The Head Bumps of Writing

When I started writing my great non-nationalistic novel, tentatively titled “There Was No King,” I knew my characters and plot were loosely based on the biblical book of Judges. I knew the setting was the great post-nation-state Kansouri, one of the many regional confederations created after these United States were united no more. I knew the church would explode at some point. However, I did not know that Delia, one of the main characters, would be a phrenologist.

But as I started on that rough draft, back in 2010, Delia decided on her own career. Somehow, in that future world, after all the institutions that preserve actual scientific knowledge disintegrated, my rational but passionate betraying minx became a student of head bumps, a pseudoscientist-psychologist-small business owner. I wanted her to be a border guard! Or maybe a courier for underground networks, or a low-level government worker, or a hacker like her boyfriend. Certainly not a phrenologist. But she decided, and all my attempts to coerce her into another career failed.

Since I didn't know much about what she did, I had to investigate her job and education. And I found out a few interesting things. Phrenology wasn't really about the head bumps, but a theory that sections (organs) of the brain influenced different character traits; short of breaking open the skull, there wasn't any other way to figure out the size of those “organs” than feeling the bumps on the skull. It wasn't ever really accepted by the scientific establishment. It contributed a lot to racist pseudoscience and early criminology (“the criminal type” kinds of BS), but it also prefigured developments in neuroscience that recognized different parts of the brain did, in fact, serve different functions. There are also still adherents of phrenology out there somewhere in the world. Thank you, internet.

Now, Delia won't have to depend on feeling the skull–she can do a quick mini-MRI of the future on her clients and offer them a detailed read-out. Of course, in the future, phrenology is more the province of prospective mothers-in-law than racist scientists. But Delia, like her predecessors in the 19th century, will practice her art with great ceremony and drama. She will offer counseling to understand the results. She will struggle with whether to practice adaptive phrenology, the altering people's brain architecture to change their personality. She will be a psuedo-scientist with the best of them, and she will think about the differences between popular science, fake science, and “real” science a lot. I look forward to learning more about this profession along with her!


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