Monthly Archives: December 2008

Mysteries of the Brain Part – 19 – GENIUS


Do geniuses have a different brain than the rest of us? Are their brains bigger?
Or do their brains have more neurons? We will answer these questions in today’s VERITAS.
And to help us answer these questions we have perhaps the smartest brain of all: Einstein’s brain.

 Ask anyone around you: who do you think was the most intelligent person ever? I bet more than 80% people will say Albert Einstein. Most people do not know what he really did but he has become the icon of genius for the modern world.

 When Einstein died in 1955 his brain was taken out by Thomas Harvey who performed Einstein’s autopsy. The brain was photographed and preserved for scientific research into the nature of genius. Harvey also weighed the brain. It was a modest 2.6 pounds. So Einstein’s brain was just of average size and weight. Harvey did take out Einstein’s brain for scientific study but he refused to part with it afterwards. He was removed from his job for not giving the brain to the hospital where he was working. It was only in 1970s that Harvey entertained requests by scientists to give them samples of Einstein’s brain.

 The brain of the great mathematician Karl Fredrich Gauss has also been studied by scientists and they have found nothing special in that. But Einstein’s brain received a special treatment from scientists who have devoted decades of research to find that one thing that we can identify
with his exceptional intelligence.

 In 1970s researchers working on mice found that the mice that lived in more mentally stimulating environments have more glial cells per neuron then mice that lived in less mentally challenging environments. Glial cells are the support cells for neurons. Glial cells are created and destroyed
throughout the individual’s life( neurons do not increase in number by more than a small amount). Glial cells provide nutrition, hold the neurons in place by forming a sort of glue and they also modulate neurotransmission.

 In the 1980s scientists found that Einstein’s brain had a much larger concentration of glial cells in one part of the brain- the Broadmann area no 39. This part of the brain is responsible for synthesizing information from several brain functions.

 In 1999 another set of scientists noticed some strange anatomical features in Einstein’s brain. Two features of the brain were missing:

1) The operculum region in the frontal lobe of the brain: This part plays an important role in speech production. It is well known that Einstein started speaking very late- his speech was unclear   even at the age of 9 years.

2) Sylvian fissure: This divides the frontal lobe and the parietal lobe. In Einstein’s brain there is no such division. Scientists have proposed that this may have resulted in a better communication between neurons of the frontal lobe and the parietal lobe.

 Also because of the operculum region not being there another part of the brain compensated and became 15% larger than normal: the inferior parietal lobe. And this part is responsible for mathematical thought and visual-spatial imagination. So the mathematical part of the brain developed at the cost of the part of the brain responsible for speech.

 So do these anatomical differences and glial cell numbers tell us why Einstein was a genius. We do not know for sure. We can only know when we have studied the brains of a lot of geniuses. If anatomical abnormalities cause a genius like Einstein then I would be very disappointed. It should not take an abnormal brain to create the theory of relativity. Genius should be the product of the love for knowledge and the ability to play with ideas.  I tend to agree more with Thomas Carlyle’s statement:

       ” Genius is the transcendent capacity of taking trouble”



Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time and regulate the Sun;