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How did a Massachusetts woman end up with a four electrodes implanted into her brain? Why is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency developing a controversial, cutting-edge brain chip technology that could one day treat everything from major depressive disorder to hand cramps? How did we get to deep brain stimulation and where do we go from here?

In 1848, a rail foreman named Phineas Gage was clearing a railroad bend in Vermont when a blast hole exploded, sending the tamping iron he had been using to pack explosives through his left cheek, his brain’s left frontal lobe and finally out the top of his skull before landing 25 yards away, stuck upright in the dirt. Despite his pulverized brain mass, Gage went on to make a full recovery, with the exception of a blinded left eye. It was, by all accounts, miraculous.

But while Gage could walk and talk, those who knew him found that after the accident he seemed, well, different. A local physician who treated him the day of the accident observed that “the equilibrium … between his intellectual faculties and his animal propensities seems to have been destroyed.” His friends put it more simply: Gage, they said, “was no longer Gage.”

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