Decoding Einstein's Brain

Nov 17, 2012 By Deepa Gopal
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He is undoubtedly one of the greatest minds of the last century. A genius who challenged existing notions of space-time and whose groundbreaking 'Theory of Relativity' changed the course of science. Yes, we are talking about Albert Einstein.

It is said Einstein used to indulge in thought experiments as a teenager, where he would visualize the situation. He imagined riding on a beam of light or free-falling in a closed chamber and tried to find an explanation for what one might experience. Questions that many of us would never even think to ask!

It is no wonder that when Einstein died in 1955, his brain was removed and photographed. Scientists were curious -- was there anything unique about Einstein's brain? How could one man come up with such extraordinary insight into laws of physics? 

What the photos reveal..

Unfortunately, most of the photos were considered lost for 55 years. The recent discovery of 14 pictures in a collection donated by Thomas Harvey -- the pathologist who took the pictures, has rekindled the mystery. A new study led by evolutionary anthropologist Dean Falk of Florida State University has yielded some clues. 

While the general shape and size of Einstein's brain is comparable to any normal person, researchers did find some unique patterns in the cerebral cortex region. This outside part of the brain is responsible for higher level thinking. It is what distinguishes us from animals -- it allows us to make plans, act on them, think of the future and imagine scenarios. As our ancestors’ brains increased in size, there was a tendency for more convolutions (folds) to appear in the cortex

Now these convolutions were much more prominent in Einstein's case. And the more convolutions there are, more the neuron connections beneath them, scientists speculate. Also, segments of his parietal lobes were asymmetrical and this could explain his mathematical, visual and spatial imagination. The motor region of his brain was also unusually enlarged; for this, the researchers don't have an explanation so far.  

This initial study has rekindled an interest in understanding what creates such extraordinary geniuses. Here is a video from a few years back -- an interview with Thomas Harvey, the pathologist.