On 13th September, 1848 Phineas Gage, while on his way for work was able to completely alter the concepts of neuroscience. 

Like any other day, Gage completed his morning chores and left for his job. However, the day was nothing like what Gage would have planned. An accident led an iron rod to skew through Gage’s jaw through his skull, completely damaging left frontal lobe. However, inspite of the gruesome accident, he somehow miraculously survived. What people didn’t get though was that the rod changed Gage’s personality, behaviour and thinking. And, it eventually led to a complete new understanding of the human brain.

Giving complete different perspective on how the brain works, what part of the brain controls what actions we do, what patterns of thinking, feeling, behaving are connected to the physical brain. We today know the frontal cortex plays an important role in language, reasoning, and social cognition. But in early 1800 this was still under infancy, however, only with this new revelation after Gage’s accident, was the doctors able to connect it with personality.

In 1968, Doctor Harlow of Gage presented the first account of the changes in Gage’s behavior following the accident: “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, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was ‘no longer Gage.'”

We know the brain is the seat of the intelligence, the emotions, and the will. Still, it takes time for new ideas to sink in. Even today, we don’t talk about a lover who’s been dumped as feeling “broken-brained.”

When Gage’s skull was exhumed with his mother’s permission, in the coffin along with Gage was the iron rod that Gage took with him everywhere. Even to his grave. Gage gives a tremendous challenge to science till date and equally hope for people with brain injuries.

1) An Odd Kind of Fame – Stories of Phineas Gage (Bradford Books) by Malcolm Macmillan
2) Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science By John Fleischman