Want to travel back in time? In our weekly “Retro Science” series, we’re digging up visual artifacts that capture fascinating moments from science history, including surprising studies, outdated inventions, and breakthrough achievements. By recapturing science’s impressive feats and most amusing flops, RetroScience will remind us of how far we’ve come, and how far we have yet to go.
In the late nineteenth century, Phineas Gage (1823-1860) had a 43-inch iron rod rip through his head during a rock blasting accident – and lived to tell the story. The incident blinded his left eye and destroyed much of his brain’s left frontal lobe, which reportedly changed his personality and behavior. According to a 1868 physician’s report, “his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was ‘no longer Gage.’”
Before the injury, Gage was described as hardworking, responsible, and shrewd. After the incident, he was described as irreverent and impatient, with “a vainglorious tendency to show off his wound.” His personality was so altered that he could no longer keep his position as foreman.
Gage’s case was the first to suggest that damage to specific parts of the brain might affect personality, and has provoked much discussion on cerebral localization, the idea that different parts of the brain correlate to different functions. His story is a mind-blowing piece of neuroscience history and appears in many psychology and neuroscience textbooks today.