of the head or skull; craniology.

<-- considered pseudo-science by all reputable medical personnel, but still believed by -->

⇒ Gall marked out on his model of the head the places of twenty-six organs, as round inclosures with vacant interspaces. Spurzheim and Combe divided the whole scalp into oblong and conterminous patches.

Encyc. Brit.

<-- Illustr. of a chart of phrenology, showing the areas of the skull as "mapped" by Gall. -->


© Webster 1913.

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