Phineas Gage, Recovered To An Extent (1848)

Phineas Gage wasn’t a medical man, but he did a great deal to enrich America’s knowledge of brain science and psychology.

In 1848, the Vermont railroad construction foreman somehow survived an explosion in which a long, 13-pound iron rod passed completely through his head. His left frontal lobe destroyed, Gage was “no longer Gage,” and was now prone to streaks of stubbornness, profanity and impatience that were not previously native to him. It strongly suggested to scientists that different parts of the human brain governed different functions. The marked change in his personality and his odd but formidable notoriety made him the most famous freak in an America for a time, and Gage was even a featured performer at Barnum’s American Museum in New York. He lived a dozen more years following his accident, dying in San Francisco after a series of convulsions. From his case study the 1868 Bulletin of the Massachusetts Medical Society:

“He has no pain in the head, but says he has a queer feeling (in his head) which he is not able to describe. His contractors, who regarded him as the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ previous to his injury, considered the change in his mind so marked that they could not give him his place again. The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint of advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible… Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart business man, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was ‘no longer Gage.’”

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