Called the “embodiment of pure intellect,” Albert Einstein has long been considered one of the most brilliant men who ever lived. During his life and since his death, people everywhere have wondered how one man could have possessed such genius. Now, scientists may have uncovered a clue within the physicist’s unusual brain. The images of Einstein’s brain are published in Falk, Lepore & Noe 2012, (The cerebral cortex of Albert Einstein: a description and preliminary analysis of unpublished photographs, “Brain”) and are reproduced here with permission from the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, Md.
According to a new study led by Florida State University evolutionary anthropologist Dean Falk, “portions of Einstein’s brain have been found to be unlike those of most people and could be related to his extraordinary cognitive abilities.”
“Certain things are normal,” Falk told The Huffington Post in a phone interview. “Brain size is normal. Overall shape is asymmetrical, and that is normal. What is unusual is the complexity and convolution in the various parts of the brain.”
According to a written statement issued by the university, the study, published Nov. 16 in the journal “Brain,” reveals the description of Einstein’s entire cerebral cortex. To do this, Falk and her colleagues examined 14 recently uncovered photographs of Einstein’s brain — photos that, Falk said, were difficult to obtain.
When Einstein died in 1955, his brain was removed by Thomas Harvey, a doctor at the hospital where the physicist died, NPR notes. It is likely that Harvey never got permission to remove the brain, but as author Brian Burrell writes in “Postcards from the Brain Museum,” the doctor got a posthumous stamp of approval from Einstein’s son. Harvey had said that he intended to study the brain, or at the very least, to find other scientists to do so — something that was never satisfactorily achieved in the doctor’s lifetime.
Still, scientists are now able to study Einstein’s brain thanks to a number of photos and specimen slides that Harvey had prepared of the organ. The brain, which was photographed from multiple angles, also has been sectioned into 240 blocks from which histological slides were made.
As the FSU statement notes, most of the photographs, blocks and slides were lost from public sight for more than 55 years; fortunately, a number of them have been recently rediscovered and some can now be found at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. It was with a few of these images, 14 to be exact, that Falk and her colleagues were able to take a closer look at Einstein’s brain.
What they discovered was astonishing.
“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,” said Falk, who compared the organ to 85 other human brains already described in the scientific literature. “These may have provided the neurological underpinnings for some of his visuospatial and mathematical abilities.”