Phineas Gage

PhineasGage_and_friend.jpg (3 MB)

Phineas_Gage_Cased_Daguerreotype_WilgusPhoto2008-12-19_Unretouched_Color.jpg (86 KB)

I’ve known this dude’s story for years, but had no idea that photographs of him had been recently uncovered:

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    39 Responses to Phineas Gage

    1. BOOM! Head shot.

      Dude respawned though.


    2. One can only wonder what went through his head.


    3. “Mr. G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor.”



    4. Whoo hoo famous Vermonter..


    5. This guy is a relative of mine. I only mention it because I want to leech any fame or fortune that may arise from being connected in some way with a famous image.

      No, I don’t feel good about this, but what the hell.


    6. What a wonderful demonstration that there is no such thing as a soul separate from the body, or at all.


      • That inference is quite a jump given the facts of this case. There is not enough evidence in this, or any similar cases, to make any kind of presumption about the presence/absence of souls or spirits, etc.

        At best, all we can say is that certain parts of a persons brain may have a significant effects on a persons perception of their environment and demeanor, but even then, it by no means proves that a persons character is purely the sum total their higher brain functions.


        • Religious types don’t give a fig for evidence, no matter how many cases are presented. They prefer to cling to their wishful thinking, and bizarre, primitive beliefs in blatent denial of reality. If the soul existed, injuries to this sack of meat that it inhabits should be irrelevant.
          It’s as offensive as believing that people with mental disorders are more in touch with a higher reality. No, their brains don’t work within acceptable parameters and as a result they cannot function within their culture.
          How about you present me with actual evidence of a soul, for a change.


          • I hate to tell you this, but the burden of proving the existence or non-existence of a God, Gods, spirits, souls, etc, is for the scientific community, not the religious one.

            A faith, by definition, is something that is accepted without proof. So these “religious types” as you call them, do not actually have the burden of needing evidence of their beliefs. That you will simply have to live with.

            But this is not to say that religious folk are stupid, inherently irrational, incapable of logical thought, or care little for evidence. History is littered with many highly scientific minds who also followed a faith. Just google Christian scientists. The number and type of people on the list might surprise you.

            The real problem, as it were, is that no truly objective scientist can empirically argue that anyone actually has enough evidence to prove or disprove the validity of religious beliefs, or, for that matter, the existence/absence of a Creator, God, etc.

            As scientists, we can only draw conclusions about things we can physically observe and empirically measure, and even with things that are tangible and measurable to us with current technologies, we have a rather painful track record of having to frequently update and reverse our positions on theories that we thought were bombproof, as new technologies, techniques and information became available to us.

            It would simply be ignorance and arrogance of the highest degree to assume that we now know all there is to know of the universe, and can therefore say with any certainty that there is no such thing as a soul. We don’t even know what a soul, if it exists is. Or how to measure one. The same goes for Gods or creators.

            The reality of things is that we don’t really fully know how the human brain works. We don’t know what everything does, why we apparently don’t use much of it at all, etc. etc. Or maybe we actually do use it, but just don’t have the right equipment to see what the rest of it is doing.

            So far is it being offensive, if you think about it rationally, you will realize that a belief system by itself, should be no more offensive than believing that baby girls should always wear pink, and baby boys should always be in blue. It is a belief system. No more, no less.

            The things that are truly irritating about some religious folks is that some of them don’t respect the personal beliefs, or boundaries of others, and yet others use their religious beliefs to push their own personal agendas. But then again I know a lot of militant atheists who do the same thing.

            However at the end of the day, there are so many other interesting questions in the universe, it seems like a waste of time to get hung up on things we are not yet able to rationally and empirically research yet.


            • Sorry, but I have no respect for religious thought. It is willful ignorance and it bugs the shit out of me. The concepts of souls and gods are constructs of the human mind, and are byproducts of our hierarchical social structure. Believing in a soul is just wishful thinking coupled with human arrogance. Tiresome.
              And scientists have no problems with updating their theories. That’s what science is about. Faith and science are ultimately irreconcilable, so I’m going to go with the one that actually exists, and affects my life.
              Just because the brain is not completely understood (and it is much better understood due to research into injuries like Gage’s, and that 9/10ths stat has _long_ been disproven) does not mean the fallback is belief in souls. That’s silly. That’s like thinking that because I don’t know how my car’s engine works, that it is run by gremlins. The brain’s structure is clear evidence for evolution, in fact.
              You know what bugs me the most? The fact that no matter what advances science makes, no matter how much evidence piles up with not a scrap of it pointing towards a god, the religious types will just shrug and keep on believing in fantasies. And yet they’ll depend, every minute of every day, on a world built by scientific progress.
              I simply don’t respect that. It is incomprehensibly idiotic to me.


            • I wish it were true that scientists had no problems updating their theories when faced with contradictory evidence. But unfortunately, we have a nasty habit of becoming so entrenched in what we believe to be “proven science” that anything that does not fit into that neat little paradigm often faces significant scientific resistance before it becomes accepted.

              No matter how good the scientific method may be, it is only as good as the humans testing the hypothesis, and sadly, humans are inherently very flawed. There will always be intangibles that, as scientists, we must recognize that we do not know about or cannot currently understand. But more important that whether or not these hypotheses hold water or not, is how we react to them from a scientific standpoint.

              I agree that faith and science are irreconcilable. But what I find interesting is how many otherwise scientific types go so far out of their way to try and disprove religious ideas, and how many religious folks try to find scientific backing for their faith. It is a pointless endeavor on both sides, one which you have willfully decided to engage in, in spite of the futility of it all.

              Truly objective reasoning should tell you that the correct response to any ostensibly irrational theory can only be answered with an “I don’t know, because I have no way to measure that.” Any other answer actually makes you worse than the person proffering the irrational hypothesis.

              To use a similar example, the existence of aliens, if there were a highly advanced civilization out there, and they really did not want us to find them, or learn of their existence, with the kind of technology they might have at their disposal, how would you expect anyone with our relatively limited technology to be able to prove their existence? It might be impossible.

              So the only rational answer to someone who says that aliens abducted their goats would be: “I don’t know, I can neither prove nor deny that aliens exist at this time.” If you decide instead to call them an alien conspiracy nutjob, you must presume that aliens do not exist, and in doing so, you will have fallen prey to the fallacy that because you cannot prove they exist, they don’t.

              Both beliefs involve flawed reasoning, so being mad at the farmer’s possible idiocy doesn’t make you any better than he is. This is why from a scientific standpoint, having respect for other hypotheses is important. You do not necessarily have to adopt them as your own, but you cannot make any other inferences about another based on that alone, and until you can empirically prove or disprove that hypothesis, you cannot take a position either way.

              At least not if you are trying to be objective.


            • The fact that the other hypotheses say they need no proof is pretty offensive. The fact that human effort has been put into attempts to verify and disprove hypotheses is what should be respected, not the fact that you had the guts to suggest one in the first place. Crazy people have all sorts of “hypotheses” and they can tote them like fact, much as religious people do. It infuriates me that you can even transfer the burden of proof across to a community that knows that what it may believe does not in their world view exist.

              Let me make myself clear: science attempts empirical proof. that deserves respect. religion is pure hypothesis, backed by emotion and irrationality. you think that deserves respect simply because it’s an available idea? you’re so full of shit, i don’t know where to start.

              anyone can have any idea any day of the fucking week, it doesn’t have to be respected by anyone. simply because it has a lot of believers doesn’t mean that it deserves respect. get your facts and logic straight, and then come back and answer me. let me say this: does thinking that a people are the problem of the world deserve respect to the point where people are willing to mass murder them?

              Your point that beliefs involve flawed reasoning? Religion does not involve reason. It does not involve a pursuit of the truth. Religion is a blind unfeeling mode of thought that seeks to convert and virally infect and use new followers. It is based on emotion, not reason. You cannot say that to the farmer, who empirically saw the fucking UFO with his eyes. otherwise he would have other better reasons to explain why the damn cow disappeared. yes, we have reason to distrust him. his “hypothesis” is unsound. there is evidence, on the other hand, that what happened may be true. therefore we probably have no reason to believe him.

              has anyone ever seen god? what has god done that has had physical effect, other than what people attribute to his influence? and don’t tell me you saw god, because whatever you saw him do, there are fifty billion better reasons than to explain why.

              You will note that many scientists follow religion for the feeling, not for the fact. They don’t bother trying to reconcile the two, they just accept that one of them they cannot prove so must believe in. One of them inherently derives less respect. Less brainpower. That one would be religion. religion also seeks to use its proponents. what has religion done for the world? causing serious problems ranks pretty high on this list.

              sure, science has too, but it is more objective, and impartially affects both sides of every line.


            • While I appreciate your frustration, you are missing the point of my post, and possibly how the scientific process works. When I talk about respect, I am not referring to people, or irrational acts. I am referring to applying a scientific approach to any hypotheses that you can neither prove nor disprove.

              A hypothesis does not require proof in order to be proffered. The process of verifying or denying that hypothesis is the whole purpose of science. That IS the scientific method. This is why science bears the burden of proof. We start with unknowns, and calculated guesses, and attempt to empirically prove or disprove them.

              This is not always a straightforward process, as many things cannot be directly observed, and must be inferred from other observable processes, technology allowing. So we are constantly hitting a glass ceiling regarding what we can and cannot measure. To forget this is to bias your interpretation of the results.

              Asking “Have you seen God” is no better than asking “have you seen an quasar?” No. I have not seen God. But I haven’t seen a quasar either. Don’t know what either might looks like. Don’t even know how I would detect one or the other with the equipment available to me. Does that mean they both doesn’t exist?

              The whole point of the scientific method is to test theories and prove or disprove them. Throughout history there have been many theories that have been deemed scientifically implausible until they were proven to be fact. So real science requires that we not dismiss any theory without taking this step, and in the absence of the ability to do so, cannot render a verdict upon it.

              I have never argued that any scientist has attempted to reconcile religion and science. Some may have, others probably not. It doesn’t really matter. The two are irreconcilable.

              I also believe that you underestimate the power that human emotions and desires have over science. Science, and the scientific process, in and of itself, is pure. However the people engaged in scientific research are not. Science is often affected by the emotions, motives and political agendas of others, just like religion. Because of that, it is not impartial, and does not affect both sides of any line as equally as you presume.

              My point about beliefs based on flawed reasoning is sound. The farmer cannot presume aliens stole his goats, but in the absence of any kind of investigation, a scientist cannot presume an alien didn’t steal his goats either, just because it sounds ludicrous. Neither of them have sufficient evidence to support either position, regardless of how unlikely they may be, and they would therefore both be flawed in assuming either position.

              Every scientific step starts with a hypothesis. A calculated guess. Some are sound, others aren’t. The hard work, the research, comes after the hypothesis, and they do not all require hard work of any kind. They are all simply calculated (or even un-calculated) guesses. A hypothesis may be implausible, possibly impossible, or even ludicrous, but to be offended by one seems irrational to me.


            • I don’t think IRM is missing the point actually (even though he came dangerously close to enacting Godwin’s law there). Sure, the scientific process may start with a hypothesis, but it usually something rational. Therefore, the alien thieves hypothesis would not be tested until other, more likely, ideas had been explored and discarded. If the farmer’s story were linked to strange lights, other reports, physical evidence, then yes, all that would be considered. But religion doesn’t care about reason, and facts, and reality. What offends me is that someone would choose to stop thinking and instead just say “god did it.” God is the answer when you stop asking questions. Truly, there is nothing that disgusts me more than willful ignorance. Religious belief is the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and making noise to drown out what you don’t want to hear.
              Also, to refer to such nonsense as a hypothesis is to imply that it is something that religious people are actively testing. But they aren’t even willing to consider such a thing. Therefore, it is not a hypothesis.


            • Here’s the thing. You both seem to be assuming that the moment a person embraces religion, they stop thinking. There is a fundamental flaw with that line of reasoning, since the ability to think is not dependent on a persons decision to embrace or reject any system of faith or religious beliefs.

              It is entirely possible to have a critical thinker embrace a faith, simply because they recognize that science does not have all the answers they are looking for. As IRM correctly pointed out, many scientists who follow a religion do so for emotional, moral, or humanistic reasons, not scientific ones. And they are able to distinguish between the two. Which makes sense, since, as we have all agreed, science and religion cannot really be reconciled.

              So it is possible, and indeed has been proven to be so by many critical minds throughout history, to be religious and yet still be a critical, rational thinker. Everyone seems to forget that religion is an interpretive experience. It is what one makes of it. You both have ideas in your heads about what religion is and how it will affect people, but you seem to be unable to envision other possible way it can be used.

              That is a subtle form of functional fixedness. You have ignored the fact that not all religious people act in the mindless manner that you describe, and you are trying to make religion into something that it is not. It is not scientific. That is not it’s goal. That was never it’s purpose. So you cannot expect everyone to exhibit a scientific approach to it.

              Some people are more susceptible to be mindless about it, but that is usually the result of the individuals propensity for mindless acceptance of things, not a direct result of their belief system. I’ve known many religious people to question their faith.

              The truth is, you do not have to be religious to be sheep minded. I believe the real problem lies in the mindset of each individual, and how they choose to interpret what they presented with. The media, schools, sociocultural traditions, these are all equally flawed in many ways, and yet many accept all of the information they receive through these channels without question.

              We all choose to believe in something. We choose to believe that what our colleagues and other scientists tell us about Life, the Universe and Everything (as Monty Python would say) to be true. We cannot perform these experiments ourselves, and we cannot verify any of what they tell us, but we believe in Science!(tm), so it MUST be true. Believe it or not, that is a BIG act faith on our part.

              So I would not be so quick to accuse others of mindlessness, or the inability to think, before thinking about how much we have already accepted on faith ourselves.

              Also, your definition of a hypothesis is flawed. A hypothesis need not be tested to be a hypothesis. A hypothesis is simply a theory. Nothing more, nothing less. It may be unlikely, implausible or otherwise, however whether it is actively being researched or not is irrelevant.

              And even the idea of a “rational” hypothesis is one I would approach with caution. There have historically been too many hypotheses, that have been considered the equivalent of heresy in the scientific community, that actually turned out to be true, for me to rely on surface rationality. We simply don’t know what we don’t know. To presume otherwise is not particularly scientific.

              I say we focus on what we can actually research and verify, instead of engaging in fruitless arguments over religious topics that we can neither prove nor deny. I guess I really don’t understand why a person who believes in logic and empirical testing would be bothered by someone deciding to believe that there is a God, in spite of the fact they cannot prove it.

              It just doesn’t seem worth the energy.


    7. i’ve known about him for ages- this is the first time i’ve seen anything other than his skull before! awesome post.


    8. One of the learning channels did a whole hour on the effects of that crowbar on his brain and personality. It really was interesting. He became extraordinarily violent after the incident.


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