Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Haley Reading Group: "Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient"



[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2015)]

By Rae'Jean Spears

Sam Kean’s article, “Phineas Gage, Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient,” gives a background on the life of Phineas Gage. Phineas Gage injured the frontal lobe of his brain while working on a railroad and became a legend in science. Gage’s injuries have contributed to modern scientific advances concerning the development and use of certain areas of the brain.

An especially interesting part of the Kean’s article is Harlow’s almost obsessive fascination with Gage and his injury. What makes his interest in Gage especially interesting is that he never took credit for his role in Gage’s recovery, simply stating that “I dressed him, God healed him” (137). Harlow was interested in Gage’s overall wellbeing, not just using him as an interesting topic to discuss.

After reading Kean’s article, what are your thoughts about Harlow’s lifelong involvement with Gage? Please provide a page number citation.

51 comments:

Kiana S said...

Just from living in the society we're in, it's hard to believe that anyone would be so invested in someone without any personal gain. That's what makes this so interesting. Obviously pure curiosity and the want of insight and knowledge started Harlow's interest in this case, but even after Gage passing, he was still invested. He stayed in contact with his family and eventually was hand delivered Gage's skull to later write a full case report (p.145). As stated before, Harlow was interested in Gage's overall wellbeing and it's nice to read about every once in a while.

Christine Sheriff said...

Before reading I already had a bit of knowledge of Phineas Gage, as he is a topic brought up in most psychology classes. Gage's situation was a very interesting one. It is nice that while Harlow helped Gage recover, he didn't expect credit or anything in return. I also find it intriguing that Harlow tracked Gage's skull down after his death. "Gage’s story might have ended there—an obscure small-town tragedy, little more—if not for Dr. Harlow. He had lost track of Gage years before, but he learned the address of Gage’s family in 1866..."(145). If it weren't for Harlow we would not have the knowledge of Gage or his situation today. I wonder how that would have changed things in terms of psychology and neurology.

Mackenzie Cohoon said...

The part that I found most interesting in Kean's article is how involved and invested Harlow really was with Gage's accident. The article states that "Gage's story might have ended there-an obscure small-town tragedy, if not for Dr. Harlow" (145). Even after Gage died, Harlow's fascination, or obsession, continued, and it led to him digging in the man's grave in order to study his skull, which further fed the legend that is Phineas Gage.

Tyla Lucas said...

I think that Dr. Harlow’s life long involvement with Phineas Gage was pretty interesting. Gage’s life wouldn’t be such a legend today if it wasn’t for Harlow’s curiosity for Gage’s accident. Kean even states so on page 145 “Gage’s story might have ended their - an obscure small-town tragedy- if not for Doctor Harlow”. I think it is really surprising that Doctor Harlow never used Gage to obtain fame. Hundreds of years later people don’t even know that Harlow is the one who kept the flames of Gage’s story burning.

Taija Cook said...

Something I found interesting about Dr.Harlow life long involvement with Phineas Gage is that she was so hardworking but humble at the same time. With her hard work they were able to tell what the frontal lobe controls in the brain and if the frontal lobe was damaged then it would cause humans to act unhuman. On page 136, it talks more about this topic, " This story has had a huge influence on the scientific and popular understanding of the brain. Most uncomfortably, it implies that whenever people suffer grave damage to the frontal lobes, something essentially human can vanish.

Ivyanne B. said...

I think that Dr. Harlows life long fascination with Phineas Gage is very interesting. When scientist and doctors study something they are usually doing it so they can discover something new and make money off of it. I think that this is interesting because Dr. Harlow actually cared about Gage and what he was doing. He even went so far to talk to his family and track him down and his body down. "He had lost track of Gage years before, but he learned the address of the Gage's family in 1866" (pg. 145). I think he wanted to find out how Gage felt and what he was going through. He wanted to understand how drastically Gage's life changed. He wanted the world to know who Gage was and not let his story die down. -Ivyanne B.

Raillane Kamdem said...

While reading this article, I was surprised at the complete lack of information Harlow gave about either Gage’s surgery or recovery. Beyond a “sketch of his activities, there’s no record of what Gage did in the months after the accident” (139). You would think that since this was a milestone for not only Neurology, but Harlow, he would have kept up with Gage more and documented his every movement post surgery. I was appalled that he did not.

T-Bird For real said...

It is surprising that he wouldn't want to take credit for his work on Gage. In this day in age it is kind of weird to think about someone doing something as great as that and not want their name to go down in history. It just shows the values that he had and that he was more concerned for Phineas getting back to normal rather than getting recognition.

Alliyah M. said...

After reading about Harlow's life-long interest in Gage's case, I found his accounts intriguing and unique compared to other cases. It was surprising to see how humble and selfless Harlow was in regards to his work. Sometimes when a doctor discovers a unique case that could be a crucial discovery for a medical field, it seems that they can sometimes focus more on the research and not so much on the patient anymore, especially after the patient somewhat recovered. However, It seemed that Harlow put the observations and research of Gage's case to a secondary role and focused more on the well-being of Gage, especially in the quote, "Frustratingly, Harlow limited his discussion of Gage's mental status to a few hundred words, but he does make it clear that Gage changed - somehow" (138). This is also shown by Harlow trying to discover what happened to Gage a few years after he lost track of Gage.

Stella Nguepnang said...

I think reading Sam Kean's article, "Phineas Gage, Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient" has given me a lot of new knowledge on science. I had always heard of Phineas Gage but never really realized who he was. It is so interesting how much an article can influence the world. But it could've been more effective if there was more information given on how the rest of Gage's life went and the recovery.

Kameryn Sabino said...

This was really interesting. This article was very graphic based on the words that the author used. It is cool that he had so much interest into what this new being was. People who suffer brain injuries don't usually make it but since Gage lived, Harlow decided to work on this and study. A big quote that stood out to me was when he said "I dressed him, God healed him"(pg. 137). It stood out because it showed why he wanted to study Gage.

-Kameryn Sabino

Joke Adanri said...

While reading this article I found Dr. Harlow's interest in Gage to be very interesting. On page 145 the article states how "Harlow prevailed upon Gage's sister Phebe, to open the grave and salvage Gages skull...", and Harlow wote up a case report that "included virtually everything we know about Gage's mental status...". The work that Dr. Harlow put into Gage's case helped was useful in making sure history tells Gage's story correctly. On page 141 it also states that "Gage's skull and tamping iron are basically the only reason the Warren Museum still exists". None of the extra research done on Gage could have been done without Dr. Harlow.

Anonymous said...

It was interesting to read the different discriptions about Gages life. I learned about Gage in my pschology class at the beginning of the year, although it was very brief. This story kind of correlates with I leaned about Gage in my class. It wasn’t much to go off on because there was not much information. You get to see more into how scientists work and come up with theories and even how more advanced they got. Kean, “Frustratingly, Harlow limited his discussion on Gage’s mental status to a few hundred words, but he does make it clear that Gage changed—somehow.” You see how scientists now would be have more detailed questions and answers to scientific knowledge. Back them based off the notes that Harlow had, the notes weren’t very descriptive. You see how scientists jump from different hypothesis’ based off the technology and notes that have based off of the study.

Shaina Falkner said...

After reading this article, I thought that the difference in observations between the two experts, Van Horn and John Harlow was interesting. In the article, it says that Van Horn saw signs of Alzheimer's Disease while Harlow's case report had stated that Gage showed no symptoms of dementia (143-144). This makes me question the medical field's accuracy and professionalism because you can be told different things by different doctors and scientists and you wont know who to believe. People are taught by different people, and they might not be taught the same thing or the correct thing, so really, can you trust the people who at some point may be have your life on their hands?

Lena Searcy said...

This article was fascinating, I always enjoyed learning about Gage. After reading this article I learned interesting facts I never knew before, for example I did not know people made such fabrications about his life. However, I find this very interesting, like the article mentioned, people often times project their own fantasies and preconceptions onto events, sometimes real-life events end up becoming stories much different from how they actually happened. When Gage was first injured, Harlow must have known this injury was special. Harlow understood that Gage’s survival was unusual and something to be studied. “Harlow summed up Gage’s personality changes by saying ‘The equilibrium…between his intellectual faculties and his animalistic propensities seemed to have been destroyed. More pitifully, friends said that Gage was no longer Gage.” (139). As Harlow studied he must have concluded that Gage lost something that made him who he was.

Lena Searcy said...

This article was fascinating, I always enjoyed learning about Gage. After reading this article I learned interesting facts I never knew before, for example I did not know people made such fabrications about his life. However, I find this very interesting, like the article mentioned, people often times project their own fantasies and preconceptions onto events, sometimes real-life events end up becoming stories much different from how they actually happened. When Gage was first injured, Harlow must have known this injury was special. Harlow understood that Gage’s survival was unusual and something to be studied. “Harlow summed up Gage’s personality changes by saying ‘The equilibrium…between his intellectual faculties and his animalistic propensities seemed to have been destroyed. More pitifully, friends said that Gage was no longer Gage.” (139). As Harlow studied he must have concluded that Gage lost something that made him who he was.

Argos 1756 said...

Daeja Daniels
The frontal lob in humans is a very special and unique part of the brain. This one of the crucial things that separates humans from other species of animals. Dr.Harlow had devoted his life to this cause. Being that this was ground breaking treatment. His lack of follow through I thought was unacceptable. A doctor ultimately, in my opinion should care about the patient and their wellbeing. In this scenario, Dr.Harlow's patients wellbeing seemed to shadow his research. In the book it says "He had lost track of Gage years before, but he learned the address of the Gage's family in 1866" (pg. 145). This to me seems like an after thought. The patient is the one going through all the treatment so making sure that they are okay from beginning to end is essential.


Youssef Hassan said...

After reading about phineas Gage I was really interested in learning more about the physiology of the brain and what more is their to know. I was not aware that we currently still do not know exactly how the frontal lobe of the brain works. When I was in my anatomy and physiology class, i only read that it plays a major role in complex thinking, not the vital aspects for individual character. What also grabbed my attention was reading about how even though the accident with Gage took place a long time ago, there are still people investigating how he got struck in the head, even though his remains are too old to be very useful today (142). I am not sure if advanced technology will help with the investigation, but i really admire people helping others to understand complex things like the brain with what they find through experimentation.

Kelsey McNeil said...

Something that interested me a lot was the last on page 145 where it says: “After milking the family for details, Harlow prevailed upon Gage’s sister, Phebe, to open the grave and salves Gage’s skull in 1867” (145). I found it so interesting because without Dr. Harlow all the things we know about Phineas Gage and his story would not have been available to us now. In every psychology class I’ve taken Phineas Gage is mentioned and without the research thag was done no one would have this information.

Kamela Cross said...

When reading about Phineas Gage, It seems almost as if Dr. Harlow protects or shields Gage's public image as well as his health. On page 140, it talks about how scientist today refer to Gage as what should have happened not what actually happened. Then it says that Harlow never reported Gage doing any of the things that he should have done because of his injury. The way that Harlow keeps anything that might have happened secret shows how much trust and familiarity was shared between these two men. I really enjoyed reading that because it paints a different picture on how scientist really are versus how we think they are. Harlow's continued interest in Gage's case showed a refusal of defeat that really inspires me.

Rodney Clark said...

"Phineas Gage, Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient", written by Sam Kean, is a very insightful article about mental health and a person affected by it. In it you learn about some of the lengths people go to prove a theory correct through false stories. A case of a man having his frontal lobe damaged brought a lot of focus to this part of this brain. After the injury some people around him felt he was acting strangely and felt the injury was the cause. Many things such as mental health have a lot of debate in its research, so its good to hear multiple sources of what happened to him. It's possible that he did become a sociopath and it's possible that the story was much closer to the truth with the doctors thoughts added in.

-Rodney Clark

Diana L said...

I already knew a little bit about Phineas Gage from a psychology class I took in high school. However, I was quite surprised while reading this that Harlow did not give much information about Gage's surgery or recovery, and that he did not want to take credit for his work on Gage. He obviously cared very much for Phineas Gage, considering he tracked his family down to talk to them. This is shown when the article states, "He had lost track of Gage years before, but he learned the address of the Gage's family in 1866," (page 145). This shows how much he cared, I believe he wanted to learn about how the family felt about what they were experiencing with Phineas. He wanted to understand how different everything was.

Breonna roberts said...

I had previously known about Harlow because of a psychology class I’ve taken in High school, we had spoken about him briefly. But from the passage I think what is most interesting is how devoted she was to figuring out somebody’s life with little to no award for himself. Although Harlow knew that there would be no benefits for him personally for figuring out more information about Gages life, he did it anyways. It seemed like he was researching Gages life just for the educational purposes and not for money or fame like most people would be researching for. I just find it very interesting how Harlow would selflessly educate themselves and others about the crazy life of somebody else without demanding any form of recognition

Avant Hall said...

the stories about Gage seem to be universally interesting for some reason. Maybe it's because we cant to know how someone could live with a seemingly life threatening injury with only minor changes in behavior. Even though it's grotesque, talking about the someone's head being punctured is interesting because we don't know what will happen to the person. We don't know exactly how the brain works, and we can't do inhuman experiments, so we have to look at the few cases where people do survive.

Devin Ellis-Martin said...

I find this article very interesting for a number of reasons. Most of all, Harlow’s commitment and unselfishness with the case of Gage. On page 166 it states, “He had lost track of Gage years before, but he learned the address of the Gage's family in 1866. This shows Harlow’s lifelong commitment to Gage and his work

Chidera Onyeizeh said...

I’ve already had prior knowledge about Phineas Gage before reading this. Page 145 where Dr. Harlow states that the story of Phineas Gage my not be full recognized if he didn’t put so much effort in documenting Phineas’s life after the incident.
Chidera Onyeizeh

Ronnie Akpan said...

After this reading, I was very intrigued with the work that Harlow had done on Gage in regards to his neurological condition and the effect(s) that it had on Gage. I am impressed with how cautious Harlow was with handling this case with Gage. At the same time, I am proud of Harlow with his humility in regards to how he handled things with Gage; he did not initially decide to claim acknowledgment for his workings, but instead focused more on making sure that Gage was overall in a well condition.

James Beverly said...

I’ve heard about Phineas Gage a lot in my various psychology classes that I’ve taken throughout the years. His incident was a medical mystery especially for the time period it had happened in and doctors were highly invested in him as well. What I didn’t know was about Harlow’s involvement in Gage’s medical mystery. Usually when you past, there’s no real significance an you’re dead but in Gage’s case he is still Invested in peoples lives. They’re in psychology classes as well as Harlow’s extreme investment in this situation.

Brianna Pickens said...

Phineas Cage’s story is an amazing one. He was a mystery in the medical, a brain injury like that could really help scientists to understand what the frontal lobe’s function truly is. I found it so interesting that Harlow was so committed to cage’s well-being and so humble that he didn’t take any credit. I love the quote used, “I dressed him, God healed him”(137). Harlow is truly incredible.

Isaiah Johnson said...

This topic hit me because I sort of relate to Phineas Gage as my mom a Multiple Sclerosis. MS affects the brain by killing certain parts of it, like how parts Gage's brain were dead because of the rod that went through his head. I believe if more scientists like Dr. Harlow were so well interested and passionate about their clients cases, advancement and understanding of the human brain would grow drastically, leading to understanding human behavior, unlocking future potential, and helping and healing. It is amazing how he survived, and what we learned about the frontal lobe.

Jada Baker said...

On page 145 it says, "He had lost track of Gage years before, but he learned the address of Gage's family in 1866 (through some unspecified "good fortune") and wrote to California for some news." I found this interesting because it shows how Harlow still cared about Phineas and his case. After this, he went as far as digging him out of his grave to further examine his skull and wrote a full case report.

Jada James said...

Anyone with an interest in psychology is fascinated by Phineas Gage. The fact that he's still being studied this many years after his accident and his death just shows how much research was focused on him. A quote on page 145 says that after Gage died, his "...story might have ended there - an obscure small-town tragedy, little more - if not for Dr. Harlow." This clearly gives credit where it's due, to Dr. Harlow, for providing vital research on Gage.

Dayejah Coates said...

It is interesting to me that Harlow would be such a big help to Phineas, when it wasn't anything in it for him. It made me have a little faith on humanity. I also took interest to him being so humble, making God the center of attention when it came to Phineas' recovery. Lastly, I actually found Harlow interesting altogether because out of all of the times that I've heard this story I'd never heard of him.

Jasmyn Kloster said...


"Phineas Gage, Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient", written by Sam Kean was an interesting and insightful article. I have previously knowledge about Phineas Gage and have always had an interest in his injury and recovery. Even though what happened to him was extremely terrible, he helped the world learn about the wonders of the brain, and the role our frontal lope plays. Whilst reading, I found it neat that Harlow was not only committed to studying Gage, but was also more concerned with his well being. The quote on page 137, “I dressed him, God healed him” stuck out to me the most.

Anonymous said...

Before reading about Phineas Gage in Sam Kean's article, I had heard of Gage one time previously but in much less detail. I had never known anything about John Harlow, which is just as important to this story as Gage is. Harlow forfeited all credit for helping to save a mutilated man who was near the brink of death to God and never thought twice of it. He downplayed his role, saying "I dressed him, God healed him", on page 137. Many others would probably take more credit that they deserve while he remained humble, which is astonishing.
-Kevin Cox

Alishiana Ivy said...

After reading Kean’s article, my. initial thoughts about Harlow’s lifelong involvement with Gage was that it was very interesting to see how one would not want to take credit to something that has so much potential popularity in the world. The discoveries and/or findings of what all would come from Gage's injuries could set off and put Harlow's way of living in a way better standard that what he was in already. That came across me when I saw in the text, the quote, "Gage’s story might have ended there—an obscure small-town tragedy, little more—if not for Dr. Harlow. He had lost track of Gage years before, but he learned the address of Gage’s family in 1866..." (Kean 145). I feel as though the part of it saying how this was just a small-town tragedy concludes the fact to how this is something that nobody would have knew about. Therefore it makes it overall to just be described as an interesting situation of how Harlow did not want to take credit in the involvement of the situation of Phineas Gage.

Anonymous said...

Phineas Gage's story is something that almost all students learn about, especially those who choose to study psychology and neuroscience. We learn through the article that a doctor named John Harlow who contributed greatly to Gage's recovery. Despite this being a huge step in medical history that has puzzled the world, Harlow decided to give himself less credit than he was due. Harlow on page 137 says that He didn't heal Gage, God did. what this is telling me is that he is humbling himself and was only trying to help Gage instead of profit off of his injury. What I think Harlow wants to accomplish is to help someone out for one and also to be remembered honorably. Jonathan S.

Anonymous said...


My thoughts about Harlow’s lifelong involvement with Gage is that it is very interesting and genuine. In the text it says “ Gage’s story might have ended there—an obscure small town tragedy, little more—if not for Dr. Harlow. He had lost track of Gage years before, but he learned the address of Gage’s family in 1866... abd wrote to California for news(145).” This shows that Harlow was really invested and really cared for Gage. A lot of people wouldnt put in half the effort for others as Harlow did for Gage.
Thomas M.

Dejanee Geeters said...

in the society we're in, it's hard to believe that anyone would be so invested in someone without any personal gain, everybody is much self centered. It was very interesting how Harlow would not take credit to something that has so much potential popularity in the world. Harlow placed all his hard work on God, and nobody else. “I dressed him, God healed him” (p. 187). If more scientists did research or took action just because of their passion, the world would be a much better, safer, and healthier place.

Marley McCoy said...

Before reading this article I knew little about Phineas Gage and his life. After reading the article I did find it interesting that Dr Harlow didn't take credit for helping Gage even though he took care of him. I really liked the quote on page 137 that said "I dressed him, God healed him." This quote really shows how humble Harlow was.

Qcadwell said...

My first impression of Harlow is a caring individual because while everyone treated Gage as a curiosity or as a freak the doctor seemed to actually care for his well being. As Gage deteriorated he stood by his side even as his personality changed and he became a brash and vulgar person.

Kiara Coker said...

My personal opinion on the relationship between Gage and Harlow is that Harlow was just a great doctor that truly cared about the health and wellness of his patient. Although it's hard to believe that a man would work so hard and care so much for a man that he just met but that is indeed what he did. During my anatomy and physiology, we discussed Phineas Gage and his story and also how each part of the brain has different functions but I never knew the story behind how he got well so that was interesting to me.

TOMIKA COLLINS said...

I found "Phineas Gage, Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient", written by Sam Kean to be a very interesting article. "I dressed him, God healed him."(pg 137) This statement alone shows just how humble Harlow was. Even though he was there to help Gage, he gave God all of the glory. Prior to reading this article I had never heard of Phineas Gage or Dr. Harlow. Dr. Harlow was a loving and caring doctor and not just out to make money off of Gage.

Christen King said...

After reading "Phineas Gage, Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient", written by Sam Kean, I initially thought about Harlow and his selflessness. Very few people in today's time would discover the things he discovered, and helped the way he did without receiving credit and recognition. This quote from the text, on page 145, seemed to stick out the most to me, "Gage’s story might have ended there—an obscure small-town tragedy, little more—if not for Dr. Harlow. He had lost track of Gage years before, but he learned the address of Gage’s family in 1866..." Harlow seemed to go out of his way to find Gage's family, which shows how much he cared for him even after the terrible tragedy. He even continued to care for Gage after death by digging his skull up to further examine. He seemed like a truly caring doctor.

Anonymous said...

After reading Kean’s article, what are your thoughts about Harlow’s lifelong involvement with Gage? Please provide a page number citation.

What stood out the most to me is that Harlow didn’t accept recognition for his involve with Gage. You would think that when such a monumental scientific miracle takes place and you’re the miracle worker, you would want to accept praises from the most high. But he didn’t, and I believe that that sole fact speaks a lot about his character than many would like to realize. He wasn’t focused on the fame, or the notoriety, he was only focused on the health and betterment of Gage.

Toriel S.

Abraham Carmichael said...

I believe it's interesting on how people believe there is always an alternative motive to every action."He had lost track of Gage years before, but he learned the address of the Gage's family in 1866"(page 45).It's hard to believe that anyone is doing the right thing with no reward or something to gain.

DeMarco McCottrell said...

After reading Sam Kean's article I acknowledge that Harlow had a sort of obsession for Mr. Gage. Though Harlow did help Gage and act as one of the most important physicians in the recovery process, it seems like Harlow also was just attached to the story of Gage's brain after the incident; he even goes as far as tracking down the body after Gage's death. Harlow was worried for Phineas Gage's health, but if he had to "milk the family for details" just to get back to Gage, I believe that he was somewhat obsessed with Gage, which would explain his lifelong involvement(145).

Anonymous said...

In my personal opinion, the relationship that Gage and Harlow had between each other is a truly touching instance of a doctor fully committing himself to his patient. Nowadays, I feel like most doctors would not have gotten involved at nearly the same level that Dr.Harlow treated Phineas Gage. He was even humble when speaking on his role, saying "I dressed him, God healed him", on page 137. It's obvious that most people would just take the credit that they worked to deserve, however Harlow didn't want it, which is what makes this story an incredible one.It occurred to me that many others were previously aware of Phineas Gage's story based from the other students' comments the article, I really enjoyed reading was nice to have a reading on such an interesting science topic that many student are aware of but not fully educated on. Kobi P.

Jaleel Fuquay said...

I am really surprised by this article. Reading how Harlow was genuinely interested in Gage's well being, was so gratifying. In society today, you hardly hear of someone caring and bonding with people like this. In addition, Harlow was so humble and you just don't see that type of humility in people that much. It was a truly inspiring and compelling story. I was thrilled when I learned that Gage would be ok.

Chikelue Nkemeh said...

Personally, I found Harlow's involvement in Gage's life heart warming, as Harlow truly took care for Gage as Kean states, "Gage's story might have ended there-an obscure small-town tragedy, if not for Dr. Harlow" (145). Harlow didn't let Gage's story end and his accident go in vain, but rather he used him to better the life for himself and others in future research.

Samontriona P said...


After reading "Phineas Gage, Neuroscience's Most Famous Patient" by Sam Kean, what stood out to me was Harlow's relationship with Phineas. The Phineas Cage story is a great story and is very heartwarming because Harlow genuinely cared about Gage and took care of him. He focussed on God during the recovery of Phineas which also stood out to me.