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Albert Einstein’s Brain is Back on the Table

A photo of Albert Einstein in frizzy hair and a gray housecoat, looking placid

They’ve taken Albert Einstein‘s brain out for another look.

Scientists writing for the Oxford University journal Brain have dug up the post-mortem photos of Einstein’s brain to see how it might have been different from any other old brain.

They have to use photographs because the brain itself was cubed (really!) into 240 blocks, many of which were scattered all over by crazy doctor Thomas Harvey, the pathologist who performed the autopsy and then kept the brain.

“Currently the largest collection of celloidin embedded brain blocks (180 out of the original 240) is at The University Medical Centre at Princeton… With the exception of a few scattered blocks of tissue in Ontario, California, Alabama, Argentina, Japan, Hawaii and Philadelphia, the location(s) of the remaining portions of Einstein’s brain are unknown.”

But we do have Dr. Harvey to thank for the photos, which the current scientists examined to see what they could see.

Einstein's brain, front view(Einstein’s brain, front view)

And just what did they see?

“Einstein’s brain has an extraordinary prefrontal cortex, which may have contributed to the neurological substrates for some of his remarkable cognitive abilities. The primary somatosensory and motor cortices near the regions that typically represent face and tongue are greatly expanded in the left hemisphere. Einstein’s parietal lobes are also unusual and may have provided some of the neurological underpinnings for his visuospatial and mathematical skills, as others have hypothesized.”

All of which is to say: His prefontal lobe was big, so he could think harder.

Also, his parietal lobes were wider than normal and “grossly asymmetrical.” The parietal lobes are the top back part of the brain, rather like the sirloin on a cow, if you’ll pardon the comparison. They handle spatial awareness. So that may be why Einstein was so sharp with math.

It all needs more study, of course. The authors say they’re hoping someone will feel like comparing Albert Einstein’s brain “with preserved brains from other gifted individuals, such as the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855) and the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936).” Although they don’t seem too interested in tackling that job themselves.

Read: The cerebral cortex of Albert Einstein: a description and preliminary analysis of unpublished photographs »

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