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February 24, 2024

What's so special about Albert Einstein's brain?

By JOSH SCARALIA | October 18, 2013

According to Albert Einstein, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” Indubitably, these are words of wisdom from a wise man.

A close second to understanding the income tax relates to the man behind the quote; why was Einstein so smart?

Recent research released by Dr. Weiwei Man of the East China Normal University shows that Einstein’s corpus callosum, the area if the brain that facilitates interhemispheric communication, was had an increased thickness with respect to the norm.

The study compared Einstein’s brain to two different control groups; one consisting of 14 72-year-old men (Einstein’s age at his death) and 56 26-year-old men (Einstein’s age during his “Golden Year” in which he released his Theory of Special Relativity). By measuring the lengths of Einstein’s brain hemispheres and callosal areas from previously taken photographs and comparing them with MRIs from the control groups, researchers determined that Einstein had a peculiarly large corpus callosum.

This study necessitated two major assumptions about the brain; that increased callosal area indicated an increase in the total number of fiber connections of the corpus callosum and that post mortem shrinkage in the corpus callosum shows uniformity across all of its subsections.

There are two major components of the central nervous system; white matter and grey matter. Grey matter controls muscular movements whereas white matter controls signal transmission between the cerebrum and other areas of the brain. The corpus callosum holds the largest bundle of white matter fibers in the brain.

Many claim that Albert Einstein was right handed therefore all participants examined were right handed. Even though this may be the case, an autopsy of Einstein’s brain shows that neither hemisphere of his brain shows any signs of dominance. Usually, left handed people have right hemisphere dominance and vice versa for right handed people. Einstein’s brain shows perfect symmetry.

When Einstein died in 1955, Thomas Harvey autopsied his brain. During his study of Einstein’s brain, he sliced it into sections and took pictures for a book he planned on writing. However, Thomas died before he could get it published. The currently held belief is that the pictures of Einstein’s brain remained hidden from public view until Thomas Harvey’s family befriended the coauthor. Einstein’s brain was preserved and stored for later studies.

Early studies of Einstein’s brain yielded an intriguing conclusion; despite his genius, Einstein’s brain was smaller and weighed less than the average brain of a man of his stature. So how do you explain his genius? Einstein’s preserved brain was released in 1985 when it was discovered that Einstein’s brain had an increased concentration of glia, cells that support neurons. This could explain his increased level of thought as neurons transmit information through the nervous system.

Further studies in the 1990s showed that Einstein’s brain was in fact missing an essential groove in the cerebral cortex that is essential for mathematical and spacial reasoning. Researchers speculated that this missing groove allowed for increased neural connections in the brain thus leading to his brilliance.

In 2012, Dr. Dean Falk at Florida State University released a study that showed the Einstein’s brain had an extremely complicated prefrontal cortex with multiple layers of folding. The prefrontal cortex is involved in abstract thought, therefore Dr. Falk concluded that Einstein’s complicated prefrontal cortex allowed for his increased level of thought needed for the development of his complex theories of relativity.

The most recent study by Dr. Weiwei Man adds another level of mystery as to why Einstein was so smart. Nevertheless, as more studies get released deeper questioning about nature versus nurture arise. If the structure of Einstein’s brain allowed for his genius, will a mind like his ever exist again? Is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity the result of his thick corpus callosum or his complicated prefrontal cortex?

Many people are of the mindset that Einstein’s brain, although complicated and allowing for elevated thought, is not an isolated incident, relatively speaking of course.


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