Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/756

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By Prof. M. ALLEN STARR, M. D., Ph. D.

ALMOST every one has at some time wondered whether there is any truth in phrenology. The figures of heads, on which various mental faculties are marked, are to be seen everywhere, and the notion that from the shape of the head the character can be determined has enough of the mysterious in it to prove attractive. The thought that some one may discover our little foibles and more serious deficiencies—for it is these rather than our strong points that we are afraid of having found out—makes the study of bumps disagreeably interesting. And perhaps the desire to find out a little more about our friends than they would wish us to know adds somewhat to its attraction.

It is pretty well agreed among scientists, at present, that the old system of phrenology has no actual basis of fact, and that elections upon the skull do not indicate masses of brain beneath them. But to this old system of Gall modern science really owes a great deal; for, like every false idea, it had within it a little kernel of truth, and the interest excited by the claims of its supporters awakened a discussion which has led to a discovery of the greatest importance in the saving of human life.

The claims of Gall that each part of the brain presided over some mental faculty stimulated Flourens, the leading French physiologist of forty years ago, to a series of experiments which seemed to show the falsity of Gall's hypothesis. These experiments in turn were disputed and led to others, and thus interest in the brain and its action was stimulated, until in 1870 the subject was taken up in Germany, and facts were discovered which form the basis of our present knowledge of brain action.

For in Germany a method of testing the action of the brain was invented by Fritsch and Hitzig in 1870. These men noticed that when they applied an electric shock to the brain of an anæsthetized dog, the result was a movement of the limbs. To cause this movement a certain part of the brain had to be irritated by the electricity, other parts being irresponsive; and it was even possible to distinguish the part which moved the fore-leg from that which moved the hind-leg, while, queerly enough, the irritation of one side of the brain always caused movements in the other side of the body. This was an important discovery, for it showed that one part of the brain governed motions while the other parts had nothing to do with motion.

The German investigators went a step further. They said, "If this part of the brain really governs motion, then when it is