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The Whereabouts of Dr. Einstein's Brain

Article #54 • Written by Alan Bellows

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Dr. Albert Einstein died on April 18, 1955 at Princeton Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey. In accordance with his wishes, he was cremated without ceremony on the same day, and his ashes scattered at an undisclosed location. But the body that arrived at the cremation oven was not quite complete... it was lacking its brain.

That's because Einstein's brain was sitting in a jar of formaldehyde in Dr. Thomas Harvey's office. Dr. Harvey was the pathologist who performed Einstein's autopsy, and while doing so, he removed and kept the brain for his own study. Some say that Einstein volunteered his brain for research, but the executor of his estate denies this, saying that it was Einstein's son Hans who made the decision to have it preserved. But the press soon learned that Einstein's brain had been set aside for study, and antagonized Einstein's family with unwanted attention.

Dr. Harvey became very protective of the brain, and divided it into 240 sections, which he kept in jars at his house. Despite being in possession of the organ for years, he never published any findings, saying that he was unable to find anything unusual about it. But over the years he gave away samples of the brain to various researchers, and one such recipient, Dr. Marian Diamond from UC Berkeley, studied the brain and discovered some interesting features.

A brain's network of neurons are fed and nourished by cells called glial cells. Dr. Diamond compared the percentage of glial cells in Einstein's brain to that of other men who died at the age he did, and found that his contained about 73% more than the average. This indicated that Einstein's neurons probably had a greater metabolic need; they needed and used more energy.

For years, Dr. Harvey toted the rest of the brain with him every time he relocated, until in 1996 when he moved back to New Jersey. There, Dr. Harvey surrendered the remaining pieces of Einstein's brain to Dr. Elliot Krauss, the chief pathologist at Princeton Hospital. Soon the brain was subjected to some serious scientific scrutiny. Scientists from McMaster University were given access to it, and they discovered that Einstein's brain was remarkable in several other ways.

The researchers found that Einstein's brain was 15% wider than average, due to the fact that the inferior parietal regions on both hemispheres were much more developed than most. This would have given Einstein some powerful visualization skills, given that these regions of the brain are largely responsible for visuospatial cognition, mathematical thought, and imagery of movement. They also found that Einstein's brain lacked the groove which usually runs through part of this area, which suggests that the neurons might have been able to work together more easily given their proximity.

During his life, Einstein was quick to downplay his own intellect, being heard to remark, "The contrast between the popular assessment of my powers ... and the reality is simply grotesque." On another occasion, he said, "I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious." But his achievements during his life and the examination of his brain after his death have indicated that he possessed a mind capable of great leaps of insight and visualization.

These days, Einstein's brain spends most of its time sitting in jars of formaldehyde at Princeton Hospital, no doubt waiting to unlock even more insight into the mysterious construction of a genius mind. "The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious," Albert Einstein once said. "It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science."

Smart lad.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 21 November 2005. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

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33 Comments
Jason Bellows
Posted 21 November 2005 at 05:42 pm

Ah, but this begs the question, did the enhanced brain cause his spectacular thinking, or was it all that thinking that built up his brain?


Alan Bellows
Posted 21 November 2005 at 06:13 pm

Jason Bellows said: "Ah, but this begs the question, did the enhanced brain cause his spectacular thinking, or was it all that thinking that built up his brain?"

Some of each, I would venture. The increased count of glial cells may very well be caused by his hard thinking, and the enlarged inferior parietal regions could be cause or effect. But I'd bet the unique structure of lacking the sulcus (the groove in the inferior parietal regions) is part of what gave him his enormous thinking powers, not the other way around.

No way to know for sure, of course.


Josh Harding
Posted 22 November 2005 at 06:23 am

I wish there wasnt a groove in my sulcus...


raymond
Posted 22 November 2005 at 04:55 pm

Jason Bellows said: "Ah, but this begs the question, "

actually it does not "beg the question", it may "bring us to ask the question" but it definately is not a logical fallacy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beg_the_question


Alan Bellows
Posted 22 November 2005 at 05:14 pm

raymond said: "actually it does not “beg the question”, it may “bring us to ask the question” but it definately is not a logical fallacy."

That depends on whether you subscribe to the notion that language evolves through its misuse. The "wrong" usage of the phrase is not only more intuitive, but also more common than the "correct" usage.


rk_cr
Posted 22 November 2005 at 05:23 pm

And think of the many ways we mis-use our language. Just today someone brought up the point of economics terms flooding our own vocabulary about moral life. What about our "values," our "deficits of morality," or what a person is "worth"? What is "interesting" to someone?


Alan Bellows
Posted 22 November 2005 at 05:51 pm

rk_cr said: "And think of the many ways we mis-use our language. Just today someone brought up the point of economics terms flooding our own vocabulary about moral life. What about our “values,” our “deficits of morality,” or what a person is “worth”? What is “interesting” to someone?"

..."morally bankrupt" being another example. Good point.


raymond
Posted 22 November 2005 at 08:22 pm

I was just being snarky with the whole "begs the question" complaint. But your responses begs the question : in all of languge, is meaning restricted by context? To me (and hopefully to some of you) it is not a matter of evolution nor what was the definition in the past. Begs the quetion is still a logical fallacy even if it phrase has a different "modern" usage.

I just find it silly (and interesting) that an incorrect usage has also become the most abundant form of the phrase.


lucidparody
Posted 23 November 2005 at 02:43 pm

Actually, the original poster could be using the phrase "it begs the question" correctly, if he meant, not that there was a fallacy, but rather the article begs us to ask the question...

using it in this manner would be similar to using the phrase "I beg to differ."


Bryan Lowder
Posted 23 November 2005 at 05:56 pm

Er... How 'bout that wacky pickled brain!


Secret Ninja
Posted 23 November 2005 at 08:42 pm

How about that cute old guy lookin like hes gonna munch on it?


JustAnotherName
Posted 26 November 2005 at 06:44 am

Loved all your posts. I just heard the other day on TV that they lost President Kennedys' brain. And no, I never know if it is just an S, 'S or S'. I cannot remember the rules, I just take a guess and hope no one else knows.


Alex
Posted 26 November 2005 at 03:37 pm

That old guy, who I'm assuming is Dr. Harvey, looks too happy to be in possession of Einstein's brain. I mean, unless you can somehow construct a robot of some sort of cybornetic being to USE the brain, the actual study would be lacking.

Better idea: travel back in time and snatch up Einstein and have him explain his brain to us.


May1228
Posted 07 December 2005 at 11:46 pm

Just today (Dec. 7, 2005) on the news a lady said that we were "celebrating the 64th anniversary of Pearl Harbor".

I thought it was strange how she chose the word "celebrating"... why would we (US citizens) celebrate that date? Shouldn't she have used "recognizing" or something like that.
That just goes along with the whole "notion that language evolves through its misuse". I just don't think that should be acceptable.


cedricindra
Posted 12 December 2005 at 03:22 am

An interesting bit of information i have chanced upon reading about Einstein is that he had more ease (and probably more satisfaction) communicating with children in a social context than with adults. It wouldn't surprise me in the least bit for it seems children are less bound to restrictions of any sort (language and understanding notably) than adults are.


rp2
Posted 12 December 2005 at 11:48 am

May1228 said: "Just today (Dec. 7, 2005) on the news a lady said that we were "celebrating the 64th anniversary of Pearl Harbor".


I thought it was strange how she chose the word "celebrating"… why would we (US citizens) celebrate that date? Shouldn't she have used "recognizing" or something like that.
That just goes along with the whole "notion that language evolves through its misuse". I just don't think that should be acceptable."

That was the most off-topic comment I've ever seen. Was there any mention of Einstein at all?? It would have been better if they quoted someone, and then commented, or even just left out the entire comment. Oh well, thats all I have to say. :P

btw, I have a cat named Einstein...


Hayley
Posted 24 May 2006 at 08:01 pm

I wonder if they'll find a way to turn our brains Einstein-like after birth...or genetically breed us to have Einsteinian brains. Or if he just grew it that way after the fact. You'd think he'd be predisposed to grow a stronger brain, no?


Old Man
Posted 12 February 2007 at 10:59 pm

Does no one else care that this man's brain (and a great man's brain, too) was removed without his permission and has been jealously guarded, cut up, immersed in formaldehyde, studied, and allowed to sit around in jars?

What Einstein said about mystery was very valuable. Knowledge is meaningless without dignity and respect.

They've butchered and sliced it enough. Cremate it or inter it.


thapelo
Posted 21 April 2007 at 11:41 am

Wow!! what's that stealing a dead man's brain? for so many years it does not rot? is there anyway i can get hold of that genius brain? it sounds interesting.


My2Cents
Posted 02 October 2007 at 11:40 am

I was pondering that same thing: Did his brain start out that way or did he make it that way? I wonder if there would be any way to see if you can change your brain physically? Maybe somehow we could look at a person's brain when they're like 10 yrs old and then again after the person has passed on.

The fact that his brain was kept in a jar in some guy's office made me think of a funny email I got like a year ago. It told of funny &/or stupid things that had actually been said inside the courtroom. One of them went: Lawyer: "Dr. (whatever his name was), are you sure that the subject was dead before you performed the autopsy?" Dr.: "Yes, I was quite sure." Lawyer: "How could you be so sure?" Dr.: "Because I had his brain in a jar on my desk." Lawyer: "But isn't it still possible that he could have still been alive?" Dr.: "Yes, I believe he could have been alive and practicing law."


cabp
Posted 02 April 2008 at 12:08 am

Why don't they clone his brain ???


dentarthurdent
Posted 22 April 2008 at 02:06 am

Old Man said: "Does no one else care that this man's brain (and a great man's brain, too) was removed without his permission and has been jealously guarded, cut up, immersed in formaldehyde, studied, and allowed to sit around in jars?"

Most definitely. The guy deserves way more respect than that.


TS_Curious
Posted 29 January 2009 at 09:20 am

Does anyone else read these comments sections and think of the characters on "Big Bang Theory" the TV show?


Gunerjimbo
Posted 20 May 2009 at 10:21 am

his brain is on my dick


bubaks
Posted 10 August 2009 at 12:16 am

dentarthurdent said: "Old Man said: “Does no one else care that this man’s brain (and a great man’s brain, too) was removed without his permission and has been jealously guarded, cut up, immersed in formaldehyde, studied, and allowed to sit around in jars?”
Most definitely. The guy deserves way more respect than that."

Respect is showed in different ways by different people. Throwing his brain into a fire, or burying it in the soil isn't exactly respect to me. I feel that the greatest respect one could give a dead man is utilizing his body parts and let as little as possible go to waste.

If he is dead he's not gonna care what happens to his body right? He is dead for Christ's sake. But if it was his wish to be cremated (brain included), then i guess the ethical thing to do is honor those wishes..?


ashley_chemistry
Posted 05 March 2010 at 07:08 am

Einstein was a product of incest. I wonder did this have any influence on the development of his remarkable brain?


nikrulz1106
Posted 19 June 2010 at 07:04 am

Find few more interesting things at http://www.allfaltugyan.com


John
Posted 30 October 2012 at 11:37 pm

Albert Einstein actually had an enlarged Parietal Lobe, where the visual spatial thinking resides. There is some thought amongst klinefelters (genetically 47XXY) (whom also have an enlarged parietal lobe), that Einstein, was a 47XXY (mosaic).


Samantha
Posted 22 April 2013 at 02:47 pm

i read from a article online that they took his eyes too and gave them to his eye doctor but i dont know if what they said was true and was his brain not a normal size when he was born or was him thinking more cause it to grow cuz i read books on him and it said even when he was born he had a odd shaped head thats why they said he looked like he was stupid and wouldnt talk but what people dont know is that he didnt want to talk untill he knew how to talk in compleat sentences and was putting them together in his mind


Samantha
Posted 22 April 2013 at 02:48 pm

John said: "Albert Einstein actually had an enlarged Parietal Lobe, where the visual spatial thinking resides. There is some thought amongst klinefelters (genetically 47XXY) (whom also have an enlarged parietal lobe), that Einstein, was a 47XXY (mosaic)."

can u put that in english please


leslie64
Posted 30 December 2013 at 02:43 pm

Jason Bellows said: "Ah, but this begs the question, did the enhanced brain cause his spectacular thinking, or was it all that thinking that built up his brain?"

Just watching a show on Ancient Aliens, which enviably brought up Einstein and the whole can't travel faster than the speed of light thing, which then made me start typing stuff in my web browser, which then led me to your comment which was right up the alley I was travelling. I agree with your train of thought. Is a person born with the gift of exceptional thought or is the brain trained by a God given (or whatever you believe in) talent and interest in a given subject?

It is my belief that anyone can be an Einstein if only they would pull their heads out of their butts and actually follow up on an idea they have. I also must say that I respect Einstein and all he was able to achieve, but I really don't think Einstein was as smart as people think. He only appears that way to stupid people. That is to say, the way Einstein appears to the common man is similar to the rear-view mirror in your car which appears to make far away object seem closer.

Les


ivette diaz
Posted 15 August 2014 at 01:21 pm

Very interesting. I had read that Einstein would play the violin when he would be stuck on any work he was doing. He said he used to find answers through music. It was his creativity that would find the answers for him.

The reason this is interesting is because they state that his section of the brain that is responsible for this was more developed. His brain was also 15% larger than a normal human brain for his age.

As we know, the brain is a muscle that we could all develop. Don't be discouraged my friends, we could all have a brain similar to Einsteins IF we want to.


Marian IONESCU-VLASCEANU
Posted 07 October 2014 at 07:13 am

Whwn the science will be good enough (nanotechnology, regenerative medicine) they will resurrect and rejuvenate his brain, put it in a fresh stem cells body and talk with him.


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