You’ve might have heard the story of Phineas Gage, the 19th century construction foreman who was impaled through the brain with a tampering rod but lived a relatively normal life. Researchers at UCLA have a new twist: Gage’s brain was damaged far more severely than we thought.
Phineas Gage has been a fascinating case study for almost 150 years now. After his injury, he underwent a massive personality shift. Once a friendly, good-natured young man, he became angry, grumpy and aggressive, and he was unable to hold a steady job. It was considered likely that the injury to his brain was the cause of this shift, but it wasn’t certain, since such a traumatic injury and experience could have the same effect on a person. This new UCLA research goes a long way to explaining the shift, and dispelling the old wives’ anti-wisdom that the event drummed up — like the misguided notion that people who undergo traumatic events can’t hold jobs.
Gage’s skull is on display at the Warren Anatomical Museum at Harvard Medical School, but it’s too fragile to handle. So, for the study, the UCLA team tracked down hi-res CT scan images of Gage’s cranium that had been missing for a decade. They then took images of the brains of men with similar-sized heads and determined that the rod damaged 4 per cent of the brain’s cortex and 11 per cent of neural connections. That’s a good deal more than was previously thought and explains many of the complications in Gage’s history.
All of which is wonderful scientific progress. But for you, the casual observer, the biggest upshot is probably that reconstruction of the rod and skull up top, which is totally horrifying and amazing given what we know now. [The Guardian]