Saturday, April 18, 2009

einstein's brain

Photo: Phillippe Halsman

a found haiku

until age seven
he repeated sentences
to himself softly

Found in New Information about Albert Einstein's Brain by Professor Dean Falk of Florida State University, published in Frontiers of Evolutionary Neuroscience. [1]

In his paper, which ScienceNOW did a lovely job of distilling, Falk suggests that "despite the fact that a large portion of Einstein’s cerebral cortex was superficially unremarkable, regions in and near his primary somatosensory and motor cortices were highly unusual, and it is tentatively suggested that these may have contributed to the neuroanatomical substrates for some of his remarkable abilities" -- including his musical ability, his "superior ability to conceptualize physics problems," and his habit of thinking in images and sensations instead of words.

Falk hypothesizes that these anomalies may have been responsible for Einstein's atypical way of thinking:

As an adult, Einstein famously observed that “the words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought. The psychical entities which seem to serve as elements in thought are certain signs and more or less clear images which can be ‘voluntarily’ reproduced and combined”. Einstein laughed when informed that many people always think in words, and emphasized that concepts became meaningful for him “only through their connection with sense-experiences”.

He was a synthetic thinker. Family members and friends have documented that, when stuck on a physics problem, Einstein would play the violin until, suddenly, he would announce excitedly, “I’ve got it!”.

It is interesting to contemplate that such synthesizing may have contributed to Einstein’s insights, and that his extraordinary abilities may, to some degree, have been associated with the unusual gross anatomy of his cerebral cortex in and around the primary somatosensory and motor cortices.

Also of interest (if you get off on this kind of thing) are the paleoanthropological techniques that Falk applied to reassemble Einstein's brain for study, which had long ago been thin sliced, mounted on slides, and distributed scattershot by its original custodian.

Video: Admiral Freebee - Einstein Brain

[1] If you're looking for it, the complete PDF of Prof. Falk's paper is to the right of the abstract, and available without charge, which is exceedingly cool.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails