In this article, you are going to learn about the 4 causes of bad habits and the curious case of Phineas Gage, the men who got his head pierced by a giant iron bar.
In this article, you are going to learn about the four causes of bad habits and the curious case of Phineas Gage, the man who got his head pierced by a giant iron bar.
On September 13, 1848, near Cavendish in Vermont, Phineas Gage, a sophisticated, respected railway worker became the luckiest, unlucky person in the world.
Gage packed explosives with a tempting iron to blast apart a rock lying in the path of the railroad.
He placed the iron bar near the rock and ignited the dynamite.
There was an explosion, and the 3-foot-7-inch-long iron bar was catapulted through the air, piercing Gage’s skull and brain, and flew another 20 meters, where it was found full of the blood and brain matter of the 25-year-old.
Gage was thrown onto his back by the force of the iron bar piercing his eye, but was by some miracle, able to get up just a few minutes later…
He did not only survive the injury, but he was able to speak and walk to a nearby cart, which drove him to town to see a doctor.
Dr Edward H. Williams, the first physician to respond to Gage, later described what he found:
“I first noticed the wound upon the head before I alighted from my carriage, the pulsations of the brain being very distinct. Mr Gage, during the time I was examining his wound, was relating the manner in which he was injured to the bystanders. I did not believe Mr Gage’s statement at that time but thought he was deceived. Mr Gage persisted in saying that the bar went through his head… Mr G. got up and vomited; the effort of vomiting pressed out about half a teacupful of the brain, which fell upon the floor”.
Several days later, his wound became infected, and he fell into a semi-comatose state.
Everybody expected Phineas to die within days; his family even prepared a coffin in advance. However, Phineas Gage said ”not today“ to the god of death and recovered fully by January 1849. *Sorry, I re-watched Game of Thrones recently.
Phineas Gage returned to the home of his parents to recover, but besides losing vision in the eye that was pierced by the iron, Gage was in good physical health.
Gage started working again, but something about him was very different.
Post-accident reports depicted him as a changed man; many suggested that his injury transformed him into an impulsive, aggressive, surly, drunkard who was unable to hold down his job.
Harlow noticed the change as well:
“[Gage] is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was previously not his custom) manifesting little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operations which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity, he has the animal passions of a strong man.
Previous to his injury, although untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart businessman, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was ‘no longer Gage’”.
Harlow suggests that his injury led to a loss of social inhibition, or in simpler words – he became a kind of an asshole.
WTF Happened To Phineas’ Brain?
In 2012, new research estimated that the iron destroyed up to 11% of the white matter in Gage’s frontal lobe1.
If you have never seen a human brain before, it looks like two boxing gloves sewn together on the pinkie side of the gloves.
The surface, however, is everything else but smooth, because it has a series of humps and ridges on it, a bit like an old albino avocado.
Broadly speaking, each side of your brain can be divided into four regions; physicians call them lobes, and they do so because they have tiny wieners and want to sound smart (talking to you Max).
The thumbs of the boxing glove house are the temporal lobe, which is mainly responsible for hearing and speech.
The back of your brain (the open part of the boxing glove) is the occipital lobe; this part is responsible for processing visual information. If this part gets damaged, you can go blind.
The front of your brain (the part where your fingers would enter the glove) is called the frontal lobe; it carries out higher mental processes like thinking, decision making, and planning.
Between your frontal lobe and the occipital lobe is the parietal lobe, it is associated with sensory information, such as taste, temperature, and touch.
Your brain is made up of many different kinds of cells; the most important ones are your neurons; they send electrical signals from one part of the brain to the other.
Your neurons look like normal cells, but with antennas on them.
They send critical information to other cells by extending a tube, which is called their axon; this allows your neurons to influence other areas of your brain.
To do so, they use chemicals, and these chemicals cause electrical changes inside your cells. When this electrical change gets big enough, your neuron sends another electrical signal down its antenna. Think of these antennas as the storehouse of other chemicals. This dance of electrical charges and the released chemicals are the reason your brain is so expensive to operate.
The surface of your brain is grey. Physicians, in all their creativity, have named this grey matter.
Most of the neurons in the grey matter have very short antennas; they use their chemicals to communicate with neurons which are very close by.
When neurons have to communicate with more distant areas, they go deeper into the brain.
To make sure that the signals do not get lost, your neurons have an isolator around them; pretty much like the cables we use.
Most of your deeper brain cells are white; anatomists have, therefore, named them white matter (yes, really).
One way of explaining Gage’s radical behavioural change is because the iron bar pierced his frontal lobe; his cerebral cortex, the part we mostly associate with personality, consciousness, and abstract thinking.
Neuroscientist Paul MacLean has developed one of the most well-known and easiest models for brain structuring in the 60s, which helps to understand Gage’s loss of humanness; The Triune Brain.
The Triune Brain
This model is highly simplified, but it provides an explanation to the organisation of your brain and lets you understand what happened to Phineas Gage:
So, there are three brains:
- The Lizard Brain
The primal region does a lot of regulatory stuff, like when your body temperature drops you start to shiver, your body temperature rises, and it signals for you to start sweating. It is also monitoring your glucose, and it is essential for everyday survival on the most basic level.
- The Mammal Brain
The limbic system surrounds the lizard brain. This part of the brain is very much a mammalian speciality because as you can imagine, lizards are not very emotional creatures. This part of the brain is responsible for you acting like an emo all the time; it manages fear, lust, and aggression.
- The Human Brain
The third layer of the brain that MacLean identified is relatively fresh – 40.000 years fresh.
It is called the neocortex, and this structure is only found in higher mammals, such as monkeys or dolphins.
This part of the brain is there for things such as imagination, creativity, problem-solving, speech, and reasoning.
You are using this part of your brain to read this article right now.
The Four Fs – The Root Causes Of All Bad Habits
Your primary reptilian concern is to make you survive. Therefore, it is in charge of four major tasks:
- And Fucking
The reptilian brain basically tells us four things that are supposed to ensure our survival.
- Eat everything you can find and remember where you found it.
- Fight and kill everybody who is threatening you.
- Avoid everything that is causing you pain.
- Have sex with everything and everybody.
Those are the Four Rules that have served us well in the past, but in an age of excess and unlimited resources, those mental programs have caused us more harm than good.
Cause Number 1: Eat Everything You Can Find And Remember Where You Found It
In ancient times, it made a lot of sense for humans to eat everything that was in sight. If one of our forefathers were to find something high with calories and fat, it was a brilliant idea back then to eat all of it, because they did not know when their next meal would be.
The leading cause of death for our ancestors was starvation, so for them, it was an intelligent strategic move to eat everything in sight and remember where it was.
For us, things are a little bit different…
While our ancestors had to go to great lengths to acquire food that was high caloric, all we have to do is to open our fridge. We have an endless supply of food that we can stuff into our faces until we fall over.
Our environment has changed; our behavioural drives have not.
Obesity is one of the major causes of death in the western world, and I, myself, have had family members who lost their health and happiness because of disempowering nutritional habits.
Exemplary Bad Habits:
- Eating too much
- Eating sugary stuff
- Drinking sugary stuff
- Bing attacks
- Night snacking
Cause Number 2: Fight Everything That Is Hurting You
The second instinct that we all have is the urge to fight everything that is out to hurt us.
Again – in an age where humans got chased by all sorts of sabre toothy animals, this was quite a good habit to have. Today, we are often slaves to our emotional systems. If we remain untrained, we hurt the ones we love by our poor anger management habits.
One of the things that I have in common with Michael Jordan is that I take everything personally… only in a bad way (shoutout to all my ex-girlfriends who I annoyed with my thin skin).
Have you ever had a fight with someone you cared for, and they pushed your buttons the right way, and you lost your shit? Yeah, me too.
Human beings are vicious, aggressive, nasty creatures by design. It takes an incredible amount of psychological education to master one’s emotional systems to the degree that we can control our anger instead of having our anger control us.
Exemplary Bad Habits:
- Lashing out at your partner/kids/friends
Cause Number 3: Run From Everything That Causes You Pain
We are hard-wired to run away from discomfort.
Again, this mechanism was essential for our species to survive. If you think about it, it makes a whole lot of sense to avoid all sources of discomfort to save energy for the next time a tiger is chasing you in the jungle.
Nowadays, all tigers belong to the creepy bitch from the documentary Tiger King, meaning that we enjoy an unprecedented amount of societal security.
This behavioural instinct is, therefore, obviously problematic if you take into consideration that nearly all good things in life require effort, pain, and sacrifice.
While you should be afraid of a man in the dark who is chasing you with a knife, you should not be scared to ask your dream girl out, call that company who can give you your dream job, or learn public speaking skills to bring your business to the next level.
Exemplary Bad Habits:
Cause Number 4: Fuck Everything That You Can
Arguably one of our strongest behavioural urges is to reproduce and make sure that this whole weird human thing goes on forever.
Through technology, we have become hyper-effective at satisfying our sexual needs.
In an age where organising a date costs only the swipe of a thumb, it has become quite challenging for many people to stay with one person, after all, if things get tough, it is easier to magically thumb up a new relationship instead of working on the “old one”.
For many guys, the swiping of the thumb for a date is still too much effort; they prefer to use their fingertips to google their weirdest kinks and masturbate until their dicks fall off.
Our reproduction drivers developed thousands of years before there was anything like online dating and internet porn, and it is essential to understand that the underlying root cause of compulsive sexual habits is our need to eternalise ourselves.
Exemplary Bad Habits:
- Commitment phobic behaviour
- Porn addiction
- Tinder compulsion
- Excessive social media use
Moral Of This Article
If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: YOUR BRAIN NEEDS AN UPGRADE.
We live in a society that has become extremely effective at exploiting the bugs within our behavioural software. To live a rich and successful life, it is vital that you learn skills that will help you to control your emotional systems so that they do not end up controlling you.
Although challenging, it is essential that you make a declaration of total behavioural ownership and remind yourself daily that you are the architect of your life.
Success is not something that is achieved; it is a result that ensues when you plant the right habits into the right soil so that you can grow into a person who is capable of producing the life results that you are after.
Thank you for reading!
Do You Want To Change Your Habits?
- Cherry, K. (n.d.). The Famous Case of Phineas Gage’s Astonishing Brain Injury. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/phineas-gage-2795244