Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science
Phineas Gage was truly a man with a hole in his head. Phineas, a railroad construction foreman, was blasting rock near Cavendish, Vermont, in 1848 when a thirteen-pound iron rod was shot through his brain. Miraculously, he survived to live another eleven years and become a textbook case in brain science.
At the time, Phineas Gage seemed to completely recover from his accident. He could walk, talk, work, and travel, but he was changed. Gage "was no longer Gage," said his Vermont doctor, meaning that the old Phineas was dependable and well liked, and the new Phineas was crude and unpredictable.
His case astonished doctors in his day and still fascinates doctors today. What happened and what didn’t happen inside the brain of Phineas Gage will tell you a lot about how your brain works and how you act human.
break eye contact, how to murmur agreement or quiet objection, how to smile at the right moment or not to smile at all if the subject is grave. You also know how to show (or hide) your emotional reactions. You can laugh or yawn, roll your eyes upward in boredom, or open your eyes wide in delight. All of these behaviors can mean something entirely different in another culture, but all cultures have listening behavior. It's hard to believe that this tamping iron shot through the skull without
can be overlaid onto a three-dimensional computer image of a generic human skull. Back in her lab in Iowa, Hanna Damasio carefully plots the entrance and exit wounds. A line is drawn between their center point to lay out a hypothetical path for the tamping iron. The generic electronic skull is then adjusted to Phineas's specifications. Now Dr. Damasio has Phineas's skull on a computer screen. She can tilt and rotate it in any direction exactly as if she were holding it in her hand. Then she adds
Brainvox calculates sixteen possible paths for the iron to follow through Phineas's head. The anatomical evidence from Phineas rules out nine of these. Dr. Damasio knows that the iron missed his jawbone, lightly clipped the interior arch of his brow, and knocked out one molar but didn't destroy the socket. Any path that falls outside those landmarks is out of bounds. Of the remaining seven routes, two would have cut important blood vessels and would have killed Phineas instantly. Brainvox lays
Hooke saw that the tissue inside a cork tree was made up of rows of tiny, boxlike structures. They reminded him of the bare rooms used by monks in a monastery. Hooke called them "cells." His cork cells, though, were empty because they were dead and dried out. It would take two centuries to figure out that it's the living stuff inside cells that makes them the fundamental unit of life. While Hooke was showing off his "cells," a sharp-eyed Dutch merchant named Anton van Leeuwenhoek was making more
short distances. He can count, feed and dress himself, and sing. He can speak clearly and make sense of what he hears. Yet there is something odd about the "recovered" Phineas. Just before he leaves Cavendish, Dr. Harlow gives Phineas a little test. The doctor offers Phineas $1,000 for the pocketful of pebbles that Phineas has collected walking along the Black River near town. Dr. Harlow knows that Phineas can add and subtract, yet Phineas angrily refuses the deal. Dr. Harlow tells himself that a