Date of Original Version

2000

Type

Article

Rights Management

All Rights Reserved

Abstract or Description

There's an infamous story that almost always gets told in psychology courses that have anything to do with the brain. It relates the saga of one Phineas Gage, a railroad foreman who lived in the mid-19,h century. He was a great foreman—a hard worker, friendly, who always treated his employees fairly. Then something a bit out of the ordinary happened. One day, Gage was setting some explosives up. A standard part of this process involved tamping down the explosives using an iron bar. Gage dutifully tamped down the explosives; but unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for students of the brain, he accidentally set off a spark during his tamping and the explosives, well, exploded. The explosion sent the iron bar firing through Gage's head. It entered under his left eye socket, proceeded forward and up through the left frontal lobe of his brain, and then came out through his right frontal lobe. One might think that this sort of thing would have killed Mr. Gage; but he survived. Doctors were able to patch him up, and he went on to live for a number of years. However, he suffered a drastic personality change: he became irritable, began to tell off-color jokes, and generally turned into a person that most of us would not want to be around. Doctors quite naturally associated these changes with the brain damage caused by the tamping iron, and with that association came one of the first firm ideas about the function of the frontal lobes of the brain. Phineas Gage was never the same; and thanks to his injury, neither was the study of the brain.

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Published In

The Sloping Halls Review, 7.