THE MYSTERY OF EINSTEIN'S BRAIN
On April 18, 1955, Albert Einstein died, 76 years old. He
was hugely popular and widely identified with the figure of
Although he had requested that his body be cremated, he had
accepted that his brain be saved and studied for research.
Dr. Thomas S. Harvey, the pathologist at Princeton at the
time of Einstein's death, removed Einstein's brain and fixed
it rapidly in formaldehyde to preserve the nerve cells before
What happened to the brain for years after this is one of
the less known cases of weird science.
In the mid 1970s, the reporter Steven Levy set out to find
Einstein's brain. Mr. Levy published his story in 1978. He
discovered that Einstein's brain was still with Dr. Harvey
who was now in Wichita, Kansas. The brain was in two mason
jars in a cardboard box that was marked with the words "Costa
Cider". Most of the brain, except for the cerebellum and parts
of the cerebral cortex, had been sliced.
Since then, the morphological differences of Einstein's brain
with 'normal' brains have been studied in at least 3 published
articles, with unclear results.
One paper, titled "On the Brain of a Scientist: Albert Einstein"
was published in 1985 in the journal Experimental Neurology
(vol. 88, pages 198-204, 1985) and written by Marian C. Diamond,
Arnold B. Scheibel, Greer M. Murphy and Thomas Harvey. These
scientists counted the number of neurons (nerve cells) and
glial cells in four areas of Einstein's brain, and the ratios
of neurons to glial cells in Einstein's brain were compared
to those from the brains of 11 men who died at the average
age of 64. Only in one of the fours areas were the differences
statically significant, but the composition of the control
group could have affected the results.
A second paper describing Einstein's brain was published in
1996. Einstein's brain weighed only 1,230 grams, which is
far less than the average adult male brain (about 1,400 grams).
The authors also reported that the thickness of Einstein's
cerebral cortex (area 9) was thinner than that of five control
brains. However, the density of neurons in Einstein's brain
Finally a recent study concerning Einstein's brain was published
in the British medical journal The Lancet (vol. 353, pages
2149-2153) on June 19, 1999. In this paper, the external surface
characteristics of Einstein's brain were compared to those
from the brains of 35 men (average age, 57 years old). Unlike
the brain of these 35 men, Einstein's brain had an unusual
pattern of grooves on both right and left parietal lobes.
This particular area of the parietal lobe is thought to be
important for mathematical abilities and spatial reasoning.
Einstein's brain had a much shorter lateral groove that was
partially missing. His brain was also 15% wider than the other
The researchers think that these unique brain characteristics
may have allowed better connections between neurons important
for math and spatial reasoning.
In fact, none of the above studies is likely to provide an
explanation of the exceptional skills of Albert Einstein.
They rather say something about our perception of genius as
something 'hardwired' in the brain connections rather than
in the history of a person, so much that one expects to find
actual physical differences in the brain of what we consider
Notice that the notion of genius itself is highly relative.
For example, also the brain of Lenin was removed and studied
by scientists. Lenin was the leader of the Russian revolution
in 1917. After his death in 1924, his brain was removed and
the Soviet government commissioned the german neuroscientist
Oskar Vogt to study it. Vogt spent two and a half years preparing
and studying Lenin's brain. He finally published a paper on
the brain in 1929 where he reported that some neurons in a
certain area of the cerebral cortex of Lenin's brain were
very numerous and large. Once more, it is not clear if the
relevance of this study was scientific or rather political.
BOOKS: Magic Trees of the Mind. Marian C. Diamond, Ph.D.