Is Phrenology coming back under a new disguise?
Phreno means mind such as Schizo-phrenia means divided or split mind. Ology means the science of something. So phrenology is the science of the mind. It started in 1798 by an Austrian Physician called Franz Joseph Gall. Dr. Gall spread the belief that the brain is like muscles. Each muscle has a specific function. Using the muscle makes it bigger and not using it makes it smaller (atrophy). He divided the brain to areas; each one is for a specific behavior “faculties”, for example beauty, mirth, time, expressions and so on. This was claimed to be based on real science. Later Phrenology was proven to be a Pseudoscience. It is true that the brain has few functions that are localized such as speech, vision, movements and sensations. However, the rest of brain functions are not localized to one specific location in the brain. Some functions get processed in certain locations but if these locations are damaged, for example by a stroke, other areas are used instead and that particular function will continue as before.
However it took a century to eliminate this pseudoscience. It left many misbelieves that persist even today, for example, the belief that the right brain is responsible for arts & music and the left brain for intelligence and science. We still have today website for phrenology such as phrenology.com and phrenology.org. These still claim that phrenology is a true science!
Sadly, phrenology is coming back under a new disguise. A new toy is used to generate images to suggest the same old claims that there are certain areas in the brain responsible for a very specific function. The new toy is the functional MRI or fMRI. Although fMRI is a questionable science, it is widely used in studies about the mind “phreno” with similar claims to those entertained in the 19th century by phrenologists. Centers for love, hate, etc are claimed to found on these studies and is claimed, in the same way used in phrenology, to be scientific studies. Event different personalities described by Hippocrates in 500 BC are coming back with new claims that it is caused by localized changes in the brain that are specific to certain brain chemicals. Ex-President Bill Clinton personality is supposedly caused by estrogens; this is not a mistake, yes estrogen. Hilary Rodham Clinton personality is proved by fMRI to be based on testosterone. Again, there is no mistake here as this is what the “New Phrenology” machine; the “fMRI” has shown. Recent studies question fMRI such as the July 2016 article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that revealed 73% of findings on fMRI are false positives. This was reported in Nature journal and science journal. If we used an old scientific method for experiments; using ‘flip a coin” technique; we will get a success rate of 50%. Tossing a coin is more successful scientific method. MIT review of fMRI statistical methods revealed a 25-40% error. fMRI study of a salmon brain revealed a brain ‘activation’ to viewing images of humans smiling or angry. This was a dead fish but the machine still showed brain activity.
Luckily, this questionable science is falling apart much sooner, in about 25 years.
The brain has localized functional areas for speech, vision, hearing, movements and sensations. However almost all other functions are not localized in one location, as claimed by fMRI enthusiasts. We know that from the results of areas of brain damage from strokes and brain tumors. There is absolutely no evidence based on physical damage of brain areas by strokes, tumors, trauma and so on. There are no “Love centers” in the brain but there are love systems that are widespread.
Phrenology was a pseudoscience, so is the new face for it, the functional MRI.