Why You're Better Off Being a 21st Century Phineas Gage
What's the Big Idea?
A Florida teenager will have a bad headache for a while after being shot through the head with a three-foot fishing spear, but doctors expect a full recovery. Remarkably, doctors say that after two to three months of rehabilitation the patient will retain the full speech functions.
The teenager, Yasser Lopez, was very lucky. The spear missed all of the main blood vessels in his brain, just as the construction foreman Phineas Gage was lucky to have survived an accident in 1848 when a powder explosion shot a tamping iron through his brain. Gage survived, and went on to become the world's most celebrated specimen of neuroscience research.
According to Dr. Adam Kepecs, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Gage provided scientists with the first hints that different functions like decision-making and language acquisition were grouped into localized areas within the brain.
Watch the video here:
What's the Significance?
When we consider such remarkable recoveries from brain trauma, such as Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords surviving a point blank gun shot to the head, the discussion inevitably includes Phineas Gage.
This is heady stuff. It not only gives us hope for one of modern science's fastest advancing frontiers, but it also gives us hope for a scientific explanation of consciousness, by doing nothing less than shedding light on the workings of the most breathtakingly complex machine in the known universe. It isn't often we can genuinely seek to put to bed a question which has puzzled scientists and philosophers since science and philosophy have existed.
The striking difference between cases of localized brain trauma, like the difference between the famous cases of Gage and of Giffords, highlights the advances we have seen and are seeing. Where Gage saw personality changes and a crippling inability to perform socially, Giffords' remarkable, ongoing recovery shows us how far we've come.
The largest shift between the 19th and 21st centuries in this regard is the ability to study healthy brains through fMRI and other technologies, where before it was only through compromised brains that we could further our understanding of neurological functioning. Given what we know today about the brain and how to treat it, it is not just in the case of freak accidents that brain trauma can be survived and succesfully recovered from.
The remarkable thing about this is the breadth of the treatments which can help crippled brains. Behavioral therapy includes singing and completing puzzles, and major surgery in the brain and hormonal treatments can now be comfortably and reasonably used in the same breath when discussing brain rehabilitation.
Photo credit: Jackson Memorial Hospital
Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.
No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.
How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.
- Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
- Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
- As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.
- Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
- Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
- British much more likely than French (and slightly more likely than Germans) to say their culture is "superior" to others.
China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.
- China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
- In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
- The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.