Cornhill Magazine,  7 (1863), 276–80.

Notes on Science

[George H Lewes] and [John F W Herschel]


Regular Feature, Review-Essay


Ancient Authorities, Anatomy, Gender, Scientism, Measurement, Physiological Psychology, Phrenology, Botany, Gas Chemistry, Physical Geography, Geology

    Recalls that 'Aristotle asserted that man has a larger brain than woman', and even though 'there have not been wanting investigators of some authority to oppose this assertion, it is now generally accepted'. The 'new method of measurement' recently announced by Marie P C Sappey has only added to the results of earlier 'authorities [who] are tolerably unanimous as to the marked superiority of man's brain'. Indeed, the 'marked superiority in the male Cerebrum seems to lend scientific authority to the general verdict respecting the intellectual inferiority of woman'. Explicitly constructing the audience of the article as male, the authors reflect, 'The reader may, perhaps, think that the authority of science is wholly superfluous in a matter so patent to common sense. But we would beg him to consider that by many this general verdict as to woman's inferiority is stoutly denied, and by many more is attributed to education, not to organic differences. Let women have the same advantages as men, it is said, and they will exhibit their intellectual equality. Of course there could be no sustaining such an argument if it were demonstrated that women were organically inferior to men. And on a superficial view such does seem to be the case, according to the measurements of the brain'. (276) However, 'while the fact of woman's intellectual inferiority,—if it be a fact—would find a parallel in the inferiority of her brain, we should still have to prove these two things to be causally related', and 'up to this time there has not been the vestige of a proof discovered'. The 'bearing' of the size of the cerebrum 'on the psychological question [is] at present [...] sheer guess work'. (278) Cerebral activity is dependent not only on size, but also on structural factors such as 'the proportions of [...] fat, water, salts, &c.' and 'the arrangement of [...] tissues (including the distribution of [...] masses, or what phrenologists call the localization of faculties)' (277). Although we must 'grant that in the purely intellectual activities woman is, as history seems to prove her to be, on the average inferior to man, though often individually superior', when looking at the brains of the two sexes 'the mere estimate of size is too general for any particular conclusions' to be drawn. Also reports that Jean B A Dumas has brought to light the recent discovery of a young protégé that some plants 'really are capable of the direct absorption of nitrogen, instead of receiving it by a decomposition of nitrates' (278). The examination of a well in Vermont that remains frozen even during the summer has revealed that 'the only principle which science can lay its finger on [...] connects the effect obviously with the continuous issue of cold air' which 'must have emanated from some subterranean reservoir, taking up latent heat in its expansion'. However, the reasons for the 'maintenance of a perennial supply of this expanding air' remain unexplained. (280)

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