Phrenology began as "organology", a theory of brain structure developed by the German
physician, Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828). Gall argued that the brain is divided into a large
number of functional "organs", each responsible for particular human mental abilities and
dispositions – hope, love, spirituality, greed, language, the abilities to detect the size, form, and
color of objects, etc. He argued that the larger each of these organs are, the greater the power of
the corresponding mental trait. Further, he argued that one could detect the sizes of the organs in
a given individual by feeling the surface of that person's skull. Gall's ultra-localizationist position
with respect to the brain was soon attacked, most notably by French anatomist Pierre
Flourens (1794–1867), who conducted ablation studies (on chickens) which purported to
demonstrate little or no cerebral localization of function. Although Gall had been a serious (if
misguided) researcher, his theory was taken by his assistant, Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776–
1832), and developed into the profitable, popular enterprise of phrenology, which soon spawned,
especially in Britain, a thriving industry of independent practitioners. In the hands of Scottish
religious leader George Combe (1788–1858) (whose book The Constitution of Man was one of
the best-sellers of the century), phrenology became strongly associated with political reform
movements and egalitarian principles (see, e.g., Shapin, 1975; but also see van Wyhe, 2004).
Phrenology soon spread to America as well, where itinerant practical phrenologists assessed the
mental well-being of willing customers (see Sokal, 2001).
Until the middle of the 19th century, psychology was widely regarded as a branch of philosophy.
Whether it could become an independent scientific discipline was questioned already earlier
on: Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) declared in his Metaphysical Foundations of Natural
Science (1786) that psychology might perhaps never become a "proper" natural science because
its phenomena cannot be quantified, among other reasons. Kant proposed an alternative
conception of an empirical investigation of human thought, feeling, desire, and action, and
lectured on these topics for over twenty years (1772/73-1795/96).
Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776–1841) took issue with what he viewed as Kant's conclusion and
attempted to develop a mathematical basis for a scientific psychology. Although he was unable
to empirically realize the terms of his psychological theory, his efforts did lead scientists such
asErnst Heinrich Weber (1795–1878) and Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801–1887) to attempt to
measure the mathematical relationships between the physical magnitudes of external stimuli and
the psychological intensities of the resulting sensations. Fechner (1860) is the originator of the
termpsychophysics.Meanwhile, individual differences in reaction time had become a critical
issue in the field of astronomy, under the name of the "personal equation". Early researches
by Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1784–1846) in Königsberg and Adolf Hirsch led to the
development of a highly precisechronoscope by Mathias Hipp that, in turn, was based on a
design by Charles Wheatstone for a device that measured the speed of artillery shells (Edgell &
Symes, 1906). Other timing instruments were borrowed from physiology (e.g., the kymograph)
and adapted for use by the Utrecht ophthalmologist Franciscus Donders (1818–1899) and his
student Johan Jacob de Jaager in measuring the duration of simple mental decisions.
Studies of a wide range of topics that would later be of interest to psychologists – the speed of
neural transmission, the natures of sound and color, and of our perceptions of them, etc. In the
1860s, while he held a position in Heidelberg, Helmholtz engaged as an assistant a young M.D.
named Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt employed the equipment of the physiology laboratory –
chronoscope, kymograph, and various peripheral devices – to address more complicated
psychological questions than had, until then, been investigated experimen