In my latest article for The Economist, I review an interesting book about the notion that makes us human. An excerpt:
ABOUT a century and a half ago, an American railway worker named Phineas Gage was setting an explosive charge near Cavendish, Vermont. While he was tamping down the charge with an iron rod, it went off and sent the rod through his head. Gage miraculously survived—or least part of him did. But contemporaries thought that his personality had changed; where once he had been well-behaved, now he was downright antisocial. The incident raised questions about what constitutes the self and to what extent it is influenced by the body.
Although Phineas Gage is cited in medical and psychological literature as one of the earliest known cases of brain damage and personality change, the debate about what makes people human had, by then, already been going on for centuries. In “Soul Machine” George Makari, a psychiatry professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, presents an electrifying narrative of the intellectual disputes that gave rise to the Western conception of the mind.
Read the full piece here.