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The Story of Phineas Gage

Back in the summer of 1848, a promising young man made quite an impression on the folks running the Rutland & Burlington Railroad in New England. Phineas P. Gage had all the attributes of a leader. He had courage, charisma, energy, dedication, intelligence, precision, and a well-developed ability to relate to and collaborate with his coworkers. In fact, his bosses said that he was "the most efficient and capable" man in the company.

Affable and popular, Gage at 25 years old had already become the construction foreman in charge of the men extending the railroad across Vermont. Near the end of an especially hot, physically strenuous September day, Gage was setting a final detonation to blast away bedrock when the charge exploded prematurely, driving the iron tamping bar through his head. The three-feet, seven-inch bar, pointed at one end, weighed a little over 13 pounds. It entered Gage's face just below the left cheek bone and exited the top of his skull, taking with it a large portion of the front of his brain. Gage miraculously survived the ordeal, but he was never the same.

He could speak, hear, see, smell, and function normally physically, but he lost the capacity to reason, plan, solve problems, and interrelate appropriately with others. Although he could still physically perform his duties, he lost his job on the railroad because he no longer possessed the attributes of character that had made him so successful. Those who knew him said "Gage was no longer Gage."

This is a true story of an actual case in the early annals of brain research that eventually led scientists to understand the function of the prefrontal lobes and their interrelationship with the brain as a whole. In short, the prefrontal lobes of the brain make us who and what we are — they make us human.

When Gage lost his job on the railroad, he found it difficult to keep other jobs. He became a vagabond roaming the country taking short-term jobs wherever he could find them. Eventually, he became fascinated with horses and spent many of his remaining years working on horse farms in California.

Taken from http://www.ascd.org/pdi/brain/