Human Intelligence

What happened to Einstein's brain?
Answered by Charles W. Bryant and Discovery Channel
  • Charles W. Bryant

    Charles W. Bryant

  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Charles W. Bryant Co-Host, Stuff You Should Know
    After Einstein passed away in 1955 at the age of 76, a Princeton University pathologist named Thomas Harvey removed the physicist's brain during an autopsy, and kept it in hopes of studying it to unlock the secret of Einstein's genius. Harvey said he secured permission to study the brain after the fact from one of Einstein's sons with the promise that the findings would be published in medical journals.

    After measuring the brain, which was no larger than average, Harvey had a colleague dissect it into 240 pieces, which he preserved and began sending to various neurologists to evaluate. For a long time, there was nothing to publish because there were no findings that Einstein's brain was any different than anyone else's.

    It would take 30 years before any findings revealed anything of interest. In 1985, Dr. Marian Diamond found that Einstein had a higher than normal amount of glial cells, which help neurons to operate more efficiently. Diamond's research, however, was later discredited in certain circles.

    Ten years later, another scientist found that Einstein's brain had a parietal lobe that was 15 percent larger than the average brain's. It's no coincidence that this part of the brain helps with three-dimensional and spatial reasoning and mathematical abilities, something Einstein knew a thing or two about. The parietal lobe was also missing the Sylvian fissure, a divider that separates the parietal lobe into two sections. It's theorized that the lack of the fissure allowed his brain cells to communicate faster than the average human's.

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  2. Albert Einstein's body was cremated following his death. Following the autopsy, his brain was salvaged (or stolen, depending on your point of view) by Princeton Hospital pathologist Thomas Harvey. Harvey hoped to unlock the secrets of what made Einstein a genius by sending more than 200 carefully prepared pieces of the great mind's brain to leading scientists around the world. Near the end of his life, having tried and failed to find its magical secrets, Harvey returned Einstein's brain to Princeton Hospital, giving it to another pathologist there, who essentially held the same job as Harvey had.

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