Project Description

The Improbable Tale of Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage

Pierced Through the Head

Mr Phineas Gage may well be the most famous clinical subject in neuroanatomy.  A foreman on the New England railroads in the 19th Century, Gage, at age 25, was pierced through the head with a 13-pound tamping iron while preparing a railroad bed in Vermont. The rod went straight through Gage’s skull and landed several yards away. Although the front left portion of Gage’s brain was effectively destroyed, he was still able to talk and move with relative ease.  Yet, according to those who knew him, “he was no longer Gage.”

Gage Skull
Gage death mask

Pierced Through the Head

This is a case that sparked much debate about the relationship of the mind and the brain and the brain’s role in personality.  Before the incident, Gage was a capable and efficient foreman.  Following his recovery, he moved through various jobs unsuccessfully and became a “fitful” and “impatient” man. He eventually experienced severe seizures that led to his death in 1860, and his skull and the tamping iron were sent to his family doctor, John Martyn Harlow, in Massachusetts. The skull, Gage’s head cast, and the tamping iron are now on display at the Warren Museum Exhibition Gallery at the Countway Library of Medicine.

Gage engraving

Not only a fixture in medical folklore, the story of Phineas Gage has inspired popular culture.  Below are some examples.

“Phineas Gage: Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient” in Smithsonian Magazine.
“Lessons from the Brain” article and video from the Harvard Gazette

Lego stop-motion animation

There are over 9000 results from a youtube search for Phineas Gage, among them this Lego stop-motion animation.