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.

12 thoughts on “Meet Phineas Gage

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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.

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