A new study has been published and is making the rounds in the media, claiming to have unlocked the secrets to Einstein’s genius based on the structure of the corpus callosum of his brain.
Einstein’s Brain: ‘Unusually Well-Connected’ Hemispheres Led To His Genius, Study Suggests
Albert Einstein’s brain had unusually well-connected left and right hemispheres, according to a study published in the journal Brain. The study, led by Weiwei Men of East China Normal University’s Department of Physics, suggests that this connectivity in Einstein’s brain may have contributed to his genius. Men and his team drew this conclusion from detailing Einstein’s corpus callosum, the bundle of fibers connecting the two cerebral hemispheres, the first time such a analysis has been done on Einstein’s brain.
“This study, more than any other to date, really gets at the ‘inside’ of Einstein’s brain,” said Dean Falk, a Florida State University evolutionary anthropologist and a co-author of the study. “It provides new information that helps make sense of what is known about the surface of Einstein’s brain.”
Men’s team analyzed photographs of Einstein’s corpus callosum to measure its thickness, comparing these measurements to the corpus callosums of a group of 15 elderly men and a group of 52 26-year-old men. The latter age group was chosen because that was Einstein’s age in 1905, the “miracle year” in which he published four articles that shaped the foundation of modern physics.
The researchers found that parts of Einstein’s corpus callosum were thicker than the other subjects, indicating a larger number of nerves running between the two hemispheres. These connections were more extensive than the other subjects, something which is believed to lead to greater interhemispheric communication.
I should start by saying I am not a neurologist and therefore can’t give an expert opinion on this matter. However, having studied quite a bit of literature on Einstein’s brain for a previous post, I can only look at this study with extreme skepticism.
After Einstein’s death, his brain was studied extensively by Doctor Harry Zimmerman, a highly accomplished neuropathologist. Zimmerman never published anything about the brain, because he found nothing noteworthy. Both Zimmerman and other pathologists found the brain to be relatively average for a man of Einstein’s age. There were a few deviations from the average human brain. The lateral sulcus is shorter than most and some differences in the partial lobe had been found.
There have been a few studies on the brain, attempting to explain Einstein’s genius through both macroscopic and microscopic differences in his brain. One of the first claimed that a high number of gilial cells explained Einstein’s intellect. Yet this is disputed by the fact that gilial cells tend to increase with age and the brains Einstein’s was compared to were younger. Other studies have focused on the uncommon macroscopic features of Einstein’s brain.
Yet none of the features have really been especially striking, not even by the pathologists who spent the most time studying the actual brain after Einstein’s death. The human brain is a complex organ and no two are exactly the same. Few of us will have a brain that falls directly down the center of human averages, since the averages include extremes. Furthermore, the macroscopic structure of a brain does not necessarily reveal how it works internally. The brain can be very plastic and function is not obvious from post-mortum examination.
To say Einstein’s brain had features that are unusual would be like saying that a person who is 6’5″ is unusual. Yes, it is taller than most people. You could probably go all day without seeing someone that tall. But it is hardly extraordinary. There are, in fact, people that tall and it’s not something you’ll never see if you meet enough people.
Thus, I remain skeptical. I honestly think they are barking up the wrong tree. Einstein was a brilliant scientist, but his contributions likely have more to do with his education, upbringing, curiosity and the simple fact that he came up with some ideas nobody else had. It’s not likely the result of a structural difference in his brain.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 at 8:47 am and is filed under Bad Science, Good Science, History, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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