Posts Tagged ‘driving mr. albert’


Albert Einstein died on April 18, 1955. President Dwight Eisenhower said of him, “No other man contributed so much to the vast expansion of 20th Century knowledge. Yet no other man was more modest in the possession of the power that is knowledge, more sure that power without wisdom is deadly.”

Einstein was cremated the day of his death in Trenton, New Jersey. It was a low-key service with only a dozen people in attendance and his ashes were scattered so that his final resting place wouldn’t become a tourist attraction or scientific Mecca.

But one part of his body was not burned and did not end up in the four winds. Some would argue it was the most important part of Einstein…his brain.

During the routine autopsy of Einstein’s body at Princeton Hospital, Pathologist Thomas Harvey removed the brain and decided to embalm it.

The removal was discovered the next day when Harvey’s son let the secret slip in his class.

Harvey said his reason was that he believed there was scientific value in studying the brain.

When word of the existence of the brain became known, Harvey was inundated with calls from people who wanted Einstein’s brain or at least a piece of it.

He eventually allowed friends at the University of Pennsylvania to create microscope slides of different areas of the brain.

Harvey then began a process of sending the slides off to random researchers.

In 1978, a reporter for New Jersey Monthly was allowed to see the remnants of the brain. They were stored in a Mason jar in a cardboard box in a corner of Harvey’s office behind a picnic cooler.

The story of Einstein’s brain even became a bestselling book called Driving Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti.

In 1998, Harvey was 86 years old and had been caring for Einstein’s brain for half his life. He decided it was time to pass on the responsibility. He returned the brain from where he had gotten it. Not from Einstein but from Princeton Hospital.

Over more than four decades, research into Einstein’s brain shed little light on the man.

Because of the way the brain had been embalmed, it yielded no viable DNA that could have been used to show whether Einstein’s adopted daughter, Evelyn, was in actuality his biological daughter.

One study showed that part of Einstein’s parietal cortex had a higher ratio of glial cells to neurons. Researchers hypothesized that this might show the Einstein’s neurons needed and used more energy. There were some questions raised about the study, however, which have thrown some doubts on the theory.

Another study said Einstein’s cerebral cortex was thinner than in other sample brains. This study had the same problems a large enough sampling of brains to draw the broad conclusion.

A final paper showed that Einstein’s brain had a shorter groove in the inferior parietal lobe, which is believed to be related to mathematical thinking. The brain was also wider in this region. It was suggested this might mean Einstein had more integrated brain functioning.

While the research is interesting, biographer Walter Isaacson wrote, “The relevant question was how his mind worked, not his brain.” He then quotes an explanation Einstein himself gave, “I have no special talents, I am passionately curious.”

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