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Phrenology and methodology, or "playing tennis with the net down"

Lorch, Marjorie (2006) Phrenology and methodology, or "playing tennis with the net down". Aphasiology 20 (9-11), pp. 1059-1071. ISSN 0268-7038.

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Background: In 1835, the British Association for the Advancement of Science exhumed the skull of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, to submit it to phrenological scrutiny and ascertain the cause of his final illness. The behaviour Swift exhibited during the final 3 years of his life—including memory impairment, personality alterations, language disorder, and facial paralysis—was the cause of much speculation among his contemporaries. Aims: This paper will review the debate between Phrenologists and Alienists, which was focused on the significance of the physical evidence presented by Swift’s skull, and its implications for explaining behavioural patterns during his lifetime. His skull was the subject of research and rebuttal over a 12-year period, played out in the major medical publications of the day. Main Contribution: The focus of the arguments hinged on two issues that resonate today in research on cortical localisation of function: the correlation between anatomy and physiology, and the implications of pathology for both. Conclusion: Examination of the 19th-century debate over the evidence represented by Jonathan Swift’s skull for brain/behaviour correlations illuminates methodological and theoretical assumptions.

Item Type: Article
Keyword(s) / Subject(s): aphasia, history of neuroscience, methodology, phrenology, Jonathan Swift
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Applied Linguistics and Communication
Depositing User: Marjorie Lorch
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2007
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2016 13:32

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