Aww, he was a cutie patootie!
Well, not really. But a fascinating subject nonetheless. For those who don’t know, Gage was, in retrospect, one of the best first looks at what really makes humans HUMAN…or at least what gives us our personalities. He was neuroscience’s best-known case for many decades, really.
The short version of the story: In 1848, at age 25, Phineas Gage was working on a railroad, tamping explosive powder into rocks to create new track lines. One day the powder detonated, and his tamping rod shot straight through his head, taking out his left eye and part of his frontal cortex.
While he was obviously expected to die shortly after, Gage somehow managed to escape infection and misadventure long enough to “heal” fully - though the person who left the hospital after this incident was a far different person than the one who went to work the morning before the accident.
While he was once a bubbly, friendly, jovial man, Phineas became prone to rages, drunkenness, violence, and eventually “fits” (most likely seizures). Though his doctors did not recognize it at the time, the reason for this was almost certainly the destruction of a large portion of his prefrontal cortex.
Even though Mr. Gage died 11 years later (at age 36) after a series of several grand mal seizures in quick succession, his legend and his legacy live on, both in historical culture, and in neuroscience.