|Phineas P. Gage|
The first identified (2009) portrait of Gage, here with his "constant companion for the remainder of his life"—his inscribed tamping iron.[A]
|Born||July 9, 1823 (date uncertain)
Grafton Co., New Hampshire[B]
|Died||May 21, 1860
In or near San Francisco
Cause of death
|Known for||Personality change after brain injury|
|Home town||Lebanon, New Hampshire[B]|
Phineas P. Gage (1823 – May 21, 1860) was an American railroad construction foreman remembered for his improbable[C] survival of a rock-blasting accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain's left frontal lobe, and for that injury's reported effects on his personality and behavior over the remaining twelve years of his life—effects so profound that (for a time at least) friends saw him as "no longer Gage."
Long known as "the American Crowbar Case"—once termed "the case which more than all others is calculated to excite our wonder, impair the value of prognosis, and even to subvert our physiological doctrines"—Phineas Gage influenced nineteenth-century discussion about the mind and brain, particularly debate on cerebral localization,:ch7–9 and was perhaps the first case to suggest that damage to specific parts of the brain might induce specific personality changes.:1:C
Gage is a fixture in the curricula of neurology, psychology and related disciplines (see neuroscience), and is frequently mentioned in books and academic papers; he even has a minor place in popular culture.[D] Despite this celebrity the body of established fact about Gage and what he was like (before or after his injury) is small,[E] which has allowed "the fitting of almost any theory [desired] to the small number of facts we have":290—Gage having been cited, over the years, in support of various theories of the brain entirely contradictory to one another. Historically, published accounts (including scientific ones) have almost always severely distorted and exaggerated Gage's behavioral changes, frequently contradicting the known facts.[E]
A report of Gage's physical and mental condition shortly before his death implies that Gage's most serious mental changes were temporary, so that in later life he was far more functional, and socially far better adapted, than in the years immediately after his accident. A social recovery hypothesis suggests that Gage's employment as a stagecoach driver in Chile provided daily structure allowing him to relearn lost social and personal skills.
- 1 Background
- 2 Gage's accident
- 3 Subsequent life and travels
- 4 Death and subsequent travels
- 5 Brain damage and mental changes
- 6 Portraits
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 Sources and further reading
- 10 External links
Gage was the first of five children born to Jesse Eaton Gage and Hannah Trussell (Swetland) Gage, of Grafton County, New Hampshire.[B] Little is known about his upbringing and education, though he was almost certainly literate.:17,41,90 He may have gained skill with explosives on his family's farms or in nearby mines and quarries,:17–18 and by the time of his accident he was a blasting foreman (possibly an independent contractor) on railway construction projects.:18,21,32n9
Town doctor John Martyn Harlow described Gage as "a perfectly healthy, strong and active young man, twenty-five years of age, nervo-bilious temperament,[G] five feet six inches [1.68 m] in height, average weight one hundred and fifty pounds [68 kg], possessing an iron will as well as an iron frame; muscular system unusually well developed—having had scarcely a day's illness from his childhood to the date of this injury.":4 His employers considered him "the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ ... a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation",:13 and he had even commissioned a custom-made tamping iron—an iron rod three feet seven inches (1.1 m) long and 1 1⁄4 inches (3.2 cm) in diameter—for use in setting charges.
|Video reconstruction of tamping iron passing through Gage's skull (Ratiu et al. 2004)|
On September 13, 1848, Gage was directing a work gang blasting rock while preparing the roadbed for the Rutland & Burlington Railroad outside the town of Cavendish, Vermont. Setting a blast involved boring a hole deep into an outcropping of rock; adding blasting powder, a fuse, and sand; then compacting this charge into the hole using the tamping iron.[F] Gage was doing this around 4:30 p.m. when (possibly because the sand was omitted) the iron "struck fire" against the rock and the powder exploded. Rocketing from the hole, the iron "entered on the [left] side of [Gage's] face ... passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head."[H]
Despite nineteenth-century references to Gage as "the American Crowbar Case":54:678 his tamping iron did not have the bend or claw sometimes associated with the term crowbar; rather, it was a pointed cylinder something like a javelin, "round and rendered comparatively smooth by use"::5
The end which entered [Gage's cheek] first is pointed; the taper being [twelve] inches [30 cm] long ... circumstances to which the patient perhaps owes his life. The iron is unlike any other, and was made by a neighbouring blacksmith to please the fancy of its owner.[I]
Gage "was thrown upon his back by the explosion, and gave a few convulsive motions of the extremities, but spoke in a few minutes," walked with little assistance, and sat upright in an oxcart for the 3⁄4-mile (1.2 km) ride to his lodgings in town.:5 Dr. Edward H. Williams arrived about thirty minutes after the accident:
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.[J]
Harlow took charge of the case around 6 p.m.:
You will excuse me for remarking here, that the picture presented was, to one unaccustomed to military surgery, truly terrific; but the patient bore his sufferings with the most heroic firmness. He recognized me at once, and said he hoped he was not much hurt. He seemed to be perfectly conscious, but was getting exhausted from the hemorrhage. His person, and the bed on which he was laid, were literally one gore of blood.[J]
Treatment and convalescence
With Williams' assistance Harlow shaved the scalp around the region of the tamping iron's exit, then removed coagulated blood, small bone fragments, and an ounce of protruding brain. After probing for foreign bodies and replacing two large detached pieces of bone, Harlow closed the wound with adhesive cloth strips, leaving it partially open for drainage;:60–1 the entrance wound in the cheek was bandaged only loosely, for the same reason. A wet compress was applied, then a nightcap, then further bandaging to secure these dressings. Harlow also dressed Gage's hands and forearms (which along with his face had been "deeply burned") and ordered that his head remain elevated. Late that evening Harlow noted: "Mind clear. Says he 'does not care to see his friends, as he shall be at work in a few days.'"[J]
Gage's convalescence was long and difficult. He was semi-comatose beginning September 23, "seldom speaking unless spoken to, and then answering only in monosyllables." The next day Harlow noted, "Failing strength ... coma deepened; the globe of the left eye became more protuberant, with ["fungus", i.e. granulation tissue] pushing out rapidly from the internal canthus [as well as] from the wounded brain, and coming out at the top of the head."[J]
By September 27, " Will not take nourishment unless strongly urged. The friends and attendants are in hourly expectancy of his death, and have his coffin and clothes in readiness." Galvanized by this pessimism Harlow "cut off the [granulation tissue] sprouting out from the top of the brain and filling the opening, and made free application of caustic [crystalline silver nitrate]:54 to them. With a scalpel I laid open the integuments, between the [exit wound and the top of the nose] and immediately there were discharged eight ounces of ill-conditioned pus,[K] with blood, and excessively fetid."[J] ("Gage was lucky to encounter Dr. Harlow when he did," wrote Barker. "Few doctors in 1848 would have had the experience with cerebral abscess with which Harlow left [Jefferson Medical College] and which probably saved Gage's life.")[L]
On October 7, Gage "succeeded in raising himself up, and took one step to his chair". One month later he was walking "up and down stairs, and about the house, into the piazza", and while Harlow was absent for a week, Gage was "in the street every day except Sunday", his desire to return to his family in New Hampshire being "uncontrollable by his friends ... got wet feet and a chill." He soon developed a fever, but by mid-November he was "feeling better in every respect ... walking about the house again; says he feels no pain in the head". Harlow's prognosis at this point: Gage "appears to be in a way of recovering, if he can be controlled.":392–3
Subsequent life and travels
By November 25, Gage was strong enough to return to his parents' home in Lebanon, New Hampshire, where by late December he was "riding out, improving both mentally and physically." In April 1849 he returned to Cavendish and paid a visit to Harlow, who noted at that time loss of vision (and ptosis) of the left eye, a large scar on the forehead, and
upon the top of the head ... a deep depression, two inches by one and one-half inches [5 cm by 4 cm] wide, beneath which the pulsations of the brain can be perceived. Partial paralysis of the left side of the face. His physical health is good, and I am inclined to say he has recovered. Has no pain in head, but says it has a queer feeling which he is not able to describe."[M]
New England and New York
Harlow says that Gage, unable to return to his railroad work,:13 appeared for a time at Barnum's American Museum in New York City (not the later Barnum's circus—there is no evidence Gage ever exhibited with a troupe or circus):3–4 though there is no confirmation of this.:498 But advertisements for two public appearances by Gage, which he may have arranged and promoted himself,:3 support Harlow's statement that Gage made public appearances in "most of the larger New England towns".:13 (Years later Bigelow wrote that Gage had been "a shrewd and intelligent man and quite disposed to do anything of that sort to turn an honest penny", but had given up such efforts because "[that] sort of thing has not much interest for the general public".):28
Chile and California
In August 1852, Gage was invited to Chile to work as a long-distance stagecoach driver there, "caring for horses, and often driving a coach heavily laden and drawn by six horses" on the Valparaiso–Santiago route. After his health began to fail around 1859,:14–15[N] he left Chile for San Francisco, where he recovered under the care of his mother and sister:15 (who had relocated there from New Hampshire around the time Gage went to Chile).:103–4 For the next few months, he did farm work in Santa Clara.:340–1
Death and subsequent travels
In February 1860,[N] Gage had the first in a series of increasingly severe convulsions;[P] he died status epilepticus":E in or near:B San Francisco on May 21,[N] just under twelve years after his injury, and was buried in San Francisco's Lone Mountain Cemetery.[N] (Though some accounts assert that Gage's iron was buried with him, there is no evidence for this.)[Q]
Skull and iron
In 1866, Harlow (who had "lost all trace of [Gage], and had well nigh abandoned all expectation of ever hearing from him again") somehow learned that Gage had died in California, and wrote to Gage's family there. At his request they opened Gage's grave long enough to remove his skull, which the family then personally delivered to Harlow in New England.:6
About a year after the accident, Gage had given his tamping iron to Harvard Medical School's Warren Anatomical Museum, but he later reclaimed it:22n:46–7 and made what he called "my iron bar" his "constant companion during the remainder of his life";:13 now it too was delivered to Harlow. After studying them for a triumphal[C] retrospective paper on Gage delivered to the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1868 Harlow redeposited the iron—this time with Gage's skull—in the Warren Museum, where they remain on display today.[R] The iron bears the following inscription (though the date it gives for the accident is one day off, and Phinehas is not the way Gage spelled his name)::839fig.
This is the bar that was shot through the head of Mr Phinehas[sic] P. Gage at Cavendish, Vermont, Sept. 14,[sic] 1848. He fully recovered from the injury & deposited this bar in the Museum of the Medical College of Harvard University. Phinehas P. Gage Lebanon Grafton Cy N–H Jan 6 1850.[S]
Brain damage and mental changes
Extent of brain damage
Debate as to whether the trauma and subsequent infection had damaged both of Gage's frontal lobes, or only the left, began almost immediately after his accident.[T] The 1994 conclusion of H. Damasio et al.,:1104 that both of Gage's frontal lobes (right as well as left) had been damaged, was drawn by modeling not Gage's skull but rather a "Gage-like" one.:829-30 Using CT scans of Gage's actual skull, Ratiu et al. (2004) and Van Horn et al. (2012) rejected that conclusion, agreeing with Harlow's belief (based on probing Gage's wounds with his finger)[U] that only the left frontal lobe had been damaged.:19
In addition, Ratiu et al. pointed out that the hole between the roof of the mouth and the base of the cranium (created as the iron passed through) has a diameter about half that of the iron itself; combining this with the hairline fracture running from behind the exit region down the front of the skull, they concluded that the skull "hinged" open as the iron entered the cranium, then (once the iron had exited at the top) were pulled closed by the resilience of soft tissues.:640:830
Van Horn et al. concluded that damage to Gage's white matter (of which they made detailed estimates) may have been more significant to Gage's mental changes than cerebral cortex (gray matter) damage.
First-hand reports of mental changes
Gage certainly displayed some kind of change in behavior after his injury,:12–15 but the nature, extent, and duration of this change have been difficult to establish. Only a handful of sources give direct information on what Gage was like (either before or after the accident),[E] the mental changes described after his death were much more dramatic than anything reported while he was alive,:375–6 and few of the sources are explicit about the period of Gage's life to which their descriptions of him (which vary widely in their implied level of functional impairment) are meant to apply.:6–7
Early observations (1849–1851)
Harlow described the pre-accident Gage as hard-working, responsible, and "a great favorite" with the men in his charge, his employers having regarded him as "the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ". But these same employers, after Gage's accident, "considered the change in his mind so marked that they could not give him his place again":
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".:13–14
This oft-quoted:125 description is from Harlow's notes set down soon after the accident,:90,375:6–9 but Harlow—perhaps hesitant to describe his patient negatively while he was still alive:375–6—left them unpublished until 1868 (after Gage had died and his family had forwarded "what we so much desired to see", as Harlow termed Gage's skull).:16
In the interim, Harlow's 1848 report (published just as Gage was emerging from his convalescence) only hinted at psychological symptoms:
The mental manifestations of the patient, I leave to a future communication. I think the case ... is exceedingly interesting to the enlightened physiologist and intellectual philosopher.:393
But after Harvard Professor of Surgery Henry Jacob Bigelow (who had brought Gage to Boston for observation in late 1849):20:4n:43 termed Gage "quite recovered in faculties of body and mind", with only "inconsiderable disturbance of function",:13–14 a rejoinder in the American Phrenological Journal—
That there was no difference in his mental manifestations after the recovery is not true ... The man was gross, profane, coarse, and vulgar, to such a degree that his society was intolerable to decent people.
—was apparently based on information anonymously supplied by Harlow.:350–1
Barker explains these contradictory evaluations (only six months apart) by differences in Bigelow's and Harlow's educational backgrounds:
Harlow's interest in phrenology prepared him to accept the change in character as a significant clue to cerebral function which merited publication. Bigelow had [been taught] that damage to the cerebral hemispheres had no intellectual effect, and he was unwilling to consider Gage's deficit significant ... The use of a single case [including Gage's] to prove opposing views on phrenology was not uncommon.:abstr[V]
Later observations (1852–1858)
In 1860, an American physician returned from Chile reported that he had known Gage "well" there,[clarification needed] and "that he is in the enjoyment of good health, with no impairment whatever of his mental faculties." Together with the fact that Gage was hired by his employer in advance, in New England, to be part of the new coaching enterprise in Chile,:376–7:831 this implies that Gage's most serious mental changes had been temporary, so that the "fitful, irreverent ... capricious and vacillating" Gage described by Harlow (who last saw Gage less than a year after the accident) became, over time, far more functional, and socially far better adapted.:831:passim
This conclusion is reinforced by the responsibilities and challenges faced by drivers on the stagecoach route worked by Gage in Chile,:104–6:4–5 including the general requirement that drivers "be reliable, resourceful, and possess great endurance. But above all, they had to have the kind of personality that enabled them to get on well with their passengers." Gage had also (writes Macmillan) "to deal with political upheavals that frequently spilled into everyday life ... All this—in a land to whose language and customs Phineas arrived an utter stranger—militates as much against permanent disinhibition [i.e. inability to plan and self-regulate] as do the extremely complex sensory-motor and cognitive skills required of a coach driver.":5:831 (A visitor wrote that "the departure of the coach was always a great event at Valparaiso—a crowd of ever-astonished Chilenos assembling every day to witness the phenomenon of one man driving six horses."):73
Psychologist Malcolm Macmillan hypothesizes that this change in Gage over time represents a social recovery, citing people with similar injuries for whom "someone or something gave enough structure to their lives for them to relearn lost social and personal skills"—in Gage's case, his highly structured employment in Chile:
Phineas' survival and rehabilitation demonstrated a theory of recovery which has influenced the treatment of frontal lobe damage today. In modern treatment, adding structure to tasks by, for example, mentally visualising a written list, is considered a key method in coping with frontal lobe damage. Phineas job as a stage-coach driver provided that external structure to aid in his recovery.
Macmillan writes that if Gage made such a recovery—if he eventually "figured out how to live" (as Fleischman put it):75 despite his injury—then it "would add to current evidence that rehabilitation can be effective even in difficult and long-standing cases";:831 and if Gage could achieve such improvement without medical supervision, "what are the limits for those in formal rehabilitation programs?" As Kean put it, "If even Phineas Gage bounced back—that's a powerful message of hope."
Distortion of mental changes
Macmillan's comprehensive[W] survey of accounts of Gage (scientific and popular) found that they almost always distort and exaggerate his behavioral changes well beyond anything described by anyone who had contact with him.[E] In the words of Barker, "As years passed, the case took on a life of its own, accruing novel additions to Gage's story without any factual basis", and even today (writes historian Zbigniew Kotowicz) "Most commentators still rely on hearsay and accept what others have said about Gage, namely, that after the accident he became a psychopath ..."
Attributes typically ascribed to the post-accident Gage which are either unsupported by, or in contradiction to, the known facts include mistreatment of wife and children (of which Gage had neither), inappropriate sexual behavior, an "utter lack of foresight", "a vainglorious tendency to show off his wound", inability or refusal to hold a job, plus drinking, bragging, lying, gambling, brawling, bullying, thievery, and acting "like an idiot". Macmillan shows that none of these behaviors is mentioned by anyone who had met Gage or even his family;[E] as Kotowicz put it, "Harlow does not report a single act that Gage should have been ashamed of.":122–3
For example, H. Damasio et al. and A. Damasio misinterpret a passage by Harlow—"'... continued to work in various places;' could not do much, changing often, 'and always finding something that did not suit him in every place he tried'":15—as implying Gage could not hold a job after his accident and "never returned to a fully independent existence". In fact Harlow's words refer not to Gage's post-accident life in general, but only to the months just before his death, after convulsions had set in; and until then Gage had supported himself throughout his post-accident life.[X]
Theoretical use, misuse, and nonuse
Though Gage is considered the "index case for personality change due to frontal lobe damage":abstr:1 his scientific value is undermined by the uncertain extent of his brain damage and the lack of information about his behavioral changes.:290 Instead, Macmillan writes, "Phineas' story is [primarily] worth remembering because it illustrates how easily a small stock of facts becomes transformed into popular and scientific myth," the paucity of evidence having allowed "the fitting of almost any theory [desired] to the small number of facts we have".:290 A similar concern had been expressed as far back as 1877, when British neurologist David Ferrier (writing to Harvard's Henry Pickering Bowditch in an attempt "to have this case definitely settled") complained that
In investigating reports on diseases and injuries of the brain, I am constantly amazed at the inexactitude and distortion to which they are subject by men who have some pet theory to support. The facts suffer so frightfully ...
Thus in the nineteenth-century controversy over whether or not the various mental functions are localized in specific regions of the brain, both sides managed to enlist Gage in support of their theories;:ch9 for example, soon after Dupuy wrote that Gage proved that the brain is not localized, Ferrier cited Gage as proof that it is. Phrenologists made use of Gage as well, contending that his mental changes resulted from destruction of his "organ of Veneration" and/or the adjacent "organ of Benevolence".:194
In a more recent example A. Damasio, in support of his somatic marker hypothesis (relating decision-making to emotions and their biological underpinnings), draws parallels between behaviors he attributes to Gage and those of modern patients with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala. But A. Damasio's depiction of Gage has been criticized by Kotowicz as "grotesque fabrication ... ['perpetrating'] the myth of Gage the psychopath ... [A. Damasio] changes [Harlow's] narrative, omits facts, and adds freely to his story ... It seems that the growing commitment to the frontal lobe doctrine of emotions brought Gage to the limelight and shapes how he is described."[Y]
As Kihlstrom put it:
[M]any modern commentators exaggerate the extent of Gage's personality change, perhaps engaging in a kind of retrospective reconstruction based on what we now know, or think we do, about the role of the frontal cortex in self-regulation.[Z]
Psychosurgery and lobotomy
It is frequently said that what happened to Gage played a part in the later development of various forms of psychosurgery, particularly lobotomy.[AA] Aside from the question of why the unpleasant changes usually (if hyperbolically) attributed to Gage would inspire surgical imitation, there is no such link, according to Macmillan:
There is simply no evidence that any of these operations were deliberately designed to produce the kinds of changes in Gage that were caused by his accident, nor that knowledge of Gage's fate formed part of the rationale for them:F... [W]hat his case did show came solely from his surviving his accident: major operations [such as for tumors] could be performed on the brain without the outcome necessarily being fatal.:250
Two daguerreotype portraits of Gage, identified in 2009 and 2010,[A] are the only known likenesses:343:8 of him other than a life mask taken for Bigelow in late 1849 (and now in the Warren Museum along with Gage's skull and iron).:22n:ii,42 The first shows "a disfigured yet still-handsome" Gage with one eye closed and scars clearly visible, "well dressed and confident, even proud":343 and holding his iron, on which portions of its inscription can be made out. (For decades the portrait's owners had imagined it showed an injured whaler with his harpoon.)
The second, found in the possession of two different branches of the Gage family, shows Gage in a somewhat different pose, wearing a different shirt and different tie, but the same waistcoat and possibly the same jacket. The portraits' authenticity was confirmed in several ways (including photo-overlaying the inscriptions seen in the portraits against that on the actual tamping iron, and matching the subject's injuries against those preserved in the life mask):342–3 but about when and where they were taken nothing is known, except that they were likely the work of different photographers.:8
The portraits reinforce the social recovery hypothesis already described. "Although just one picture," Kean wrote in reference to the first image, "it exploded the common image of Gage as a dirty, disheveled misfit. This Phineas was proud, well-dressed, and disarmingly handsome."[AB]
- Anatoli Bugorski—scientist through whose head a particle-accelerator proton beam accidentally passed
- Eadweard Muybridge—another early case of head injury leading to mental changes
- The 2009-identified image is from the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus. The original, like almost all daguerreotypes, shows its subject laterally (left-right) reversed, making it appear that Gage's right eye is injured; however, all Gage's injuries, including to his eye, were on the left. Therefore in presenting the image here a second, compensating reversal has been applied in order to show Gage as he appeared in life.
The 2010-identified image is in the possession of Tara Gage Miller of Texas; an identical image belongs to Phyllis Gage Hartley of New Jersey. (Gage had no known children;:319,327 these are descendents of certain of his relatives.):4 Unlike the Wilgus portrait, which is itself a daguerreotype, the Miller and Hartley images are 19th-century photographic reproductions of a common original which remains undiscovered, itself a daguerreotype or other laterally reversing early-process photograph; here again a second, compensating reversal has been applied.
- Macmillan (2000):14–17,31n5,490–1 discusses Gage's ancestry and what is and isn't known about his birth and early life. His parents were married April 27, 1823.
The birthdate July 9, 1823 (the only definite date given in any source) is from a comprehensive Gage genealogy via Macmillan (2000),:16 which notes that while the genealogy gives no source for it, it is consistent with agreement, among contemporary sources addressing the point,:389:13:4 that Gage was 25 years old on the date of his accident, as well as with Gage's age—36 years—as given in undertaker's records after his death on May 21, 1860.
Possible homes in childhood and youth are Lebanon or nearby East Lebanon, Enfield, and/or Grafton (all in Grafton County, New Hampshire), though Harlow refers to Lebanon in particular as Gage's "native place":10 and "his home":12 (probably that of his parents), to which he returned ten weeks after his accident.
There is no doubt Gage's middle initial was P :389:13:4:490:839fig but there is nothing to indicate what the P stood for (though his paternal grandfather was also a Phineas and brother Dexter's middle name was Pritchard).:490 Gage's mother's first and middle names are variously given as Hannah or Hanna and Trussell, Trusel, or Trussel; her maiden name is variously spelled Swetland, Sweatland, or Sweetland.:490
- A tone of amused wonderment was common in 19th-century medical writing about Gage (as well as about victims of other unlikely-sounding brain-injury accidents—including encounters with axes, bolts, bridges, exploding firearms, a revolver shot to the nose,and "even falling gum tree branches").:62,63–7 Noting dryly that, "The leading feature of this case is its improbability ... This is the sort of accident that happens in the pantomime at the theater, not elsewhere", Bigelow (1850) emphasized that though "at first wholly skeptical, I have been personally convinced", calling the case "unparalleled in the annals of surgery",:13,19 and this endorsement by the Professor of Surgery at Harvard "finally succeeded in forcing [the case's] authenticity upon the credence of the profession ... as could hardly have been done by any one in whose sagacity and surgical knowledge his confrères had any less confidence".:116
Indeed, Harlow later recalled, "a distinguished Professor of Surgery in a distant city" had dismissed Gage as a "Yankee invention"::18
- The case occurred nearly twenty years ago, in an obscure country town ..., was attended and reported by an obscure country physician, and was received by the Metropolitan doctors with several grains of caution, insomuch that many utterly refused to believe that the man had risen, until they had thrust their fingers into the hole [of] his head, [see Doubting Thomas] and even then they required of the Country Doctor attested statements, from clergymen and lawyers, before they could or would believe—many eminent surgeons regarding such an occurrence as a physiological impossibility, the appearances presented by the subject being variously explained away.:3,18
But after Gage was joined by such later cases as a miner who survived traversal of his head by a gas pipe,:66 and a lumbermill foreman who returned to work soon after a circular saw cut three inches (8 cm) into his skull from just between the eyes to behind the top of his head (the surgeon removing from this incision "thirty-two pieces of bone, together with considerable sawdust"), the Boston Medical & Surgical Journal (1869) pretended to wonder whether the brain has any function at all: "Since the antics of iron bars, gas pipes, and the like skepticism is discomfitted, and dares not utter itself. Brains do not seem to be of much account now-a-days." The Transactions of the Vermont Medical Society (Smith 1886) was similarly facetious: "'The times have been,' says Macbeth [Act III], 'that when the brains were out the man would die. But now they rise again.' Quite possibly we shall soon hear that some German professor is exsecting it.":53–4
The reference to Gage's iron as an "abrupt and intrusive visitor" appears in the Boston Medical & Surgical Journal's review of Harlow (1868).
- For scientific and academic discussions see Macmillan;:ch14 in particular, Macmillan found Gage cited in some 60% of introductory psychology textbooks in three university libraries. A small study found Gage to be easily the topic most frequently mentioned when, at the end of an introductory psychology course, students were asked to list "the first 10 things that come to your mind as you answer the question: What do you remember from this course? "; investigators noted that, "The Phineas Gage video [used in the course] re-creates the famous tamping rod piercing Gage's skull. Students ... always react emotionally to this video clip.":89
- Macmillan:116–19,ch13–14:C compares accounts of Gage to one another and to the known facts. Along with a handful of lesser sources,:11,89,93,95,116,120n4 until 2008:2–3 the available sources offering detailed information on Gage, and for which there is evidence (even merely the source's own claim) of contact with him or with his family, were limited to Harlow, Bigelow, and Jackson; Macmillan:161:94 emphasizes the primacy of Harlow's 1868 paper. Macmillan & Lena:3–6,8 present previously unknown sources found since 2008.
The contrast between Gage's celebrity and the small amount known about him is discussed by Macmillan::1–2,11 "From my student days I had some appreciation of the importance ascribed to the case and expected there would be a reasonably extensive literature on it. This turned out not to be true. There were many mentions of him, but few papers solely or mainly about him ... [In my early research I had assumed that] because Phineas Gage was said to be important in psychology, everyone would have been interested in him; because his survival was so remarkable, someone must have made a major study of him. Neither was the case."
- See Macmillan:23–9 for the steps in setting a blast and the location and circumstances of the accident. The blast hole, about 1 3⁄4 inches (4.5 cm) in diameter and up to 12 feet (4 m) deep, might require three men working as much as a day to bore using hand tools. The labor invested in setting each blast, the judgment involved in selecting its location and the quantity of powder to be used, and the often explosive nature of employer-employee relations on this type of job, all underscore the significance of Harlow's statements that Gage has been a "great favorite" with his men, and that his employers had considered him "the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ" prior to the accident.:13,22–3,25
- Harlow's reference to Gage's "temperament" reflects his interest in phrenology, which termed nervo-bilious a subject possessing a rare combination of "excitable and active mental powers" with "energy and strength [of] mind and body [making] possible the endurance of great mental and physical labor" (Macmillan 2000),:346–7 "[uniting] great power with great activity, and, although it seldom gives great brilliancy, it produces that kind of talent which will stand the test, and shine in proportion as it is brought into requisition" (Fowler 1838).:6
-  The Boston Post credits an earlier report (of unknown date) in the Ludlow (Vermont) Free Soil Union, which appears to have been the first printed report of Gage's accident anywhere;:11 although reprinted by several New England papers,:35–36 it is itself no longer extant.:70–1n1 This report confuses the iron's circumference with its diameter,:12 and despite the reference to the "shattering [of the] the upper jaw", that did not in fact happen.:389:21:16:36–7
- :14 Bigelow describes the iron's taper as seven inches (18 cm) long, but the correct dimension is twelve (30 cm).:5:25–6
- Excerpted from Williams' and Harlow's statements in: Harlow (1848);:390–2 Bigelow (1850);:16 Harlow (1868).:7,9–10
- Before the advent of antisepsis, wrote surgeon Frederick Treves,
- Practically all major wounds suppurated [i.e. became pussy]. Pus was the most common subject of converse, because it was the most prominent feature in the surgeon's work. It was classified according to degrees of vileness.:347
- :679–80 Barker writes that "[Head injuries] from falls, horse kicks, and gunfire, were well known in pre–Civil War America [and] every contemporary course of lectures on surgery described the diagnosis and treatment" of such injuries. But to Gage's benefit, surgeon Joseph Pancoast had performed "his most celebrated operation for head injury before Harlow's medical school class, [trephining] to drain the pus, resulting in temporary recovery. Unfortunately, symptoms recurred and the patient died. At autopsy, reaccumulated pus was found: granulation tissue had blocked the opening in the dura." By keeping the exit wound open and elevating Gage's head to encourage drainage from the cranium through the hole in the roof of the mouth, Harlow "had not repeated Professor Pancoast's mistake.":675
Noting that Harlow had been a "relatively inexperienced local physician ... graduated four and a half years earlier", Macmillan's discussion of Harlow's "skillful and imaginative adaptation of traditional methods":12 additionally mentions the decision (in diverence from the teachings of one of his medical school instructors) to forego an exhaustive search for bone fragments, thus avoiding risk of hemorrhage and further brain injury; and treatment of the granulation tissue with caustic silver nitrate, thereby avoiding the risks of two more-usual treatments: excision (which risked hemorrhage) and forcing the tissue into the wound (which risked compressing the brain).:60–2
As to his own role in Gage's survival, Harlow merely averred, "I can only say ... with good old Ambro[i]se Parè, I dressed him, God healed him":20—an assessment Macmillan (2000):62 calls far too modest. See Macmillan (2000),:12;ch4 Macmillan (2008),:828–9 and Barker (1995):675,679–80 for further discussion of Harlow's management of the case.
- :12–13 Bigelow:20–1 gives a more detailed and technical description of Gage's post-recovery appearance.
- Gage's death and (first) burial are discussed by Macmillan:108–9 (and see also "Corrections to An Odd Kind of Fame"). Harlow:15 gives the date of Gage's death as May 21, 1861, but undertaker's records show that Gage was buried on May 23, 1860. That Harlow (though he had likely discussed Gage's history, in person, with Gage's mother and sister in 1868):6 was mistaken by exactly one year implies that certain other dates he gives for events late in Gage's life—his move from Chile to San Francisco and the onset of his convulsions—must also be mistaken, presumably by the same amount; this article follows Macmillan in correcting those dates (each of which carries this annotation).
- :16 Here reproduced from Jackson's Descriptive Catalog of the Warren Anatomical Museum, these images were commissioned by Harlow from photographer Samuel Webster Wyman and were the basis for the woodcuts seen in Harlow (1868).:21:26,115,479–80
- Apparently:6–7 quoting Gage's mother, Harlow narrates that, "while sitting at dinner, [Gage] fell in a fit, and soon after had two or three fits in succession ... "[Phineas had] been ploughing the day before he had the first attack; got better in a few days, and continued to work in various places;" could not do much, changing often, "and always finding something which did not suit him in every place he tried." On May 18, 1860[N] he left Santa Clara and went home to his mother. At 5 A.M. on May 20, he had a severe convulsion. The family physician was called in, and bled him. The convulsions were repeated frequently during the succeeding day and night.":15
- Macmillan & Lena: "Only Harlow:16 writes of the exhumation and he does not say the tamping iron was recovered then. Although what he says may be slightly ambiguous, it does not warrant the contrary and undocumented account[s] ... that Gage's tamping iron was recovered from the grave.":7
-  Jackson (1870): "The most valuable specimen that has ever been added to the Museum, and probably ever will be, was given two years ago by Dr. John M. Harlow ... For the professional zeal and the energy that Dr. H. showed, in getting possession of this remarkable specimen, he deserves the warmest thanks of the profession, and still more, from the College [i.e. the "Medical College of Harvard University"], for his donation.":v
- :D The inscription was commissioned by Bigelow in preparation for the iron's deposit in the Warren Anatomical Museum.:116 The Jan 6 1850 following Gage's "signature" corresponds to the period during which Gage was in Boston under Bigelow's observation.:20:4n
- Early authors attempting to estimate the extent of damage include: Harlow;:389 Bigelow;:21–2 Harlow;:343–5 Dupuy; Ferrier; Bramwell; Cobb; Tyler & Tyler.
- See Macmillan & Lena;:9 Harlow;:332,345 Bigelow;:16–17 Harlow;:390 Macmillan.:86
- See Macmillan:pass. and Macmillan:831 for surveys and discussion of theoretical misuse of Gage. Smith noted "the ingenuity with which the advocates of various theories [of the brain] will explain away the evidence of their opponents.":51
- "Macmillan's book provides one of those rare occasions on which one can truly say that further research is not necessary ... the definitive account ..."
- For end-of-life employment difficulties see Macmillan;:107 for misinterpretation see Macmillan:323 for self-support see Macmillan & Lena:14–15 as well as Kotowicz: "What Harlow is telling us is clear and unambiguous: Gage returns from South America to his mother to recuperate. As soon as he is fit, he goes back to work with horses, which is what he has been doing for years."
-  Kotowicz continues, "[A. Damasio's] account of Gage's last months [is] such a grotesque fabrication that it leaves one baffled," then quotes á passage from A. Damasio::9
- In my mind is a picture of 1860's San Francisco as a bustling place, full of adventurous entrepreneurs engaged in mining, farming, and shipping. That is where we can find Gage's mother and sister, the latter married to a prosperous San Francisco merchant (D. D. Shattuck, Esquire), and that is where the old Phineas Gage might have belonged. But that is not where we would find him if we could travel back in time. We would probably find him drinking and brawling in a questionable district, not conversing with the captains of commerce, as astonished as anybody when the fault would slip and the earth would shake threateningly. He had joined the tableau of dispirited people who, as Nathanael West [see The Day of the Locust] would put it decades later, and a few hundred miles to the south, "had come to California to die."
Macmillan:116–19,326,331 gives detailed criticism of A. Damasio's various presentations of Gage (some of them in joint work with H. Damasio and others).
-  See also Grafman::295 "Although [Gage] has been used to exemplify the problems that patients with ventromedial PFC [prefrontal cortex] lesions have in obeying social rules, recognizing social cues, and making appropriate social decisions, the details of this social cognitive impairment have occasionally been inferred or even embellished to suit the enthusiasm of the story teller—at least regarding Gage" (citing Macmillan 2000).
- See for example Carlson (1994);:341 additional examples and discussion are at Macmillan (2000).:246;252–3n9,10
-  Van Horn: "That [Gage] was any form of vagrant following his injury is belied by these remarkable images."
Sources and further reading
Macmillan, Malcolm B. (2000). An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-13363-6 (hbk, 2000) ISBN 0-262-63259-4 (pbk, 2002).
• See also "Corrections to An Odd Kind of Fame".
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Macmillan, Malcolm B. (PGIP). "The Phineas Gage Information Page". The University of Akron. Retrieved July 22, 2013. Includes:
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Macmillan, Malcolm B. (2008). "Phineas Gage—Unravelling the myth". The Psychologist (British Psychological Society) 21 (9): 828–831.
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Harlow, John Martyn (1848). "Passage of an Iron Rod Through the Head". Boston Medical & Surgical Journal 39 (20): 389–393. (Transcription.)
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Bigelow, Henry Jacob (July 1850). "Dr. Harlow's Case of Recovery from the Passage of an Iron Bar through the Head". American Journal of the Medical Sciences 20: 13–22.
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Macmillan, Malcolm B.; Aggleton, John (March 6, 2011). Phineas Gage: The man with a hole in his head. Audio interview with Claudia Hammond; Dave Lee. Health Check. BBC World Service.
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- Warren Anatomical Museum, Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine (Harvard Medical School)—Home of Gage's skull and iron.
- Meet Phineas Gage—How the owners of the 2009-identified daguerreotype learned it depicted Gage.
- Phineas Gage roadside memorial, Cavendish, Vermont