Einsteins brain

Print edition : December 14, 2012


Portions of Albert Einsteins brain have been found to be unlike those of most people and could be responsible for his extraordinary cognitive abilities, according to a new study led by Dean Falk, the Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology at Florida State University. The study, The Cerebral Cortex of Albert Einstein: A Description and Preliminary Analysis of Unpublished Photographs, has been published in the journal Brain.

Dean Falk, who is an evolutionary anthropologist, along with colleagues Frederick E. Lepore of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Adrianne Noe, director of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, has described for the first time the entire cerebral cortex of Einsteins brain from an examination of 14 recently discovered photographs. These were taken shortly after his death but had never been analysed. The present researchers compared Einsteins brain with 85 normal human brains and, using current functional imaging studies, interpreted its unusual features.

Although the overall size and asymmetrical shape of Einsteins brain were normal, the prefrontal, somatosensory, primary motor, parietal, temporal and occipital cortices were extraordinary, says Dean Falk. These may have provided the neurological underpinnings for some of his visuospatial and mathematical abilities, for instance, she adds. The prefrontal cortex is known to be important for highly abstract thinking, which is how Einstein arrived at his famous theories of relativity. It is believed that the complex folding patterns here probably provided an unusually large surface area compared with the normal, which may have contributed to his extraordinary abilities.

Soon after Einstein died in 1955, Thomas Harvey, the pathologist who carried out the autopsy, removed his brain, preserved it in formalin and later photographed it from multiple angles with the permission of his family. Furthermore, he sectioned the brain into 240 blocks from which he prepared histological slides. Unfortunately, a great majority of the photographs, blocks and slides were lost from public sight for more than 55 years. The 14 photographs used by the researchers now are held by the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

The paper also publishes the road map to Einsteins brain prepared in 1955 by Harvey to illustrate the locations within Einsteins previously whole brain of 240 dissected blocks of tissue, which provides a key to locating the origins within the brain of the newly emerged histological slides.

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