Neurophilosophy

Meet Phineas Gage

phineas_gage.jpg

THE daguerreotype on the right is believed to be the only known image of railroad worker Phineas Gage, who was enshrined in the history of neuroscience one day in September, 1848, when a large iron rod he was using to tamp gunpowder into a hole in a rock caused an explosion and was propelled through his brain.

The photograph, which shows Gage holding the tamping iron, has been in the possession of photograph collectors Jack and Beverley Wilgus of Massachusetts for 30 years. They had believed it was of a whaler with his harpoon, but someone suggested it might in fact be Gage after it was uploaded onto Flickr. This led them to do some research, and they have written an article about the photograph, which will be published in next month’s issue of the Journal of the History of Neurosciences.

This un-watermarked image comes from a short article in the LA Times. The article states that the tamping iron “was successfully removed” from Gage’s head; in fact, it entered with such force that it was later recovered some 30 yards away, “smeared with blood and brain”. Gage famously survived, of course, but the damage to his frontal lobe led to severe personality changes and complete loss of social inhibitions, so that those who had known him before the accident said he had become a different person. He died 11 years later, after a series of severe epileptic convulsions.

Comments

  1. #1 Brian
    July 16, 2009

    Wicked frickin’ sweet. That is all.

  2. #2 NeuroWhoa
    July 16, 2009

    Take that, Denise O’Leary!

  3. #3 Mo
    July 16, 2009

    O’Leary says the textbooks portray Gage as turning into a psychopath after the accident, which is an exaggeration. She found one paper which suggests that his case has been misinterpreted, argues that his personality did not change at all, and then takes this as evidence that the “materialist view of the human mind” is wrong. She also uses my post about Gage to illustrate the materialist view.

  4. #4 Dinosaur Teacher
    July 17, 2009

    Awesome. I use Gage as an example to teach 7th graders, since they love the gore, and this picture will help put a face on him.

  5. #5 Roland Branconnier, MA
    July 17, 2009

    The most comprehensive work on the Phineas Gage case is

    Macmillan, Malcolm. An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000

    Malcolm Macmillan also maintains a Phineas Gage web site at:

    http://www.deakin.edu.au/hmnbs/psychology/gagepage/

  6. #6 Roland Branconnier, MA
    July 17, 2009

    The most comprehensive resource on the Phineas Gage case is:

    Macmillan, Malcolm. An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

    Malcolm Macmillian also maintains a Phineas Gage web site at:

    http://www.deakin.edu.au/hmnbs/psychology/gagepage/

  7. #7 cephe kaplama
    July 17, 2009

    great post.thanks a lot from turkey.

  8. #8 geht's noch
    July 20, 2009

    Some of the comments on O’Leary’s post are truly nauseating.

  9. #9 Ty-bo
    July 20, 2009

    I was fine until I knew this Denise O’Leary lady existed.

    Now I just feel ill.

  10. #10 Michael Spurlock
    July 21, 2009

    Notice the inscription on the tamping rod?
    For all the damage it did him, Phineas was awfully attached to that thing.
    Personally, I doubt I’d ever want it in the room with me after what it put him through.
    Then again, it did make him something of a living for a while.

  11. #11 Lex
    July 30, 2009

    Wow what a flash back to the old readings!

    I wonder if I might post a rather odd question, but as Mr. Gage is a cornerstone of neuroscience I thought it an appropriate place to look for opinions.

    I was wondering if anyone has any scientific opinions about the new mental health recovery movement that is hitting the field of psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience so strongly?

    If anyone would like to comment I would absolutely love to quote you and direct the citation this way on my own blog which is designed to track what is going on with opinions about the recovery movement, the Mental Health Recovery Blog.

    If no one is comfortable with such a quotation I would love to hear opinions here regardless!

    I look forward to hearing anything anyone has to say on the matter!

    Warm regards,
    Lex
    MHCD Research and Evaluations

  12. #12 Matthew Hudgens-Haney
    August 1, 2009

    My day was also made worse by the existence of Denise O’Leary. However, it is nice to put a face to a name so commonly used. Thanks Mo.

  13. #13 pornositeleri
    August 2, 2009

    At least 34 million Americans suffer from chronic pain caused by conditions including arthritis, lower back problems, neuralgia,

  14. #14 hiphop
    August 2, 2009

    Actually, they were give three of the five notes and without his help might have thought they were going to sing the following at 1:04

  15. #15 Eric Thomson
    August 19, 2009

    Great find! He is a handsome fellow for some reason I pictured him like Gollum.

  16. #16 tom janicki insurance
    December 8, 2010

    I wonder exactly what Brian will do with that???

    Rhoda

  17. #17 Andy
    May 16, 2011

    I always enjoy hearing different opinions. I guess this just means that we’ll never know exactly what Phineas Gage was like, which is fine because there’s a lot we can study and discover today without going back to an isolated example 150 years ago.