Einstein’s Corpus Callosum Explains His Genius-Level Intellect

Einstein's corpus callosum explains his genius-level intellect

Einstein was undoubtedly one of the most influential physicists of all time, advancing concepts in quantum physics and gaining enormous notoriety for his theory of relativity. Einstein was also a keen philosopher, proclaiming that “… independence by philosophical insight is… the mark of distinction between mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker of truth.

It comes as no surprise that Einstein’s brain appears physiologically distinct from that of the average individual. A recent study has sought to explain the man’s genius-level intellect, in part, based a difference in a structure called the corpus callosum.

Einstein’s Autopsied Brain

Many have attempted to understand what inspired the German-born prodigy. A pathologist, named Dr. Thomas Stoltz Harvey, working at Princeton University, even attempted Imagination is more important than knowledgeto establish whether there was a physiological trait that could explain the inner workings of Einstein’s extraordinary mind.

Einstein died from internal bleeding, following a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. In 1955, Harvey, who was responsible for conducting Einstein’s autopsy, removed his subject’s brain, without requesting the permission of his family. Harvey then preserved Einstein’s brain in formalin, before snapping a vast number of photographs. After documenting the details of the specimen, he carved it up into approximately 240 individual sections, with the principal ambition of allowing the scientific community to research what made Einstein so truly remarkable.

Harvey retained his photographs to write a book, which he was never able to finish. Following Harvey’s demise, his family decided to donate the images to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, during 2010.

Decades after Einstein’s departure, it seems scientists are finally able to figure out the mysteries of the great man’s brain.

The Corpus Callosum Study

The latest research study, entitled The Corpus Callosum of Albert Einstein’s Brain: Another Clue to His High Intelligence, was published in the research journal Brain.

The study demonstrated that the association between the left and right hemispheres of Einstein’s brain were atypical, with enhanced connection between these two parts. Evolutionary Anthropologist, Dean Falk, of Florida State University, collaborated on the project. Falk explains how the study offers greater insight into the illustrious physicist’s brain, improving upon prior research studies.

Corpus callosum connecting the left and right hemispheres

Diagram showing the corpus callosum, connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain

The part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres of the brain is known as the corpus callosum (A.K.A. the colossal commissure), a bundle of neuronal fibers that sits beneath the cerebral cortex, uniting the two hemispheres in the brains of higher order mammals.

The study, which was led by Weiwei Men of East China Normal University, managed to establish a novel technique to explore the “internal connectivity” of Einstein’s corpus callosum, for the very first time.

Using their new method, the team were able to determine the relative thickness of various subdivisions throughout length of the corpus callosum. These differences in thickness were then color-coded to provide the research group with an approximation for the number of neurons stretching between the left and rights hemispheres; a thicker corpus callosum suggests there to be a greater number of neurons.

In addition, different regions of the corpus callosum are implicated in specialist functions. For example, neurons situated at the front of this interlinking region of the brain are involved in movement of hands, whilst neurons running along its posterior are thought to be implicated in mental arithmetic.

The researchers applied their technique to compare Einstein’s corpus callosum to two sample groups, including one group of over a dozen elderly men, and another group of 52 men that were Einstein’s age in 1905. 1905 was a pivotal year in Albert Einstein’s life, publishing seminal articles on Brownian motion, the special theory of relativity, the photoelectric effect, as well as work that yielded the renowned E = mc2 formula.

Following their study, the researchers concluded that Einstein’s brain demonstrated more extensive connections at particular points along the corpus callosum. The team suggest this could, at least partially, explain some of Einstein’s supreme intellectual abilities.

Other Studies

Falk and his colleagues had investigated Einstein’s brain on a previous occasion, in 2012. Simply through analysis of Harvey’s autopsy photographs, the team were able to visibly

Sulcus and gyrus of the human brain are the convolutions

Diagram showing the convolutions of the human brain, comprising grooves (sulci) and ridges (gyri); Einstein was said to have a different pattern of these convolutions

identify features of Einstein’s brain that could be fundamental to the man’s intellect. They found greater intricacy and convolution patterns across certain regions of his brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex, the visual cortex and the parietal lobes.

The prefrontal cortex is critical to abstract thinking, decision-making and expression of personality traits, whilst the parietal lobe is involved in sense and motor function. Intriguingly, Falk’s group found that the somatosensory cortex, which receives sensory input information, was also increased in magnitude in an area that corresponded to his left hand. As Einstein was an avid violinist, after having been inspired by a number of Mozart’s pieces at age 13, the group drew a correlation between this enlarged cortical region and his musical aptitude.

According to Live Science, Sandra Witelson, a scientist based at McMaster University, who has performed prior studies into Einstein’s brain, explained the physiological difference in the physicist’s neural tissue:

“It’s not just that it’s bigger or smaller, it’s that the actual pattern is different… His anatomy is unique compared to every other photograph or drawing of a human brain that has ever been recorded.”

Marion C. Diamond and colleagues, working at the University of California, published an article in 1985, called on the brain of a scientist: Albert Einstein. Fascinatingly, after performing microscopic cell counts, they found Einstein had an exceedingly high ratio of glial cells (a non-neuronal support cell) to regular neuronal cells, in two parts of his brain.

It seems that Albert Einstein’s thicker corpus callosum may have been partly responsible for his genius-level intellect. However, it is likely that a combination of physiological factors played a part shaping the enigmatic theoretical physicist. The question is, will there ever be another extraordinary mind like Einstein’s?

By: James Fenner

Related article: Einstein Quotes and Interesting Facts: Assassination Lists, Autopsied Brains and Socks

Sources:

LV Guardian Express

Brain Journal

Experimental Neurology Journal

Nature News Article

Florida State University Press Release

Live Science

49 Responses to Einstein’s Corpus Callosum Explains His Genius-Level Intellect

  1. mk April 12, 2014 at 3:18 am

    This article was published 6 months ago, but for anyone who’s interested, I think it is important to know exactly what we mean by Einstein being a genius, because genius is actually an extremely vague term, and really doesnt belong in a scientific research paper. We should define Einstein’s genius in relation to other physicists working on similar problems as him at the time, and what THIS shows is that Einstein was a man who had ideas that pretty much no one even came close to imagining. That is, he was about 50 years ahead of his time, maybe even more (many physicists seem to share this opinion, like Brian Greene for example), meaning his ideas weren’t simply a natural extension of the contemporary available knowledge, but a complete leap in terms of logic. I think the findings of these recent studies really support this idea that Einstein’s “genius” was due to this ability to think in a “different” way. The only way that is possible is if his brain is WIRED differently.

    Another well documented fact about Einstein and his peers is that out of the entire community of prominent physicists in the mid-twentieth century, Von Neumann was known to have the sharpest, fastest, and most accurate brain. And yet, in a comparison, theoretical physicist Eugene P. Wigner had this to say:

    “I have known a great many intelligent people in my life. I knew Planck, von Laue and Heisenberg. Paul Dirac was my brother in law; Leo Szilard and Edward Teller have been among my closest friends; and Albert Einstein was a good friend, too. But none of them had a mind as quick and acute as Jansci [John] von Neumann. I have often remarked this in the presence of those men and no one ever disputed me.

    … But Einstein’s understanding was deeper even than von Neumann’s. His mind was both more penetrating and more original than von Neumann’s. And that is a very remarkable statement. Einstein took an extraordinary pleasure in invention. Two of his greatest inventions are the Special and General Theories of Relativity; and for all of Jansci’s brilliance, he never produced anything as original.”

    I think these statements show a lot of consistency with the findings presented in the papers. Von Neumann represented the most efficient implementation of the normal brain architecture, but that brain architecture is one which has been adapted for survival in the wild savannas of Africa. Einstein’s brain was quite possibly a product of some kind of mutation that wired his brain in a different way, to perhaps produce completely new thought processes that were fundamentally of a different kind from normal humans’.

    It’s fascinating and tantalizing to wonder what the possibilities would be if we had multiple iterations of Einsteinian evolution in the brains of our species: What would our thoughts be like? How would we perceive and think about the world?

    Reply
  2. Inkling December 3, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Gotta love that “seeker of truth” reference.

    Reply
  3. Justin Houser October 7, 2013 at 3:50 am

    The genius was there since her and him produced Einstein. God doesn’t play diceheinvetestheuniverse and Einstein predicted that end. Neil’s Boar hated him for his belief in god but still Einstein never questioned his love for God and now no one remixers Boar. As we fight Obamcare in the end we feel gods effect n helping Cruz and patriots of the red side gntain Jhung

    Reply
    • martaze October 7, 2013 at 5:02 am

      O K A Y …. Please ring for the nurse. You’ll be fine as soon as she gives you the meds

      Reply
    • Danny Boson (@Singedrac) October 23, 2013 at 8:56 am

      Einstein didn’t believe in gods. His “god doesn’t play dice with the universe” comment was his rejection of the idea of the nondeterminism suggested by wavefunction probabilities in Quantum Mechanics.

      Reply
  4. Moira Cue October 6, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    The corpus callosum is also 30% larger in women than men — so I’d be curious to see the comparison not only between other men’s brains and Einstein’s, but also if the size of his corpus callosum is average compared to a woman.

    Reply
  5. Shashi Reddy October 6, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    Just wondering that if we didn’t have his brain to study, we wouldn’t have known the superiority of it’s physical structure. If it is truly physiological development as apposed to plasticity due to necessity (i.e his brain developed as he commanded/applied it), so to speak, then, one has to wonder how many genius brains exist undiscovered, and have perished unnoticed and unacknowledged.
    It goes to prove once more that, time, place and opportunities of one’s life count for almost everything of what one becomes in (during and even after) life.

    Reply

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