If Gabbi Giffords is a Miracle, What was Phineas Gage?

So it's started. Congresswoman Giffords is doing well and it's already a miracle! She took a 9mm bullet to the brain and the only way she could have survived is by the grace of God in a supernatural act. We've never seen anyone live after having their skull and brain perforated. I could go on an on with examples of people having been shot in the brain, but let's take a look at something more extreme. 


A 9mm bullet is .354 inches in diameter and just over twice that in length. Not something you want roaming your skull at 1500 feet per second. Pheneas Gage might find the notion that being in his head a welcome thought. 


In 1848 Phineas Gage was breaking rock for a railroad. They drilled into the rock then packed the hole with blasting powder. The powder had to be packed tight for the optimal blast so they would put sand on it and tamp the powder with an iron tamping rod that is 1.25 inches in diameter, weighed 13 lbs, and was 3 foot 7 inches long (roughly 30mm, 6 kilos 1.1 meters long). Well, Phineas didn't use the sand one day in September and ignited the powder in mid-tamp. The rod shot at him and struck him just under the left cheek. It entered his skull at an angle that would find it exiting on the right side of the top of his skull and to the front. In the process he was shot 80 feet (25 m) away! I don't know about you, but I might not even walk over there thinking, what's the point? We'll get him at the end of the day (That's how it would have been handled back in those days.)



Within a few minutes, Phineas was up and talking. He walked himself to the cart that took him back to town. When he got to the doctor he told him the story of how his injuries happened. In the midst of the story he gets up and goes to vomit and a half tea cup of brain matter fell out of his head. The man had just had his brain perforated with a iron bar twice the diameter as a broom handle and here he's regaling people with the story while shaking his brain free. Phineas wasn't "normal" going forward. He was certainly functional but he had fits of anger and wasn't his normal self. Who would expect him to be? But he didn't go on to live out any special purpose other than surviving one of the most horrific brain injuries ever. He didn't start a school for the blind, discover a cure for polio, etc. He just lived until he was 36 and died. 


It's very lucky to live through a gunshot wound to the head. But there are two on the news here in Seattle right now. NPR found someone today that shared his story of being shot in the head by a bullet that didn't exit but fragmented. I'm so happy for Congresswoman Giffords that she's doing better than expected. But this is no miracle. If you hear people telling you that it is, tell them the story of Phineas Gage. 


(The story was something that I knew up, but Wiki was my source for some of the details and the picture. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage)



Views: 136

Comment by Becca on January 14, 2011 at 12:53am
Phineas is a miracle too! ;-)
Comment by Allen Sneed on January 14, 2011 at 8:32am
I would be more impressed by God's power and mercy if he made sure nobody got shot in the first place. That would be a more impressive miracle.
Comment by Jaume on January 14, 2011 at 11:45am
Allen+Keely - tragedy and miracle are the faces of the same coin: you can't have one without the other. Even when there's no survivor to a tragedy, there's always an idiot to say "it's a miracle no more people boarded that plane".
Comment by Albert Bakker on January 14, 2011 at 12:08pm

I don't follow this closely, but what's wrong with using the word "miracle" with respect to Ms Giffords survival and partial recovery, structures in her left hemisphere being permanently destructed?

I would think the word miracle or miraculous is quite appropriate as well as it would be applied to the historical case of Phineas Gage, meaning not "miracle" in the sense of a supernatural intervention but in the sense of a hoped for extremely improbable outcome, especially in cases of radical life-threatening situations.

Comment by Albert Bakker on January 14, 2011 at 1:03pm
Thanks Keely, I was unaware of that. I always assumed that it just meant "extremely improbable event." Too bad I can't use it anymore, I kind of liked it. Much better than "wonder" or "marvel" (for some reason that conjures up images of spiderman, which makes it rather difficult to use it in a serious context.)
Comment by Dustin on January 14, 2011 at 1:14pm
My question is - When does something go from being statistically improbable to being miraculous?  .1%?   .01%?   .001%?  .0001?  maybe 10%?
Comment by Michael Sizer-Watt on January 14, 2011 at 1:22pm
God cares about Gabbi Gifford apparently, but not about the 150 000 children that were raped that day, nor the 40 000 that died of starvation.
Comment by Albert Bakker on January 14, 2011 at 3:15pm

@ Dustin, I admit I can't give you a direct answer to your question. But are you saying I would be wrong anyway to use the word miracle if my already wrong non-supernatural way were to be acceptable to describe Ms Giffords survival and partial recovery, because I then would first have to be able to specifically quantify the improbability within a reasonable margin of uncertainty to justify it being a miracle instead of merely an extremely unlikely event?

To hell with that. I think I prefer to just misunderstand each other and let that be.

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on January 14, 2011 at 5:54pm
No matter how improbable (miraculous) an event may seem, it is less probable that the laws of nature were suspended by a supernatural force and more probable that it can be explained scientifically. The appeal to miracles is an appeal to a supernatural force and requires faith.
Comment by Steve M on January 14, 2011 at 8:53pm
A real miracle would be  if God would stop creating so many defective people who go around shooting people in the head.


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