Follow-up day

I know we’re reading Beneath the Neon…but I’m finding all sorts of awesome other info relating to our past books, so just indulge me.  Here’s a great article I found today that does indeed indicate that Einstein’s brain isn’t your typical brain.

Albert Einstein’s Brain May Provide Clues To His Genius, Study Says

By Dominique Mosbergen

Posted: 11/17/2012 12:08 am EST

Albert Einstein Brain

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.

einstein
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in Falk, Lepore & Noe 2012, (The cerebral cortex of Albert Einstein: a description and preliminary analysis of unpublished photographs, “Brain”) and are reproduced here with permission from the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, Md.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.”

brain einstein
(Highlights of Einstein’s brain; published in Falk, Lepore & Noe (2012) and are reproduced here with permission from the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, Md.)

For instance, Falk explained to The Huffington Post, parts of Einstein’s frontal lobe are “extra convoluted,” his parietal lobes are in some parts “extraordinarily asymmetrical,” and his primary somatosensory and motor cortices near the regions that typically represent face and tongue are “greatly expanded in the left hemisphere.”

“I was blown away,” she said.

Albert Galaburda, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told Science magazine that “what’s great about this paper is that it puts down…the entire anatomy of Einstein’s brain in great detail.” But, he added, the study raises “very important questions for which we don’t have an answer.”

“Among them are whether Einstein started off with a special brain that predisposed him to be a great physicist, or whether doing great physics caused certain parts of his brain to expand. Einstein’s genius, Galaburda says, was probably due to ‘some combination of a special brain and the environment he lived in,'” the magazine continues.

Interest in Einstein’s brain is by no means a new phenomenon.

As Burrell writes, “the brain of Albert Einstein has acquired a notoriety out of all proportion to its value as an anatomical specimen.”

In 1999, scientists at Ontario’s McMaster University were able to compare the shape and size of Einstein’s brain with those of about 90 people with average intelligence, according to the BBC. The researchers, who used a few of Harvey’s other photographs, found at the time that at least “one area of his brain was significantly different than most people’s.”

Years later, Falk took her first stab at analyzing Einstein’s brain and at the time, had claimed to have identified “a number of previously unrecognized unusual features” of the organ, Science magazine wrote in 2009.

As USA Today reports, the locations of some chunks of Einstein’s brain are still unknown, so “the photos of the full, pre-dissected brain are a real find.”

The door is now open for other scientists to learn more about the legendary physicist’s brain.

“This is a starting place,” Falk told The Huffington Post. “In this study, we [tried to set] the groundwork by thoroughly describing the brain as much as we can, interpreting our findings and suggesting hypotheses for other scientists who will, I’m sure, will want to look at these slides in the future.”

For instance, Falk said, scientists could look at “brains of gifted people and compare them to Einstein’s.”

“There’s a revolution going on in neuroscience right now… and there is technology that can make these images more meaningful,” she said. “We’re still learning from Einstein, all these years after his death.”

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Medical Oddities are my favorite

While I love libraries and books, my real passion is museums; in particular, the Mütter Museum.  It houses medical oddities from be hundreds of years ago until this very day.  Known officially as The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the Mütter is probably the coolest place ever.  Not only does it have death casts of Chang and Eng (the original “Siamese Twins”) but now it has Einstein’s brain.  The following links are videos about the Mütter collection and how the brain came to them.

The Mütter Museum Website (Scroll down on the homepage and watch the video about the brain)

Philadelphia Health Website (Dr. Lucy Rorke-Adams of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia talks about donating 46 slides containing slices of Albert Einstein’s brain to the Mütter)

The quest to find Einstein’s Brain

Video

This is the story of Kenji Sugimoto, professor in Math and Science history at Kinki university in Japan on a pilgrimage to find Einstein’s brain.

Kenji Sugimoto is a professor in mathematics and science history at the Kinki university in Japan.  He has spent thirty years documenting einstein’s life and person. To complete his life’s work, the professor travelled to America in search of the key to the mind of the great thinker.

Two for the price of one

In my research I found that the journey of Einstein’s brain and Dr. Harvey are not a monopoly held by Michael Paterniti.  In 2002 (two years after Driving Mr. Albert was published), Carolyn Abraham wrote the book, Possessing Genius: The Bizarre Odyssey of Einstein’s Brain.

I mention this because her book is cataloged as a biography, so I wonder if it goes into more detail about Einstein himself.  I think this might be the more scholarly piece given its Amazon.com summary:

The story begins in April 1955, when Thomas Stolz Harvey, chief pathologist at Princeton Hospital, found himself in charge of dissecting the cadaver of the greatest scientist of his age, perhaps of any age. He seized the opportunity to do something “noble.” Using an electric saw, Harvey sliced through the skull and gingerly removed the organ that would both define and haunt the rest of his life. Harvey struck a controversial deal with Einstein’s family to keep the brain, swearing to safeguard it from souvenir hunters and publicity seekers, and to make it available only for serious scientific inquiry. Not a neuroscientist himself, he became the unlikely custodian of this object of intense curiosity and speculation, and the self-styled bulwark against the relentless power of Einstein’s growing celebrity.

Bridging the post-war era and the new millennium, Possessing Genius is the first comprehensive account of the circuitous path the brain took with Harvey during the decades it remained in his possession. Harvey permitted Einstein’s gray matter to be sliced, diced, probed, prodded, and weighed by those hoping to solve the enigma and locate the source of genius itself. The brain was more than a subject of scientific investigation, it was a kind of holy relic; the history of its adventures since 1955 reflects the vicissitudes and vanities underpinning what we believe makes us human. Abraham has gathered together all of the fascinating details and documents of the brain’s saga–including previously unpublished correspondence between Harvey and Otto Nathan, the executor of Einstein’s estate—and from them woven a story that is both deeply engrossing and highly illuminating.”

But I’m going to say our read is more fun.  There are still a few weeks before we meet so I may have time to read this and treat it in the same manner I would an author source.  I’ll try.