My headline may be a bit misleading. Albert Einstein, the Nobel prize-winning physicist who gave the world the theory of relativity, E = mc2, and the law of the photoelectric effect, obviously had a special brain. So special that when he died in Princeton Hospital, on April 18, 1955, the pathologist on call, Thomas Harvey, stole it.
Einstein didn’t want his brain or body to be studied; he didn’t want to be worshipped. “He had left behind specific instructions regarding his remains: cremate them, and scatter the ashes secretly in order to discourage idolaters,” writes Brian Burrell in his 2005 book, Postcards from the Brain Museum.
But Harvey https://www.hookupdate.net/escort-index/fargo took the brain anyway, without permission from Einstein or his family. “When the fact came to light a few days later, Harvey managed to solicit a reluctant and retroactive blessing from Einstein’s son, Hans Albert, with the now-familiar stipulation that any investigation would be conducted solely in the interest of science,” Burrell writes.
Harvey soon lost his job at the Princeton hospital and took the brain to Philadelphia, where it was carved into 240 pieces and preserved in celloidin, a hard and rubbery form of cellulose. He divvied up the pieces into two jars and stored them in his basement.
After [Harvey’s] wife threatened to dispose of the brain, he returned to retrieve it and took it with him to the Midwest. For a time he worked as a medical supervisor in a biological testing lab in Wichita, Kansas, keeping the brain in a cider box stashed under a beer cooler. He moved again, to Weston, Missouri, and practiced medicine while trying to study the brain in his spare time, only to lose his medical license in 1988 after failing a three-day competency exam. The two men routinely met for drinks on Burroughs’s front porch. Harvey would tell stories about the brain, about cutting off chunks to send to researchers around the world. Burroughs, in turn, would boast to visitors that he could have a piece of Einstein any time he wanted.
He then relocated to Lawrence, Kansas, took an assembly-line job in a plastic-extrusion factory, moved into a second-floor apartment next to a gas station, and befriended a neighbor, the beat poet William Burroughs
To fast forward a bit: Come 1985, Harvey and collaborators in California published the first study of Einstein’s brain, claiming that it had an abnormal proportion of two types of cells, neurons and glia. The researchers behind these studies say studying Einstein’s brain could help uncover the neurological underpinnings of intelligence.
But that premise is nonsense and the studies are bunk, at least according to Terence Hines, a professor of psychology at Pace University.
That study was followed by five others (the most recent published just this month), reporting additional differences in individual cells or in particular structures in Einstein’s brain
A couple of weeks ago, Hines presented a poster at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society annual meeting outlining all of the ways in which each of the six studies is flawed. Some highlights:
–In the original 1985 report, Harvey and his collaborators found that in Brodmann Area 39 – a region where the temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes meet – Einstein’s neuron-to-glia ratio was significantly smaller than it was in the same area in 11 control brains. But the control group was not all that well controlled: the brains came from people age 47 to 80 years old, whereas Einstein died at age 76. The controls brains were also fresh, whereas Einstein’s had been languishing in basements and beer coolers for three decades. Perhaps most problematic, counting cells is a subjective business, and the researchers performing the cell counts were not blind to which tissue was Einstein’s and which was not.