Measuring Skulls…

In many ways, modern psychology is indistinguishable from the biology and biochemistry of the nervous system. I love learning about the intricacies of neuro-transmitters. I love demonstrations of neural plasticity. I love the connections we can draw between culture, personality, even tastes and brain chemistry. But it makes me wonder…

Scientists in former centuries [not as far back as we’d like to think] took precise measurements of skull shape and dimensions to determine the mental capacity, the relative intelligence of individuals and races. Africans, they said, had larger occipital lobes, and therefore were clearly closely related to apes. Caucasians had larger frontal lobes, indicating a highly developed sense of self and acculturation, etc. These “findings” are repugnant now, but are some of the things we “learn” from neuroscience any less so? As Ellis and Hunt point out in their Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience; “much of contemporary research essentially has the same goal but the techniques are much more sophisticated.” Our explorations may already be over-simplified, over-generalized and over-stepping the bounds of what we can actually learn from what we measure.

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