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Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

The accident happened during the construction of a railroad in Vermont, in 1848, and it happened fast: A three-foot-long tamping iron sparked an explosion, shot skyward and sailed through the frontal cortex of the project’s foreman, Phineas Gage. Gage, famously, got a whole new personality, and students of the brain got perhaps their most iconic case study. In transforming Gage from the amiable and responsible person he had been before the accident to the temperamental and bawdy one he became after, the iron bar also drilled a hole in Cartesian dualism, the intuitive distinction we all make between our minds and our brains. As the foreman had the misfortune to demonstrate, altering the physical brain can alter personality, behavior, mood–virtually everything we think of as constituting our essential (and incorporeal) self.amazing facts amazon rainforest


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