13 Sep: The Man With The Hole In His Head

Phineas Gage, a foreman on the New England railroads, was pierced through the head with a 13-pound tamping iron on 13th September, 1848. The rod went straight through his skull and landed several yards away.

Despite this, Gage was able to present himself at a physician, and anticipated being back at work in a couple of days. In reality, his convalescence was long and difficult, and Dr John Martyn Harlow claimed Gage’s personality had undergone permanent change – an observation which made him perhaps the most notorious case study in neuroscience.


In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly question Dr Harlow’s account; discuss the surgery that saved Gage’s life; and explain how the 2007 discovery of a photograph portraying him holding a ‘harpoon’ has changed how he is perceived forever… 

Content Warning: injury, gore.

Further Reading:

• ‘Phineas Gage and the effect of an iron bar through the head on personality’ (The Guardian, 2010): https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2010/nov/05/phineas-gage-head-personality

• ‘Phineas Gage: Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient’ (Smithsonian Magazine, 2010): https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/phineas-gage-neurosciences-most-famous-patient-11390067/

• ‘Lessons Of The Brain: The Phineas Gage Case’ (Harvard University, 2015):