Lessons of the brain: the Phineas Gage case


In 1848, Phineas Gage was working on a
railroad in Cavendish, packing the powder down with a tamping iron, blowing up rocks.
The charge detonates prematurely and this tamping iron, this three-foot seven-inch,
thirteen and a half pound tamping iron fires into Phineas Gage’s head.
It enters into his left cheek, it passes behind his left eye, it severs his optic nerve,
and then comes out his forehead lands 30 yards away. Phineas Gage was able to survive having
a three-foot seven-inch bar shot transcranially through his head. In 1850, Henry Jacob Bigelow.
professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School at the time. brought Gage and John Harlow, his doctor, to
Harvard for an examination. Bigelow essentially concludes that this man did have a giant iron bar shot through his head and did survive, and he publishes the case in1850. After the accident, Phineas Gage goes from business-like and efficient to
no longer able to follow through with his plans. He becomes the textbook case
for post-traumatic personality change and that’s what you find in a lot of the
modern medical neuroscience psychology literature. Phineas Gage has been at Harvard
Medical School for a hundred and sixty years so in many ways I see him similarly to how you would see one of
the famous professors who hang on the wall. He’s an important part of Harvard
Medical School’s identity and by Continuing to reflect on his case, it
allows us to continually change how we want to understand the human brain how we
interact with our historical understanding of neuroscience

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