You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that Albert Einstein’s brain was very different than mine or yours. But a recent study has confirmed this.
An examination of photos of portions of Einstein’s brain found that it was “unlike those of most people and could be related to his extraordinary cognitive abilities,” according to a new study led by Florida State University evolutionary anthropologist Dean Falk in Tallahassee.
Falk, working with Frederick Lepore of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J., and Adrianne Noe, director of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, in their research described for the first time the entire cerebral cortex of Einstein’s brain from an examination of 14 recently discovered photographs.
According to a press release put out by the Florida school, the researchers compared Einstein’s brain to 85 “normal” human brains. They were able to use state-of-the-art imaging studies to study its unusual features.
“Although the overall size and asymmetrical shape of Einstein’s brain were normal, the prefrontal, somatosensory, primary motor, parietal, temporal and occipital cortices were extraordinary,” Falk, the Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology at Florida State, said in a statement. “These may have provided the neurological underpinnings for some of his visuospatial and mathematical abilities, for instance.”
The study, “The Cerebral Cortex of Albert Einstein: A Description and Preliminary Analysis of Unpublished Photographs,” was recently published in the journal Brain.
When Einstein — the physicist who credited with crafting the Theory of Relativity — died in 1955, his brain was removed and photographed from multiple angles with the permission of his family, according to the press release.
It was also sliced into 240 blocks, which were used to make histological slides. In some kind of mishap, most of these photographs, blocks and slides were lost for more than 55 years, the press release said. The 14 photographs used by the researchers are now in the possession of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
The paper also publishes the so-called “roadmap” to Einstein’s brain prepared in 1955 by Dr. Thomas Harvey to illustrate the locations within Einstein’s previously whole brain of 240 dissected blocks of tissue, which provides a key to locating the origins within the brain of the histological slides.
“Our findings are concordant with the earlier suggestion that unusual morphology in Einstein’s parietal lobes may have provided neurological substrates for his visuospatial and mathematical abilities,” the researchers said in the conclusion of their study.
“Our results also suggest that Einstein had relatively expanded prefrontal cortices, which may have provided underpinnings for some of his extraordinary cognitive abilities, including his productive use of thought experiments,” they said.
“From an evolutionary perspective, the specific parts of Einstein’s prefrontal cortex that appear to be differentially expanded are of interest because recent findings indicate that these same areas increased differentially in size and became neurologically reorganized at microanatomical levels during hominin evolution in association with the emergence of higher cognitive abilities.”
A story on the study on The Huffington Post raised an interesting question. Did Einstein become a mathematical genius because he was born with a unique brain, or did his brain develop and evolve in a unique fashion because of the work in physics he was doing? I doubt we’ll ever have the answer to that one.