Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828)
A Brief Biography

Franz Joseph Gall was born in Baden, Germany, on March 9, 1758.

Gall studied medicine in Vienna, Austria, and became a renowned neuroanatomist and physiologist. He was a pioneer in the study of the localization of mental functions in the brain. Around 1800, he developed "cranioscopy", a method to divine the personality and development of mental and moral faculties on the basis of the external shape of the skull. Cranioscopy (cranium=skull, scopos=vision) was later renamed to phrenology (phrenos=mind, logos=study) by his followers.

With his revolutionary concepts on brain localization, Gall offended religious leaders and scientists alike. The Church considered his theory as contrary to religion (that the mind, created by God, should have a physical seat in brain matter, was anatema). Established science also condemned him due to many reasons, including the fact that he could not provide real scientific proof of his theory; but also because phrenology was quickly taken over by quacks and was considered a kind of money-making fraud. Due to this, Gall, who worked and lectured in Vienna, Austria, was forced to leave the country in 1805, and go to France. In that country, he was also not fortunate, because Napoleon Bonaparte, the ruling emperor, and the scientific establishment, led by the Institute of France, pronounced his science as invalid. Despite all this, Gall was able to secure a comfortable existence on the basis of his specialty.

Gall's phrenological theories and practices were best accepted in England, where the ruling class used it to justify the "inferiority" of his colonial subjects, including the Irish,; and then in the USA, where it became very popular from 1820 to 1850.

However, Gall made many contributions to "real science", such as his discovery that the gray matter of the brain contained cell bodies (neurons) and the white matter contained fibers (axons). His concept that brain function was localized was later proved to be correct, but not as phrenology implied (see Brain Maps)

Gall died in Paris, in August 22, 1828.

From: "Phrenology, the History of Brain Localization"
Renato M.E. Sabbatini, PhD
Brain & Mind, March 1997.