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Lobotomy And The Quest For The I Function

2442 words - 10 pages

A large concern of the field of neurobiology seems to be finding and understanding a connection between the structure and function of the nervous system. What tangible system of tissues is responsible for creating a given perceived output? Some outputs can be more easily traced back to a specific 'motor symphony' and the involved structures isolated. This problem has obsessed generations of scientists. One of the first of this generation of researcher was F.J. Gall who promoted the idea that observable features of the brain could lead to an understanding of specific traits of action (7). Gall's greatest opponent, Marie-Jean-Pierre Flourens published research on localization of function and ...view middle of the document...

Indeed, much scientific discovery stems from observation of impairment-using disability as a way to understand ability. This method is a bit of turning observations on their heads-what one observes in a damaged patient might provide clues as to what one would observe in a healthy patient. This sort of process of elimination method of observation is an especially applicable tool when the structures and functions involved are little understood. In the case of locating where aspects of personality may come from, this is definitely true-much is left unexplained about what creates a human sense of individuality and character. In the early twentieth century, suddenly there became a tremendous need to understand the structural basis for personality. Veterans returning from World War I often suffered severely from shell shock, and other mental dibilities and the bereaved relatives of lost ones were often also subject to personality disorders (1). Perhaps it was this massive influx of asylum patients, or perhaps just a misled understanding of the complexity of brain function that would spur the trend of one of the darkest medical and neurological periods in history.

Although scientists had long been tinkering around with the function of the behavioral implications of the neo-cortex, the trademark case which seems to have awakened the world to the direct relationship between the brain and personality is that of Phineas Cage. In 1847 this Irish workman was involved in a rock blasting accident which sent an iron rod through the frontal region of his brain. Miraculously enough, he survived the incident, but even more astonishing at the time were the marked changes in Cage's personality after the rode punctured his brain. Where before Cage was characterized by his mild mannered nature, he had now become aggressive, rude and "indulging in the grossest profanity, which was not previously his custom, manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires" (1). According to the Boston physician Harlow in 1868. However, Cage sustained no impairment with regards to his intelligence or memory (1). This observation leads to the conclusion that memory and intellegence must be independent from the structure which controls personality, or the I-function. So Flourens was mistaken in his assumption of the three components of 'higher mental faculties'. Obviously personality is an independent function of an unknown structure.

Besides posing questions of location and structure, the Phineas Cage incident opened doors for scientists by demonstrating to the public that alteration in brain structure could play a significant role in changing the personality of a human being. In Phineas Cage the effect of the inadvertent lobotomy was to make him more aggressive, but could such a procedure be performed medically to the opposite effect? Thus, completely by chance, the foundational discoveries for the development...

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