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What Phrenology Teaches Us About Ourselves

February 25, 2019 @ 7:15 pm - 9:30 pm

Phrenology - event poster

Phrenology was a pseudoscience introduced in the late 18th century that tried to explain your behaviour, personality, intelligence and so on based on the shape of your head. It was almost all wrong but it had many positive impacts, or example in promoting a more compassionate approach to mental illness. On the negative side it fuelled many baseless racist ideas. In this talk, Professor David Price will discuss what phrenology was and why it became particularly prominent in Edinburgh, how it influenced contemporary thinking and what has replaced it in our current understanding of how the brain works.

About the Speaker:

While studying Medicine at Edinburgh University he became fascinated by how the brain works and how it self-constructs so rapidly during development. He went on to do a PhD at Oxford University with Professor Colin Blakemore, studying how visual experience shapes the development and function of the visual cortex. At that time, in the mid-80s, exciting new discoveries in invertebrates drew him towards research on the genetics of early brain development. To pursue this, he moved to the University of California at Berkeley in the USA before returning to the UK to set up his own laboratory in Edinburgh. His research since has focussed on understanding the genetic mechanisms of forebrain development.

He was appointed to Edinburgh University in 1988 and became Professor in 2003. He has published over 150 papers and reviews. He has done a lot of work outside the University, for example on grant review and advisory panels. He has written two books, one on cortical development (Mechanisms of Cortical Development, with David Willshaw, a theoretician) and one called Building Brains; An Introduction to Neural Development with three colleagues with whom he teaches at Edinburgh (published by Wiley in 2011, 2nd Edition published 2017). Over the last 10 years he has developed a keen interest in the early history of neuroscience and in particular phrenology through his association with the Henderson Trust.

For more information:

  • http://www.phrenology.mvm.ed.ac.uk/Phrenology/Home.html
  • https://www.ed.ac.uk/discovery-brain-sciences/our-staff/research-groups/david-price

Doors at 7.15, kickoff at 7.30
This is event is free to attend, although we will be asking for donations at the end of the talk. Participants are under no obligation whatsoever to donate, however please rest assured that the money we collect doesn’t end up in anyone’s pocket – it is used to fund our overhead costs, and travel/accommodation for our speakers who come from further afield.

Accessibility: As per the policy of the Admiral Bar, access to the venue “can only be provided to patrons who are sufficiently mobile and capable of independently evacuating premises, or with the minimum of assistance”. Unfortunately, this leaves the basement inaccessible to most wheelchair users.


February 25, 2019
7:15 pm - 9:30 pm


The Admiral Bar
72A Waterloo Street
Glasgow, G2 7DA United Kingdom
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