Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Einstein's brain bits : a fascinating brainy story

This is the gross but somehow fascinating story of what happened to Einstein's brain. After Albert Einstein died in 1955, his brain was removed for "scientific study". No proper forms or processes were followed here. The pathologist, Dr. Thomas Harvey, just removed it without anyone's permission, in the hopes of gaining reknown for himself following research on Einstein's brain.  Einstein's son, Hans Albert, was furious to later discover that his dad's body was cremated sans brain. Albert did not want his remains used for study. Harvey convinced Hans to let him (Harvey) find some brain specialists and to publish their findings soon. Well, long story short, nothing happened. Remember Einstein died in 1955.

Time passes and it is 1978. A reporter, Steven Levy, is sent to find Einstein's brain at Princeton Medical Center, now known as Princeton Hospital, and it is not there. Where is it? What happened to it?  Harvey was alive in Wichita, Kansas. Harvey still hoped to publish about Einstein's brain. Harvey has the brain in mason jars in the medical lab he is currently working in. Levy published an article about it describing the brain in the New Jersey Monthly. Between 1955 and 1978 Harvey had the brain photographed, sectioned, and slides created. He sent examples to various brain men who saw nothing unique about it. The US Army tried to get the brain, thinking it would unlock secrets for them and be a weapon against the Soviets. Meanwhile Harvey lost his job, his marriage fail, and he never accomplished any of the research he had hoped to do with Einstein's Brain.

Following the not academic nor peer-reviewed article about The Brain, Levy was suddenly inundated with brain specialists and major scientific research papers (imagine that!). Harvey sent some examples of the brain and brain research on them actually began. Remember this is now 1985. The brain has been dead since 1955 and not all of it is there anymore.

Studies showed Einstein's brain appeared to have some differences compared to other brains. Some parts were more intense, allowing for faster processing of info, the section for spatial cognition and mathematical thought was wider than the norm and better integrated,  there is an extra ridge in the mid-frontal lobe which makes plans and has working member, and Einstein's corpus callosum, connecting both brain hemispheres is unusually thick, this is correlated to left-handed musicians. What scientists don't know is if Hemingway's brain developed this way over time or if he was born this way. The brain bits are now in the possession of Dr. Elliot Kraus at Princeton, but now researchers can access it.

Read more about it here

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