The science of phrenology was popular and controversial throughout the nineteenth century. It was based on the idea that the brain was the organ of the mind, and that invisible characteristics could be made outwardly apparent.
Phrenology suggested that, just like well-developed muscles, highly developed parts of the brain would cause similar bumps in the skull. By reading these bumps the skilled phrenologist could ascertain a subject’s intelligence, kindness, criminality, or colour perception.
Phrenology was often used to explain and defend social hierarchy. But it could be radical as well as conservative. Some individuals relegated to the lower classes used phrenology to challenge their social destiny.
The science’s techniques were enthusiastically applied in many areas. Phrenology was taken up by anthropologists and criminologists as well as business strategists and social planners. The heads of great men, living or dead, became objects of study. The shape of Sir Isaac Newton’s stirred controversy when it was claimed that the disappointing size of his causality bump (above the left eye) did not match his intellectual achievements.