Skeptics on the Fringe Presents:
Prof. David Price, Chair of Developmental Neurobiology at Edinburgh University - What phrenology teaches us about ourselves
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. I 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.
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.
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