Analysis

Albert Einstein was a famous theoretical physicist. His brain was removed within seven hours of his death and has attracted attention because of his reputation for being one of the foremost geniuses of the 20th century. Apparent regularities or irregularities in the brain have been used to support various ideas about correlations in neuroanatomy with exceptional intelligence. Scientific studies have suggested that regions involved in speech and language are smaller, while regions involved with numerical and spatial processing are larger.

In the 1980s, University of California professor Marian Diamond persuaded Thomas Harvey to give her samples of Einstein’s brain. She compared the ratio of glial cells in Einstein’s brain with that in the preserved brains of 11 men. Glial cells provide support and nutrition in the brain, form myelin, and participate in signal transmission. Diamond and Joseph Altman had already both discovered that rats with enriched environments developed more glial cells for each neuron. Rats in impoverished environments had fewer glial cells relative for each neuron.

Dr. Diamond’s laboratory made thin sections of Einstein’s brain, each 6 micrometers thick. They then used a microscope to count the cells. Einstein’s brain had more glial cells relative to neurons in all areas studied, but only in the left inferior parietal area was the difference statistically significant. This area is part of the association cortex, regions of the brain responsible for incorporating and synthesizing information from multiple other brain regions.

In 1999, analysis by a team at McMaster University revealed that Einstein’s parietal operculum region in the frontal lobe of the brain was vacant. One notable part of the operculum is Broca’s area, which plays a key role in conversation or speech production, reading and writing. To compensate, the inferior parietal lobe was 15 percent wider than normal. The inferior parietal region is responsible for mathematical thought, visuospatial cognition, and imagery of movement.

Also absent was part of a bordering region called the lateral sulcus. Researchers speculated that the vacancy may have enabled neurons in this part of his brain to communicate better. This unusual brain anatomy may explain why Einstein thought the way he did.

It should be noted that this study was based on photographs of Einstein’s brain made in 1955 by Dr. Harvey, and not direct examination of the brain. Einstein himself claimed that he thought through images rather than verbally. Professor Laurie Hall of Cambridge University commenting on the study, said, “So far the case isn’t proven, but magnetic resonance and other new technologies are allowing us to start to probe those very questions”.

Einstein was speculated to have Asperger’s Syndrome. The condition is characterized by qualitative impairment in social interaction, by stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities and interests, and by no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language. Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness are typical of the condition.

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