Saturday, February 18, 2012


I'm always thrilled when the disparate threads of my life come together in unexpected ways.  One of the puzzles for me in Vargas Llosa's book, La Guerra del Fin del Mundo,  was his choice of a phrenologist to be a principal character.  Some light was shed on that choice for me today when I read the latest posting at a favorite blog, Genealogy of Religion, about Franz Joseph Gall who founded the discipline of phrenology.  While his association of head bumps with brain functions did not hold up to scrutiny, he was nevertheless a pioneer of scientific thought in relation to the conception of the mind as a product of physical structure rather than evidence of another dimension as posited by religions.  The path started by Gall led directly to the scientific revolution epitomized by Darwin, as well as a questioning of social and political systems by the 19th Century revolutionary thinkers like Karl Marx.  The Church, of course, recognized quite early on that the Gall's course would lead to a dissolution of the magical thinking that held it all together and therefore promoted the persecution of phrenology wherever it raised its head.  Vargas Llosa, in his book, does a marvelous job of illuminating this complicated historical conflict, which is one of the things that make him a great novelist.

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