Walt Whitman’s secret? His “elite” brain

This post was written by guest blogger Andy Fine.

I’ve always been interested in phrenology, mostly because I have a funny-looking head. Apparently, Whitman was a fan too:

In the summer of 1849, Walt Whitman walked into an office on Nassau Street in Manhattan to have his head read. Lorenzo Niles Fowler, a phrenologist, palpated 35 areas on both sides of the skull corresponding to emotional or intellectual capacities in the brain. Fowler rated each one on a scale of 1 to 7, with 6 representing the ideal (7 meant dangerous excess).

Whitman received a perfect score in nearly every one of Fowler’s categories, which bore such fanciful names as “amativeness,” “adhesiveness” and “combativeness.” Thrilled with his report card, he became an instant convert to phrenology, defined by Ambrose Bierce as “the science of picking a man’s pocket through the scalp.” Later he donated his magnificent brain to the American Anthropometric Society, which collected it on his death in 1892 and added it to its collection of elite brains.

Amativeness,” by the way, is “the arousal of feelings of sexual desire.” I score high in that category too, but I’m sure you already knew that.

(for the rest of this article and a review of Postcards from the Brain Museum by Brian Burrell, check out this NYT article)


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