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THE CODEX OF HOMO SAPIEN The Central Nervous System: The Center of It All

Prithvi Guduru

On a sunny afternoon on September 3, 1848, 25-year-old Phineas Gage was working on a railroad site near Cavendish, Vermont, where he was tasked with drilling a hole, placing explosive charges into the hole, placing sand on top of the explosives, placing gunpowder on top of the sand, setting a fuse on top of the sand, and then inserting a tamping rod directly into the explosives to destroy the rocks.

In Gage’s case, he forgot to put the protective layer of sand on top of the explosives and when he went to insert the rod, the rod accidentally came in contact with the rocks, which set off the explosives and gunpowder, and shot the rod through Gage’s head. The rod was 3.58 feet long, 1.25 inches wide, and 13.25 pounds. The rod shot through the bottom of Gage’s left cheekbone to the top of his skull. Surprisingly enough, Gage was still conscious and was able to make it to hospital and be treated. When Gage got to the hospital, he reported how he did not feel any pain and felt quite normal. Afterwards, Gage reportedly vomited and emitted a part of his brain, which turned out to be a part of his left frontal lobe. Although Gage was alive, the left side of his frontal lobe was severely damaged and this led to a temporary change in his personality. Before the event, Gage was remarked as a kind, revered, and modest man who always treated his peers with respect and equality and was never drunk. After the incident, Gage started swearing and abusing his family, friends, and co-workers. He even started drinking, and was eventually laid off due to his issues. During his time in Vermont, he was going through treatment and rehabilitation, and eventually was rehabilitated about two to three years after the event. After getting laid off, he moved to Chile, and worked as a long-distance stagecoach, which shows he was rehabilitated, as driving requires concentration and stamina in order to deliver the passengers safely. The case of Phineas Gage is famous in the field of neuroscience. Throughout the years, researchers have used Gage’s brain and 3-D scans and models of his skull in order to understand more about the brain and how parts of the brain relate to mood and personality changes. Gage is not the only person to have their brains being used to advance the field of psychology and neuroscience; for example, after Albert Einstein died in 1955, Princeton Hospital Pathologist Thomas Harvey took his brain and measured and photographed it to figure out how Einstein’s brain worked and how he came up with his mathematical equations and proofs. Case studies like these are able to give more insight into the human brain and its fascinating workings and mysteries. It is like a great, infinite quest to know more about ourselves.

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