The Remarkable Tale of Phineas Gage

The Remarkable Tale of Phineas Gage


On September 13, 1848, Gage was helping excavate
rocks to make way for a railroad track on the Rutland and Burlington Railroad near Cavendish
in Vermont. Just prior to the accident, Gage was preparing
for an explosion by compacting a bore with explosive powder using a tamping iron. A spark created from the tamping iron ignited
the powder, driving the iron straight through Gage’s skull. It entered under the left cheek bone and exited
completely through the top of the head, and was later recovered some 30 yards away, smeared
with blood and brain matter. To have an idea of extent of damage this iron
would have caused, you need to realize its size. The tamping iron was 3 ft 8 in. (1.11 m) in length and 1.25 inches (3.18 cm)
in diameter at one end and tapered over a distance of about 1 ft., to 0.25 inches (0.6
cm) in diameter, weighing approximately 13 pounds (6 kg). After the rod passed through his head, it
is not known whether or not Gage ever lost consciousness, but within minutes of his injury,
at the astonishment of the men on his crew, he was walking and talking and he sat upright
in an oxcart for the 3/4 mile ride to his house where he was attended to by Dr. Edward
H. Williams, who describes the situation when he first saw Gage: When I drove up he said, ‘Doctor, here is
business enough for you.’ I first noticed the wound upon the head before
I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. The top of the head appeared somewhat like
an inverted funnel … as if some wedge-shaped body had passed from below upward. Mr. Gage, during the time I was examining
this wound, was relating the manner in which he was injured to the bystanders. I did not believe Mr. Gage’s statement at
that time, but thought he was deceived. Mr. Gage persisted in saying that the bar
went through his head …. Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out
about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor. By evening, Dr. John Martyn Harlow had taken
over the case and it was his notes of observations about Phineas’ injury, subsequent recovery
and personality changes that provided evidence that the frontal cortex is involved in one’s
personality. The initial treatment of Phineas’ physical
injuries included cleaning the wound by removing small fragments of bone and replacing some
of the larger fragments that were still attached but displaced. The large wound at the top of his head was
closed with adhesive straps and covered with a wet compress, to allow the wound to drain
into the dressings. Within days, his exposed brain became infected
and he fell into a semi-comatose state. To his family’s relief and surprise, he
recovered. Not long after that, Dr. Harlow had to release
8 fluid ounces of pus from an abscess under George’s scalp. Despite all this, only three and a half months
after the accident, Phineas Gage was leading a seemingly normal life, contrary to many
outlandish accounts that soon popped up, most of which have been dismissed as myth, due
to complete lack of evidence. However, those closest to him did notice slight
changes in his personality and behavior. In 1868, in a report published in the Bulletin
of the Massachusetts Medical Society , Dr. Harlow wrote, 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. 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 obstinent, 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. In this regard, his mind was radically changed,
so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was ‘no longer Gage’. Not the same man he used to be and denied
employment by the railroad company who used to see him as an efficient and capable foreman,
he worked for a short time at a livery stable in New Hampshire, among other odd jobs. He then spent seven years as a stagecoach
driver in Chile until his health began to deteriorate. Evidence uncovered very recently, in 2008,
seems to indicate that before his demise while working in Chile, Gage had recovered most,
if not all, of his former social skills and was otherwise a pretty normal guy at this
point. Once his health declined, he moved to San
Francisco with his mother where, after suffering a series of epileptic seizures he died on
May 20, 1860 at the age of 36 – almost 12 years after his accident. It wasn’t until 1866 that Dr. Harlow, who
had thought he would never hear from Phineas again, learned of his death. At his request to the family, Phineas’ skull
was removed from his grave and sent, along with the tamping iron that had pierced Phineas’
skull, to Dr. Harlow in Massachusetts. Today, both can be seen at the Harvard University
School of Medicine in the Warren Anatomical Museum.

100 thoughts on “The Remarkable Tale of Phineas Gage

  1. Where did the ideal for pinning a dollar on your shirt in hopes of others to give you more to add to it for your birthday come from?

  2. Hey, I just wrote about this guy in a neuroscience case study. Pretty hardcore to die twelve years after your frontal lobe was blown out of your skull

  3. Wait.. wasnt his frontal cortex seperated only? I was taught that he didnt lose that part the bar just passed through the only point where it couldnt kill him. After the accident he was a bumbling emotional child with no logic and reasoning

  4. Every medical student has heard the case of Phineas Gage – even 170 years late his story is still being used to educate medical professionals around the world.

  5. Dude vomited and then brains fell out…
    Fuckkk I've seen alot of crazy shit but I don't think I could handle that hahaha

  6. Here’s a thought – what about the tale of Duffy’s Cut? The 1832 massacre of 57 Irish immigrants working on the railroad outside of Philadelphia?

  7. I have heard of this before; the jokes in the comments do not disappoint me haha…
    I actually adapted this story somewhat for use in a tabletop game, creating a powerful monster version of Mr. Gage.

    Sadly the adventurers dropped him with one shot.

  8. Wow. I knew some people had lost their minds but this guy actually did lose some of his mind, at least he had a legitimate excuse. Thanks for the info guys. Please keep up the interesting stories.

  9. I do have to wonder if such changes in personality happen when someone is seriously injured. A similar thing happened to me after a motorcycle accident, even though I sustained no brain damage, but only serious damage to my right arm and liver, plus a lot of road rash. When life seems unfair, a person's personality tends to change in some of the ways noted in this case.

  10. "It is better for an iron rod (nail, needle etc) to be driven into the head of a man, than for him to touch a woman who is not permissible for him." – Prophet Muhammad, Praisinger, Ambassador of that which remains, link that which remains over him and save.

  11. wow, can't believe that went thru his head and he survived…I'd say lucky, but 99% of all plan out our death before we are born, so it was his plan, even murders or worse, we plan those put as well!! seems crazy but only when here, u advancelearn much much faster from a horrid death rather than an easy one….sure once we are here we all think different…but that's the way it works.

  12. I use to work in the office as the same floor as the museum. It is located in a small area at the Harvard Medical school. I worked there as a student when I went to Simmons College down the block from the med school. Most people do not realize the med school is located in Boston near the Beth Israel medical center and Brigham and Women’s hospitals. The School of public health and dental s chocolate is there too! I use to real love to look at all the weird stuff in this small Harvard museum!

  13. I’m rlly happy that you’re doing a episode about someone from Vermont cause we don’t get talked about like at All.

  14. Today I Found Out:

    Related: I've heard about at least one case where someone lived with only a fraction of the normal amount of cerebral matter. Could you do a vid on that?

  15. This is a fascinating tale, and his personality changes are discussed in depth in MIT psychology lectures 26 minutes in;
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjjGiqf96rI&t=0s&list=PL44ABC9278E2EE706&index=4

  16. I remember hearing about this story in middle school (a bit before the Internet really came on) and could only find a reference in a Ripley's-type book that never really had the full story of the rest of his life, just that he became foul-mouthed and unsocial. Thanks for the full story as always.

  17. Are bananas actually radioactive? And if so how many bananas would you have to eat to get radioactive poisoning?

  18. I've heard that its possible his personality didn't change that much or that they have no real solid evidence of his personality before the wound, or something like that.

  19. So if you find that video hideously disturbing just hit that 'scream' button, and don't forget to TRY DESPERATELY TO FORGET.

    Thanks as always.

  20. This is totally unrelated, but can you do a video on how people live on islands in winter year round. I thought about this because people live on Mackinac Island in Michigan.

  21. There’s something particularly grotesque about one’s brain matter being squirted out of their head… i mean, if there’s any part of YOU that is YOU, it is your brain matter.

  22. The railroad let him go not because of his change in personality, but because he didn't wear his company issued socks when the accident occurred. Had he done so, the railroad claims it may have prevented the accident from happening at all.

  23. do you ever wake up in the night in sweat after a nightmare is which you seen yourself without beaard when looking in the glass!!??do you?

  24. i mean, metal rod through the head or the stupidly loud and annoying sound that plays at the start of these videos… pretty hard to choose between the two.

  25. Brain food? Really? After talking about brain matter falling out of his head and found on the spear… No shame good Sir, no shame.

  26. Thank you for using both types of measurement (for those of US who have not adopted/apapted) the Metric system. Good video, thanks

  27. I don't like the music is the background. I find myself constantly pausing to make sure I don't have another video or something else playing in the background. I find your videos awesome and learn a lot. I find your background music difficult.

  28. You are reposting it, or at the very least, remaking. Not cool. I know it's hard to find interesting stuff to make a video "every day of the week" across two channels, plus a less frequent one (bios), but remaking or reposting as if it's the first time is not cool.

  29. According to how most authorities defined a soul at the time-as a complete you despite physical loss-was proven false. If he had a soul, then his personality would have remained the same. It did not. It altered.

  30. I dunno, if I were in a crazy accident like that and had the gall to survive, I would want to have my skull on display after my death. Like, at that point, it doesn’t even matter. It’s simply unimaginable.

  31. What if his personality didnt really change, he just started telling people what he really thought of them and used the accident as an excuse?
    I would

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