Phineas Gage: "Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient"

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Phineas P. Gage was a construction foreman who, in 1848, suffered an amazing injury as an explosion launched a tamping iron through his the cheek, skull, and brain, and out the other side. Incredibly, Gage survived, although the brain injury completely altered his personality. His physician wrote that "The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculties and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows." His friends said he was "no longer Gage." This transformation launched Gage into the annals of neuroscience. Until recently, there were no known photographs of Gage. But as previously mentioned on BB, antique photo collectors Jack and Beverly Wilgus posted a scan of a curious daguerreotype in their collection to Flickr in 2007. Database administrator Michael Spurlock happened to see the image on the site and suggested that it might be Gage. Smithsonian has a story about the strange tale of "neuroscience's most famous patient" and his delightful portrait. From Smithsonian:

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The railroad-construction company that employed (Gage), which had thought him a model foreman, refused to take him back. So Gage went to work at a stable in New Hampshire, drove coaches in Chile and eventually joined relatives in San Francisco, where he died in May 1860, at age 36, after a series of seizures.

In time, Gage became the most famous patient in the annals of neuroscience, because his case was the first to suggest a link between brain trauma and personality change. In his book An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage, the University of Melbourne's Malcolm Macmillan writes that two-thirds of introductory psychology textbooks mention Gage. Even today, his skull, the tamping iron and a mask of his face made while he was alive are the most sought-out items at the Warren Anatomical Museum on the Harvard Medical School campus.

"Phineas Gage: Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient"