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Phineas Gage files: Funny how the naturalist legend so long outlived the man…

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From Steve Twomey at the Smithsonian Magazine (2010), presumably a vintage article recycled this morning or so, without context, about the catastrophic brain injuries that supposedly greatly changed a man’s personality (psych lecture room staple):

Gage’s initial survival would have ensured him a measure of celebrity, but his name was etched into history by observations made by John Martyn Harlow, the doctor who treated him for a few months afterward. Gage’s friends found him“no longer Gage,” Harlow wrote. The balance between his “intellectual faculties and animal propensities” seemed gone. He could not stick to plans, uttered “the grossest profanity” and showed “little deference for his fellows.” The railroad-construction company that employed him, which had thought him a model foreman, refused to take him back. So Gage went to work at a stable in New Hampshire, drove coaches in Chile and eventually joined relatives in San Francisco, where he died in May 1860, at age 36, after a series of seizures.

Gage actually led a reasonably normal life after a period during which he recovered without the help that rehab techniques available today might have provided. Given that it was difficult to prevent seizures in his day it is not surprising that thy claimed his life in 1860.

In time, Gage became the most famous patient in the annals of neuroscience, because his case was the first to suggest a link between brain trauma and personality change. In his book An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage, the University of Melbourne’s Malcolm Macmillan writes that two-thirds of introductory psychology textbooks mention Gage. Even today, his skull, the tamping iron and a mask of his face made while he was alive are the most sought-out items at the Warren Anatomical Museum on the Harvard Medical School campus. More.

Right. And the 12,500 or so Facebook sharers won’t know that the lecture-room claims are mainly bunk. Skinny:

“So the textbooks mostly won’t tell you about Gage’s rehabilitation, or provide you with the latest evidence on his injuries. Instead, you might hear how hear never worked again and became a vagrant, or that he became a circus freak for the rest of his life, showing off the holes in his head. “The most egregious error,” says Griggs, “seems to be that Gage survived for 20 years with the tamping iron embedded in his head!”.” – British Psychological Society Research Digest

Yes, indeed. The record is often “corrected” by organizations who successfully perpetrated the myth, merely to spare scandal, now that the damage is conveniently done.

This may be one of those situations where a Society attempts to correct the record long after their desired result—millions misinformed in favour of metaphysical naturalism—is achieved beyond hope of recall.

So bunk is still recycled as an uncorrected classic. Naturalist superstitions around brain damage continue to receive a lecture room boost. And you, reader, pay taxes or even go into personal debt for this. Or suffer the consequences of approved bunk-ology if you yourself ever struggle with brain damage.

See also: Textbook distortion of effect of brain injuries: Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage: Evolution of a lecture room psychopath

and

Back to school briefing: 7 myths of social psychology. Many lecture room icons from decades past are looking tarnished now.

5 Replies to “Phineas Gage files: Funny how the naturalist legend so long outlived the man…

  1. 1
    mikeenders says:

    I was reading just last month details of this case I had never seen before. I was struck that even though I had not bought the original story ( and the premise in which it was first introduced to me) completely before, I in fact had bought several statements as “fact” that are in fact based on VERY incomplete and flimsy evidence.

    We (or at least I do) still have an inherent trust that what we read would not be written if there were not enough facts to at least arguably substantiate it.

    It was a wake up call for me to make sure I question all the underlying statements upon a which a thesis is built. It has taken decades to beat back the idea that people thought the earth was flat in Columbus’ day and still to this day I still see arguments based on that fact that never was.

    It will take us many decades more to beat back some of the as fact statements made in materialists favorite case studies and anecdotes.Once something has taken hold as an established fact even without evidence – its “beans” to get rid of it. Thats just the way Humans are.

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington says:

    We give Wikipedia a lot of grief in these pages. But to its credit the Wiki article on Gage is even handed and skeptical. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage

  3. 3
    News says:

    Barry Arrington at 2: I am really glad if Wikipedia isn’t in there, hook, line, and sinker, for Lecture Room Lazy (if only just for once). People struggling with brain damage face many challenges. Bad, wrong, and outdated information, widely disseminated, should not be one of them.

  4. 4
    News says:

    mikeenders at 1, so far as I know, the examining doctor on whose notes many relied did not know Gage well before the accident. He seems to have attributed antisocial behaviour to the injuries. But in the absence of anyone paying objective attention to Gage before the accident, we do not really have a good lab case.

    Note: Gage worked with horses for many of the post-injury years of his life. If he were dreadfully unhinged, he just would not have lasted long in that field.

    It is a most interesting case, but too many unwarranted conclusions have been drawn.

  5. 5
    rvb8 says:

    I hope you’re not suggesting these scientists lied, therefore evolutionists…?

    Also his behaviour did change noticeably, suggesting damage to the pre-frontal cortex does alter behaviour.

    And finally are you using this as evidence for design?

    Yes the wiki articlae is fair, makes you think they are more reliable than painted by some.

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