Jun 01, 2014 I Tom Head

Did Albert Einstein Have an Ordinary Brain?

Conventional wisdom has it that Albert Einstein had an extraordinary brain. To the extent that his work demonstrated conceptual connections that nobody else had made, and a level of mathematical and theoretical discipline that few could match, he obviously did—but most of the science surrounding Einstein’s brain goes deeper than that in telling us why Einstein was intelligent, and why this would be apparent to anyone who had examined his brain, and how we can analyze these attributes in other people’s brains, and so on.

DNews summarizes the conventional view here:


So it was a pretty big deal when Discover’s Neuroskeptic opened an article last week with this provocative line: “There was nothing special about Albert Einstein’s brain.”

I wouldn’t go that far, but Neuroskeptic does quote a provocative Brain and Cognition article written by anatomical skeptic Terence Hines. Unlike Neuroskeptic, Hines doesn’t say outright that there isn’t anything special about Einstein’s brain—only that none of the published literature on the subject has proven that there is. And he has an idea on how the qualities of Einstein’s brain can be analyzed in a more scientific way. Referring to the commonly-held belief that Einstein’s brain had more functioning glial cells than other brains, for example, Hines proposes this simple test:

Future studies need to use more rigorous methodologies… For example, qualified but blinded observers could be asked to distinguish between microscope slides of Einstein’s brain and average brains. If there are actual differences, such an experimental methodology would reveal them.

For his part, Einstein had very little interest in the anatomical structure of his own brain and never agreed to donate it to science; he had asked to be cremated, and his brain is a subject of scientific study only because a pathologist at Princeton University swiped it during the autopsy.

Tom Head

Tom Head is an author or coauthor of 29 nonfiction books, columnist, scriptwriter, research paralegal, occasional hellraiser, and proud Jackson native. His book Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?) covers the recent demand for exorcists over the past 30 years and demonic possession.

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