Uncommon features of Einstein’s brain might explain his remarkable cognitive abilities
November 23, 2012
Portions of Albert Einstein’s brain have been found to be unlike those of most people and could be related to his extraordinary cognitive abilities, according to a new study led by Florida State University evolutionary anthropologist Dean Falk.
Falk and colleagues examined the entire cerebral cortex of Einstein’s brain based on 14 recently discovered photographs. The researchers compared Einstein’s brain to 85 “normal” human brains and, in light of current functional MRI imaging studies, interpreted its unusual features.
“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, the Hale G. Smith Professor of Anthropology at Florida State.
“These may have provided the neurological underpinnings for some of his visuospatial and mathematical abilities, for instance.”
Upon Einstein’s death in 1955, his brain was removed and photographed from multiple angles with the permission of his family. Furthermore, it was sectioned into 240 blocks from which histological slides were prepared. Unfortunately, a great majority of the photographs, blocks and slides were lost from public sight for more than 55 years. The 14 photographs used by the researchers now are held by the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
Einstein’s thought experiments
The open-access paper also publishes the “roadmap” to Einstein’s brain prepared in 1955 by Dr. Thomas Harvey to illustrate the locations within Einstein’s previously whole brain of 240 dissected blocks of tissue, which provides a key to locating the origins within the brain of the newly emerged histological slides.
“Our results also suggest that Einstein had relatively expanded prefrontal cortices, which may have provided underpinnings for some of his extraordinary cognitive abilities, including his productive use of thought experiments,” the paper states.
“From an evolutionary perspective, the specific parts of Einstein’s prefrontal cortex that appear to be differentially expanded are of interest because recent findings indicate that these same areas increased differentially in size and became neurologically reorganized at microanatomical levels during hominin evolution in association with the emergence of higher cognitive abilities.”