In this post we will talk about the brain of one of the great figures of physics and popular culture: Albert Einstein. We will discover what it is that he makes so special.
Albert Einstein’s brain
Albert Einstein is one of the most prolific scientists in all of history. He changed the understanding of physics and the universe; he developed theories that to date are valid, from general relativity to special relativity -both compiled in the Theory of Relativity-; and it even predicted events that were just confirmed a few years ago, such as gravitational waves.
Einstein, who was born on March 14, 1879 in Germany, had such a brilliant mind that his brain caused a furore among the scientific and non-scientific community.
The fury lasted even after his death.
The German scientist died in April 1955 of an internal hemorrhage caused by an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Einstein’s aorta – one of the most important arteries in the body, which runs from the heart to the abdomen – became so wide, more than 5 centimeters that it burst and led to hemorrhage.
Albert Einstein knew of his problem and the consequences of it, but decided not to act to recover. Before he died, he said that he didn’t want anything flashy for his funeral and added that he only wanted to be cremated.
The pathologist Thomas Harvey stole Albert Einstein’s brain after his autopsy in 1955. After that, a whole story was opened halfway between the gruesome and scientific curiosity.
There were many who longed to know was the secret of his genius, others did not see this usurpation with good eyes. Be that as it may, the results of the analysis were more than revealing.
The truth is that few accounts of our scientific historical fabric are as disturbing as they are fascinating at the same time. There is something tragic in this story, without a doubt, but it also illustrates that very singular desire of the human being to know himself.
By knowing what ins and outs are hidden in those gifted brains capable of changing the world in some way, powerful by making us discover exceptional things.
The father of relativity was one of them. Now, Albert Einstein was also something else: an icon, a media figure and of great social impact. He knew it well, and aware of it he gave very precise guidelines about what he wanted for himself after his death. Discretion and privacy. He wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in a river. After all this, his death could be announced to the media.
However, something went wrong. Nobody counted on an unforeseen and almost unimaginable factor: Thomas Harvey. This pathologist took Albert Einstein’s brain after his autopsy. Finally, what the charismatic physicist never wanted happened: to become a revered relic.
The man who wanted Einstein’s brain
Chance and opportunity intermingled in this story. Einstein died at the age of 76, on April 18, 1955 after the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
A few days later he proceeded to the cremation. Now, just as the family expected to see Albert Einstein’s death publicized in the media, they were surprised to read something very different. The New York Times reported that the nuclear physicist’s brain had been removed from the body for study by him.
The person responsible for all this was a pathologist, Dr. Thomas Harvey. It is said of him that he was a great admirer of Einstein.
Also that his character oscillated between the imbalance, the most elusive introversion and the obsessive meticulousness for science. He was surely lucky to be charged with responsibility for Einstein’s autopsy. An opportunity that he did not miss.
The autopsy and a basement
He carefully removed Albert Einstein’s brain, weighed it, dissected it, and placed it in several jars. Afterward, he put it safely in the basement of his house. He was not a neurologist, so his goal was as simple as it was ambitious.
He wanted to bring together the best specialists in the world to study in detail every area of that brain, every fragment, every cell. His goal was to publish the results as soon as possible in the most prestigious magazines and to gain worldwide fame.
Now all those longings and aspirations of Dr. Harvey were truncated. The first thing that happened was obvious: he lost his job. He was harshly criticized and sanctioned by the scientific community.
His promising career at Princeton was frustrated. And his wife left him. His action and the rugged act of keeping a brain hidden in a basement did not seem logical or even less pleasant.
However, curious as it may be, the only encouragement he had to go ahead with his business came from Hans Albert, Einstein’s son. Thus, and although at first he was affected and indignant, later he concluded with something that, in his opinion, had his logic. Einstein always advocated scientific advancement.
If the analysis of that brain would be of any use to the scientific community, the family gave the go-ahead. Thomas Harvey’s work could go on.
Results on Albert Einstein’s brain study
The results of the analysis of Albert Einstein’s brain were happening from 1975 to the present. After Hans Albert’s permission, the outlook for Harvey changed. He was showered with calls, interviews and instantly, even fame. The journalists camped in his garden. Science magazine was in contact with him, as well as the best neuroanatomists in the world.
The 240 blocks and 12 sets of 200 slides that Harvey had created by dividing Albert Einstein’s brain began to pay off.
What was behind the most desired brain in the world
The first thing that caught the attention of Albert Einstein’s brain was its size. It was smaller than usual.
- In 1985, the University of California, Berkeley, published his results. The samples were on glial cells. These brain bodies act as support for neurons and participate in the brain’s processing of information. And what did the studies reveal? That Albert Einstein had fewer glial cells, but they were larger.
- In 1996, the University of Alabama (Birmingham) published a paper on Einstein’s prefrontal cortex. They found that the part of the brain responsible for spatial cognition and mathematical thinking was more developed.
- In 2012, anthropologist Dean Falk studied photos of Albert Einstein’s brain. What he identified was amazing. The nuclear physicist had one more ridge on his middle frontal lobe. Normally we all have three, but Einstein had an “extra”. According to experts, this area is related to planning and working memory.
- His parietal lobes were asymmetric. Also, he featured what is known as “the omega sign” in this area. This characteristic is related to musicians who play the violin and who are also left-handed. Like Einstein.
- In 2013, the corpus callosum was examined. Dean Falk, the anthropologist cited above, found it to be thicker than normal. This would have allowed her to have better communication between his brain hemispheres.
As striking as this data may seem to us, we cannot leave out one aspect. As Terence Hines, a well-known neurologist, pointed out in his day, many started from his work with the idea that they were analyzing the brain of a “genius.” Everyone made an effort to see what exceptional peculiarities existed in Albert Einstein’s brain.
Now, as Dr. Hines points out, every brain shows something exceptional. This organ is the result of our life, of what we do. Something as simple as playing an instrument or having creative work reorganizes each brain area in a particular way.
Thus, if there is something that characterized the father of relativity, it was his versatility. In addition to being a physics genius, he spoke several languages, played different instruments, and, as many suspect, he may even have Asperger’s syndrome. All this outlined in him a singular brain, small but sophisticated and highly specialized.
Now, the interest of the scientific community is in the analysis of his DNA. The veneration and experimental craving for Einstein’s remains seem endless.
It appears that Albert Einstein had huge angular convolutions in his brain (these convolutions are found in the parietal lobes). And, being good at math doesn’t just require being good at calculus, you also need other skills such as spatial visualization.
In this way, Einstein could combine computational skills (left parietal lobe) with his spatial ability (right parietal lobe) in an extraordinary way. As extraordinary as the achievements that he achieved the mind of which we speak.
So, to finish this incredible story, a question arises that our readers may have already asked themselves: How many people keep in their homes a small portion of the brain of whoever deduced the most well-known equation of physics on the planet? And what would the great scientist think of all this?
FAQS: Albert Einstein’s brain
How is Einstein’s brain different from a normal brain?
Einstein’s brain contains more cells than a normal one, according to a recent study. The brain, or what remains of it, has remained since Einstein’s death in the hands of a Missouri pathologist, Thomas Harvey, who participated in the scientist’s autopsy upon his death in 1955.
What does Albert Einstein brain look like?
Albert Einstein’s brain has often been a subject of research and speculation. … The sections of the brain that were in his possession had been preserved in alcohol in two large jars of candy for 23 years, in addition they had a greater cubic capacity than the average.
Where is Albert Einstein’s brain now?
Dissected into 240 pieces preserved in celloidin, a part of Einstein’s brain is on display at the Mutter Museum of The College of Physicians, in Philadelphia.
Why Albert Einstein brain was removed?
The pathologist responsible for his autopsy, Thomas Harvey, 43, removed the genie’s brain, weighed it, and then, without telling anyone, dissected it, put it in formalin and smuggled it away in several jars.
What was Albert Einstein’s IQ?
There are very few people in the world who have such a high IQ. Only 1 in 50 people reach it. Albert Einstein had an IQ greater than 160, paired by Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates.
In this post we talked about the brain of one of the great figures of physics and popular culture: Albert Einstein. We will discover what it is that he makes so special.
If you have any questions or comments please let us know!
Falk, D. (2009). New information about Albert Einstein’s Brain. Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, 1. https://doi.org/10.3389/neuro.18.003.2009
Falk, D., Lepore, F. E., & Noe, A. (2012). The cerebral cortex of Albert Einstein: a description and preliminary analysis of unpublished photographs. Brain, 136(4), 1304–1327. https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/aws295