The Strange Survival Story Of Phineas Gage: Part Two

  • This is the end of the Phineas Gage story.

Have you read The Strange Survival Story Of Phineas Gage: Part One? Follow the link if you’d like to, because this is part two.

The thing is, there are huge blood vessels on both sides of the head, and his injury was within 1/100 of an inch that these blood vessels were not disturbed. The doctor said that he’s had maybe five cases he has seen where the patients survived. But back to Gage, post accident. He was literally a different man at this point

Phineas Gage wanted to work again but he was turned away. His new personality made him fitful and he spouted profanity. He had less control of impulses and was hard to be around when he used to be dependable and easy going.

His new personality was stubborn, temperamental and insulant.

For people back then it must have been a shock to see this change in personality, this invisible and tangible thing could be changed by knocking out something physical

It was the left side of his prefrontal cortex that was damaged. It’s not fully developed and connected in kids and small children, making them different than an adult. This is the area in charge of higher level thinking and impulse control.

However, Phineas Gage later holds down a number of jobs, with focus and patience. Many wondered, is this personality change a true story?

The immediate changes and inability to focus on work was the reason he lost his job. 

Years later, he got a job as a stagecoach driver, a job which requires an extensive skill set. Stagecoach drivers need motor control and cognitive function. They also need sound judgment, agility, and to care for animals and passengers.

These would seem like skills that were apparently erased from Gage’s accident. But the brain is very complex but also very flexible. When parts are damaged or removed, it can reorganize and sometimes counter balance itself, in a way.

Macmillan has written about Gage, and argues that his brain must have regained a lot of social and cognitive function.

In 2019 research, it was explained that the brain reorganizes itself and is regenerative and can rewire itself.

People with relatively large parts of their brains missing can go on to live pretty normal lives. And in Phineas Gage’s case, most of the damage was to the white matter of his brain and not gray matter.

Gray matter doesn’t grow back but white matter does.

His sudden personality change may have only lasted for two or three years. And the accident does not kill him. At least, not right away. 11 years later Gage died from epileptic seizures, at just 36 years old.

His story changed the world. Medical students and psych students learn about Gage in every introduction class and his case is in every neural and autonomy textbook.

What do you think of the Phineas Gage story? Tell me what you think in the comments!