Phineas Gage, next to the bar that pierced his brain and changed his personality
We cannot change reality, but we can change our way of seeing it (Marcus Aurelius the Wise , Roman Emperor of the Spanish Antonine dynasty)
John Martyn Harlow , doctor of the Rutland and Burlington railroad company, of New England (USA), could do little to remedy the situation of Phineas Gage , foreman of that same company, when on September 13, 1848 a spark ignited the gunpowder of a hole that Phineas rammed with an iron bar while casually glancing over his shoulder. The blast sent the six-pound, three-foot-long ramming bar spear through Phineas's face from the left side of his head. Stained with blood and some pieces of brain, the bar was found some distance from the scene of the event. Carried to his hotel by car, he was even able to climb the stairs with the help of his men. His mind, surprisingly, seemed normal and he said he wanted to get back to work soon. But it was not true, because the bar had pierced the base of his brain in the regions known as the ventromedial and orbitofrontal cortex, those that contain the neurons that make reasoning can influence emotions and these in reasoning. When that communication broke down, it was emotion, and not reason, that forever dominated Phineas Gage's life.
Nature Neuroscience magazine, the world's first in its specialty, in the editorial of a special issue dedicated to emotions (September 2007 ), made what we can consider the best reading of the capacity that Phineas lost after his accident: the quality of life of an individual depends on his ability to feel his emotions in an adequate way and to regulate them in response to the stressful circumstances of the Life
The story is relevant because the viral pandemic that we suffer has deteriorated not only the somatic health, but also the mental health of citizens and now there are many who rightly demand, in addition to vaccines, special attention for that deteriorated mental health . The main difficulty in achieving this is that it is not easy to rebuild one's spirits and daily life when loved ones have been lost, have fallen ill, have lost their jobs, social relations have diminished or deteriorated and hugs have been longed for. family and friends. Pain and fear have been and are a constant in many people's lives. According to recent statistics, in our country we only have about six psychologists for every 100,000 inhabitants (9,000 are clinical psychologists, 30% of them in public health) to increase this necessary attention, but their work, if it is well oriented, can be very important to get back together in the time we live. How to guide it?
Phineas lost the ability to influence his feelings using reason, the most powerful weapon we have to improve our mental health, but we can all use that ability if we are well instructed to do so and that instruction is one of the fundamental weapons psychologists can use to help people who are having a hard time. When we are able to see things differently by reasoning, we can feel better. And it is not about deceiving ourselves because no one is deprived of the right to choose for himself the interpretation of reality that best suits his well-being. Today's psychology is very well grounded in neuroscience, but its golden rules are ancient. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius did not know anything about the brain, but he was right when he considered that what really makes us suffer are not the things that happen, but our way of seeing them and that, he admitted, is something that we can change at any time. A person's life, he said, is what his thoughts make of him. He was, in this way, the true father of what today we call emotional intelligence, the ability to use reason to properly manage our emotions.
Ignacio Morgado Bernal is professor of psychobiology at the Institute of Neurosciences and at the Faculty of Psychology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Author of 'Emotions and social intelligence: The keys to an alliance between feelings and reason' (Ariel, 2017)
Gray matter it is a space that tries to explain, in an accessible way, how the brain creates the mind and controls behavior. The senses, motivations and feelings, sleep, learning and memory, language and consciousness, as well as their main disorders, will be analyzed in the conviction that knowing how they work is equivalent to knowing ourselves better and increasing our well-being and relationships with other people.
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