3Mythical Case Studies

The history of neuroscience is populated by a handful of characters whose misfortunes have led to groundbreaking revelations in our understanding of the brain, cementing their place in folklore. This chapter documents three of these individuals, two born in the nineteenth century and one in the twentieth – Phineas Gage, Tan, and Henry Molaison.

Their stories have acquired a mythical status, appearing in hundreds of psychology and neuroscience textbooks and inspiring poems and films. We'll see that the study of these patients has contributed to the overturning of brain myths; yet in other respects myths and misinformation have developed around the stories themselves. Indeed, contemporary researchers remain fascinated by Gage and the others, and they continue to study their diseased and damaged remains, employing the latest technological tools to uncover fresh insights about the brain.

Myth #8 Brain Injury Turned Neuroscience's Most Famous Case into an Impulsive Brute

Surely the best known case in neuroscience folklore is Phineas Gage, the railway foreman whose personality changed after an iron rod passed through his brain. Gage suffered his accident in 1848 while tamping explosives into rock to make way for the Rutland and Barlington railroad in central Vermont. The detonation went off prematurely and his six kilogram, three and a half foot-long, one and a quarter inch diameter tamping iron was rammed straight into his face, under his left eye, and clean out through ...

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