Meet Phineas Gage

The daguerreotype above  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.

Phineas_Gage_GageMillerPhoto2010-02-17_Unretouched_ColorThe 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.

Christopher Wren & the architecture of the brain

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The current issue of Nature contains an interesting article about Sir Christopher Wren’s contribution to neuroanatomy, by art historians Martin Kemp and Nathan Flis of Oxford University.

The article focuses on the anatomical illustrations produced by Wren for Thomas Willis’s 1664 book Cerebri Anatome (The Anatomy of the Brain). This was a landmark publication in the history of neurology, not least because of Wren’s detailed and accurate figures, which were among the very first modern images of brain anatomy. Even so, this aspect of Wren’s work was overshadowed by his architectural designs, most notably St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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