Are the brains of intellectually superior individuals a whole lot different from ordinary people? It has been an exciting subject of medical study for so many years, even before Einstein. The mathematical prodigy Carl Friedrich Gauss was among those whose brain was removed and studied. And in 1955, when Einstein died, his brain was likewise subjected to the same scientific investigation.
It surely is a good idea if the next publication of Webster’s thesaurus dictionary would consider putting the word “einstein” in formal declaration as one of the exact synonyms of the word “genius”. Surely it will not come as a surprise; people have been equating Einstein to mean genius. This culture as we might all know, took its origin from the famous creator of the now towering and mind-boggling scientific theories – the special and the general theory of relativity. Because of their revolutionary detour from the established physics of the time, they were highly controversial at first but were subsequently proven right when some of their bold predictions were experimentally verified, making Albert Einstein a household name the world over. In addition, he became the modern representative of extraordinary genius since Newton.
Einstein lived for many more years to savor his well-deserved fame. He was so famous that a casual news of him catching up a mild fever would rush people to his bed. And as had been the usual case to many geniuses, Einstein’s brain was removed when he died in 1955 by Thomas Stoltz Harvey, a Princeton Hospital pathologist, who performed the autopsy on Einstein. Harvey preserved the brain in formalin and photographed it from different angles (shown above). He further dissected it into 240 blocks, each 1 cm3 in volume, and incased the segments in a transparent plastic-like material. He was apparently fired from his position at Princeton Hospital for his refusal to relinquish the famous organ in his possession.
Whether Einstein had permitted the removal and preservation of his brain remains a matter of dispute. Ronald Clark, one of the biographers of Einstein has it in his 1971 lengthy biography of Einstein that “he had insisted that his brain should be used for research and his body be cremated”. Many a Clark reader, however, doubted this claim. For the record, Hans Albert, one of Einstein’ s sons and who went on to become a distinguished professor of hydraulics at the University of California, Berkeley, permitted Harvey to removed his father’s brain on conditioned that it should be used and published in highly intellectual materials.
The preserved brain continued for many years in Harvey’s keeping until it was shared public when a journalist convincingly discovered it to be in the possession of Dr. Harvey in 1978. Harvey himself did not find anything unusual in Einstein’s brain which he found to be as normal as that of any ordinary individual.
Later, Marian C. Diamond, also a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, succeeded to convince Harvey to give her samples of Einstein’s brain in 1980. She made thin sections of the brain and succeeded to count the glial cells with the use of a microscope. Interestingly, Dr. Diamond’s study revealed that Einstein’s brain had more glial cells than in other neurons in all areas taken into consideration; albeit, it was found statistically significant only in the left inferior parietal area, a part of the association complex where the brain function of incorporating and synthesizing information is attributed to. And when Einstein’s ratio of glial cells was compared to the preserved brain of 11 ordinary men, Dr. Diamond found that Einstein’s contained more. As it is normal in the scientific community, Dr. Diamond’s finding was not spared from criticism, constructive though. Diamond herself knew the limitation in her study, having compared Einstein’s brain to only 11 persons. Besides, while at Purdue University, she and a colleague had already discovered that a rat in an enriched environment developed more glial cells in each neuron than its counterpart in an impoverished area; thereby, putting a strong drawback in her discovery of Einstein’s brain having a relatively greater number in glial cells.
In 1999, however, the brain was subject to further scientific scrutiny. For one, a team from Mcmaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada found something strange in Einstein’s brain. Their careful analysis revealed that a region called parietal operculum in the inferior frontal gyrus in the frontal lobe of the brain was vacant. “This unusual brain anatomy may explain why Einstein thought the way he did’, claimed Professor Sandra Witelson, the competent director of the team. But, Professor Laurie Hall of Cambridge University, decried the study, noting that the Canadian team merely based their investigation on the series of photographs by Dr. Harvey which he took in 1955, and not on the actual brain itself. Hall commenting on the study said, “To say there is a definite link is one bridge too far, at the moment. So far the case isn’t proven. But magnetic resonance and other new technologies are allowing us to start to probe those very questions”.