Just Press The Right Button.

Vaught’s Practical Character Reader is an appalling little book on phrenology. I can’t imagine going around, staring at people, then feeling free to poke their head. Seems to me that would be an invitation to a facial rearrangement. There’s an insistence that anyone who doesn’t adopt their particular system is an idiot and worse, which  handily brings us to:

Oh, that socially awkward excuse has been around a good long while. And just because:

That’s not in the least self explanatory to me, but I just skimmed the book. You can while away some time with Vaught’s Practical Character Reader here.


  1. vucodlak says

    Oh good, a book advising fools to go around poking people. I do not like to be poked. I once hit a guy with a desk because he wouldn’t stop poking me. He was very intent on pressing my buttons. I suppose a subsequent examination of my lumpy head would reveal that I am a “social idiot,” because it’s not very sociable to hit people with furniture, but also a “will genius,” because few things say ‘no’ as firmly as decking someone with writing desk.

    Together with his hairstyle, the “holy smoke” fellow gives the impression of having been struck by tiny meteorite. I find it amusing that “spirituality” is apparently associated with “occultism” on the next page, and yet I can think of few things less ‘occult’ than a pillar of smoke rising from the crown of someone’s head. Maybe if he wore a hat?

  2. says

    Raucous Indignation:

    I shall not while away any time with that crap.

    Pity. I don’t find such things to be crap. They are part of history, a part of humanity. Physiognomy and Phrenology were taken seriously by the scientific community throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Lombroso brought physiognomy to bear heavily in criminology, as did Bertillon with his anthropometry and biometrics. It’s chilling to think of all the people who ended up on the wrong side of the law because of such assessments of character. All told, it’s a fascinating subject.

    As for Louis Vaught’s book on character reading, he was trying to sell a system, so it’s rather weighted on the marketing side, but there’s insight to be gained when it comes to reinforcing stereotypes and biases. Whether people realize it or not, we’re still haunted by such easy conclusions when it comes to other people. People are still ruthlessly judgmental over appearance; people still strive to be better looking, in any way. Many people are obsessed with looks. A great many people think they can indeed judge character just by looking at someone’s face. Happens every damn day. Our language still reflects this sort of bias “shifty eyes” “his/her eyes are too close together” “low brow” “Jewish nose” and so forth.

    That’s just a bit of why you would never find me dismissing this as crap. When you do that, from my perspective, you cheat yourself of learning, and I have a great love of learning.

  3. says


    I suppose a subsequent examination of my lumpy head would reveal that I am a “social idiot,” because it’s not very sociable to hit people with furniture, but also a “will genius,” because few things say ‘no’ as firmly as decking someone with writing desk.

    :D I share your dislike of being poked, however, I have never had the opportunity to fling a desk at someone.

    The whole ‘idiot’ business is shameful, literally. Another blatant way of manipulating people, making them feel awful for not being perfect. I did laugh over the moral idiocy including veneration. I think it would be safe to say that all atheists and freethinkers would be marked down as moral idiots.

  4. says

    I am called intellectually strong, and I think it would not be unfair to call me social idiot, but my head looks nothing like the third picture.

    What I find most disturbing about these things is how long they held on despite being obviously, evidently, not true. These “theories” are de facto a more elaborate version of the “women do not fart” statement.

  5. Raucous Indignation says

    I know, Caine, but those topics no longer hold any interest for me. I love medical history, and have read a lot of it. Especially the history of how we got to where we are today. Any system like Vaught’s largely were used to excuse and support the ingrained prejudices of their day. Usually a single individual like Vaught presupposed a system that supported their own personal prejudices and then “proved” it by doing little or no research. There is value in studying the past, but I have read so much that I no longer have the stomach for it. The turning point for me came after learning about the history of the lobotomy. Dr António Egas Moniz popularized the procedure based on almost no research of any value. That of course included covering up the frequent and serious side effects. And he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for it. Add to that Tuskegee, the Guatemala syphilis study, slave women used as surgical test subjects, Unit 731, the fuckin’ Nazis, the way the poor, minorities and mentally ill were experimented on, the mistreatment of children and women at large, the outright lies and felonies of Big Pharma …

    So yes, you are correct in every thing you said. There is value in studying the past: how we got to where we are today. I did not mean to suggest that no one should read it. I fell quite the opposite; I think you are correct, everyone should read it or something like it. But as of today I am quite full up. I was speaking only for myself.


  6. says

    Oh, I know, it can be very hard to bear, the things we do to one another. I’ve read on all those subjects, too. Thing is, we haven’t stopped doing such things. No, we don’t surgically lobotomize or go trepanning anymore, but we indulge in chemical lobotomies, which come with all the justifications the surgical form did. We really haven’t advanced all that much, we’re still willing to do awful things to one another.

    Unfortunately, as a species, we still refuse to learn from history. I get the feeling we may never reach that point.

  7. Raucous Indignation says

    Hard to bear? Yeah, I’m feeling you. But we have made an immense amount of progress. Truly. For me, it’s not hard living in my medical world. Everything we do in my field is data driven and guided by well grounded ethical principle. It’s one of the reasons I was drawn to it.

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