There has always been a certain mysticism surrounding people who excel academically, whom we have historically labeled as a “genius”. Everyone seems to have an intrinsic need to ‘crack the genius code’, as I call it. And what better way to understand what creates a genius than to study different brains of individuals who have shown exceptional abilities?
Whenever we say “genius”, one of the first names that pops into anyone’s mind is Albert Einstein, who made huge contributions to the fields of physics, quantum mechanics, and the philosophy of science, along with many other domains. Einstein’s Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was estimated to be around 160, which falls in the very superior category. Thomas Harvey, the pathologist who autopsied Einstein’s body could not restrain his curiosity; he had to know what in Einstein’s brain led to his incredible IQ, so he extricated the brain for research. Rumor has it that the brain was preserved without the permission of its owner or his relatives.
Although Einstein’s brain was just as large as any of his contemporaries, Harvey found that Einstein’s brain weight differed.
The brain weighed around 2.7 pounds (1.22 kilograms), whereas the average weight for a normal adult brain is around 1.5 kilograms. Harvey photographed the brain and then sectioned it into 240 slivers; some of which were sent to the labs of other experts in brain physiology.
The Sylvian Fissure
A researcher at McMaster University, Dr Sandra Witelson discovered that Einstein’s Sylvian fissure was largely absent. The Sylvian fissure is a depression that differentiates the temporal lobe from the parietal lobe. However, due to its absence, Einstein’s parietal lobe seemed enlarged. The parietal lobe contributes to brain functions like mathematical ability, spatial reasoning and three-dimensional visualization. Additionally, Witelson believes that the absence of the fissure may have led to a denser network of neurons with less spatial distance, thus promoting the faster processing of information, which gave Einstein an edge over others.
However, which areas of the brain contribute to which processes is not yet fully understood. Witelson’s conclusions are inferences based on what we currently know about the brain, so there have to be further studies done on “genius brains” to confirm the conclusions.
Greater Connection Between the Left and Right Hemispheres
A recent study conducted in East China Normal University’s Department of Physics developed a technique to measure and compare the thickness of subdivisions of the Corpus Callosum (a broad band of nerve fibres that connect the two hemispheres of the brain) of Einstein’s brain with the brains of normal people. The results showed that Einstein’s corpus callosum was thicker than the control brains. The control brains consisted of two samples: one derived from a group of 15 elderly men and one of 52 men that were Einstein’s age at the time he died.
The thickness is indicative of a greater connection between the two hemispheres, which contributes to better communication between the two sides of the brain. They found that there were more extensive connections between certain areas of the callosum that control different functions.
We now definitely know that Einstein’s brain was a bit anatomically different than the rest of us, which could be the reason for his superior abilities. However, another factor could be the difference in functional connections. Either way, unless another person like Einstein comes alone, we won’t ever truly know what made him a genius.
- Albert Einstein’s Brain – Wikipedia
- Scientific American
- American Association for the Advancement of Science