What Phineas Gage can tell us about what the self is

Today, we know a lot about the brain from case studies of brain damage of specific areas and the cognitive functions associated with these areas.

It was not all that long ago that we had no idea what the brain was. Although we must had some clue we were never completely sure. Damage to the eye would impair vision, to the ear, hearing, and so on. Lose an arm and you still function as cognitively. We must have guessed that the “seat” of thinking was in the head. Sometimes the mind has been placed in the heart. We knew the functions of these – the brain and the heart – were vital to life. Often they are confused.

The case of Phineas Gage [warning: gruesome details in link] was one of luck for neuroscience (but not for him). [warning: more gruesome details ahead] In 1848, he was injured in a railroad accident. An iron rod was driven through his prefrontal cortex by an explosion, causing him to severe social impairments. Since then thousands of case studies have been documented to pinpoint the functions of which were affected by the neurological damage. The point being, if we were not physical neurological beings, then the damage to the brain should be no different to damage to the arm, leg, or stomach – our personalities would not be affected.

But how we act and how we think of people ultimately comes down to their brain function. The personality, self, and soul ultimately resides in the brain as a product of the brain. To think that damage to the physical self would not cause neurological change would contradict the evidence. Nothing of the self exists after death, only our thoughts of those who have died remain as our thoughts of them as a self.

Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s