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Newly Released Einstein Brain Photos Hint At the Anatomy of Genius 130

Posted by timothy
from the more-loops-more-whorls dept.
scibri writes "Photographs of Einstein's brain taken shortly after his death, but never before analysed in detail, have now revealed that it had several unusual features, providing tantalizing clues about the neural basis of his extraordinary mental abilities. The most striking observation was 'the complexity and pattern of convolutions on certain parts of Einstein's cerebral cortex,' especially in the prefrontal cortex, and also parietal lobes and visual cortex. The prefrontal cortex is important for the kind of abstract thinking that Einstein would have needed for his famous thought experiments on the nature of space and time, such as imagining riding alongside a beam of light. The unusually complex pattern of convolutions there probably gave the region a larger-than-normal surface area, which may have contributed to his remarkable abilities."
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Newly Released Einstein Brain Photos Hint At the Anatomy of Genius

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  • by loufoque (1400831) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @02:41PM (#42013381)

    Seriously.
    He was just a scientist among many others.

    • Might also explain his obstanance regarding the cosmological constant which he didn't abandon until observing red shif. Might not. I'm uncertain...

      • by muon-catalyzed (2483394) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @04:03PM (#42014005)
        cosmological constant which he didn't abandon
        Maybe this is because Einstein studied equations, he needed that constant so the model would hold mathematically, his discoveries might have been simply observations he saw in those formulas, you can move and swap variables left right in the energy equations to get exciting and unexpected relationships that involve time, mass velocity and energy.
      • by Black Parrot (19622) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @04:25PM (#42014171)

        Might also explain his obstanance regarding the cosmological constant which he didn't abandon until observing red shif. Might not. I'm uncertain...

        Keep in mind that when he introduced the cosmological constant everyone still thought that our galaxy was the only thing in the universe. Hubble figured out that that was wrong about a decade later (and half a decade before noting the correlation between red shift and distance).

        • by Dupple (1016592)

          Thanks Muon and Black. That's some insightful stuff I hadn't fully considered. Sadly no mod points

        • by Xacid (560407)

          Never heard this before but not refuting it. Was it really the hubble that changed that perspective?

        • by sg_oneill (159032)

          Keep in mind that when he introduced the cosmological constant everyone still thought that our galaxy was the only thing in the universe. Hubble figured out that that was wrong about a decade later (and half a decade before noting the correlation between red shift and distance).

          Ya know I was about to tear you a new one, and point out that at the very least andromeda and the whirlpool galaxy where known about in the 1700s.

          Except holy crap your right! It seems there was a huge debate in astronomy over exactly this in the 1920s with most astronomers being unwilling to accept the distances needed for the multiple galaxy hypothesis. It wasnt until hubble & co's work with redshifts that the utterly mindboggling distances that really where in the universe, became hard to contest....

      • by dgharmon (2564621)
        Might also explain his obstanance regarding the cosmological constant which he didn't abandon until observing red shif. Might not. I'm uncertain...

        The equations only worked for an expanding universe, as the prevailing wisdom at that time that the universe was static, Einstein inserted a 'cosmological constant [wikipedia.org]'. Later on he said this was the biggest blunder of his career.
    • by martijn hoekstra (1046898) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @02:58PM (#42013533)

      Seriously. He was just a scientist among many others.

      It is entirely possible that special relativity would have been formulated by someone else - with the problems with EM speed of light and reference frames, it could be said to have been in the air, so to say. That also goes for the photo-electric effect. General relativity was something else though, it was new, it was brilliant, and it completely shifted the way we think about the universe. He might not have been as great as Newton, but he's up there with the Very Select Few.

      • by khallow (566160)
        General relativity follows fairly straightforward from special relativity [wikipedia.org] and the Reimannian structure [wikipedia.org] on manifolds (it's basically the very similar Minkowski structure [wikipedia.org] and an optimization problem [wikipedia.org] on that manifold). It may take a "very select few" to grok that, but that still ends being a lot of people.

        As for Newton, odds are good that he wasn't that special either. He had the founder advantage. There was a lot of new data to explain and not much in the way of competition for doing the explaining.
        • As for Newton, odds are good that he wasn't that special either. He had the founder advantage. There was a lot of new data to explain and not much in the way of competition for doing the explaining.

          I don't think that the fact calculus hadn't been invented, and he was there to invent it - or, if you're take the extreme view he stole it from Leibniz, that he had the opportunity to use a new kind of math, at the time completely unfamiliar to the scientific world - when he was 24 has been an advantage in developing a theory of motion and developing a theory of gravity. If you do think so your argument is quite valid, I - and a whole lot of other people - just disagree with the premise.

          • by khallow (566160)
            That sounds really weak to me. It's not like calculus or the laws of motion could have been different, if someone else had discovered them.
    • by Johann Lau (1040920) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @03:03PM (#42013567) Homepage Journal

      How is noticing he was rather smart deifying him? Personally, I never fully understood any of the stuff in his actual field of work, but always rather enjoyed stuff like letters or essays he wrote. I would never have heard of those however if he hadn't also been such a famous physicist. So I'm not sure what's there to moan about.. what's your angle? That nobody will bother to take a photo of your brain when you die?

    • It's natural for homo sapiens with average intelligence to fear the gifted. After all, if you admit they exist, then you may have to accept that their insights into things you don't understand may be true, and the fallacies you believe for the sake of convenience may be false. Einsten owns you, loufoque. Even dead. Cults of personality are often dangerous, yes. This is not such a case.
      • by loufoque (1400831)

        It's because I understand things that I know there is no "gift", just regular people that happen to have good intuition and ideas sometimes.

        • It's because I understand things that I know there is no "gift", just regular people that happen to have good intuition and ideas sometimes.

          That's like saying "there are no good drivers, just people with fast reflexes." I mean, what? Hello! What else does "gifted" mean that having your brain generate the right ideas at the right time?

          • by loufoque (1400831)

            Gifted implies there is something special, almost magic, which makes things entirely different.

            • And Einstein was the Sebastien Loeb of thinking.

            • Gifted implies there is something special, almost magic

              "implies"? ROFL. You're watching supernatural TV drama too much. Get real.

              • by loufoque (1400831)

                If you don't understand what gifted means, I suggest you look up its etymology.

                • If you don't understand what gifted means, I suggest you look up its etymology.

                  I did. [etymonline.com] So what? It's not related solely to weddings anymore.

                  • by loufoque (1400831)

                    Oh my god.
                    You're not even trolling are you?

                    gifted is originally "given a gift". That implies that something, be it god, nature, or the laws of the cosmos, *gave* the person something to make him exceptional. Can't you see the religious or supernatural - or whatever superstitious make-believe humans have invented to cover up their lack of understanding of our world -- implications when they're right in front of you?

                    • Of course I'm not trolling. I'm dead serious on this. You mentioned the "etymology of the word 'gifted'", and I responded. It's a venerable word of Indo-European origin, meaning the transfer of stuff between two entites. That's etymology to you - where the individual parts of a word came from. But that has no bearing on the subject. I don't understand why you mentioned it at all, since many words had completely different meanings in their oldest PIE reconstructions.

                      Can't you see the religious or supernatural - or whatever superstitious make-believe humans have invented to cover up their lack of understanding of our world -- implications when they're right in front of you?

                      Yes, some of them might have. But 1) that

                    • Randomness, big numbers and low probabilities transform mystical events into rare events. No need to involved supranatural source for life's gifts
      • by Guy Harris (3803)

        It's natural for homo sapiens with average intelligence to fear the gifted. After all, if you admit they exist, then you may have to accept that their insights into things you don't understand may be true

        Or maybe God not only plays dice with the universe but throws them where we can't see them (to quote another gifted person who may have more than one thing genetically different about his nervous system).

      • It's natural for homo sapiens with average intelligence to fear the gifted.

        I must be unnatural, since gifted people turn me on (often just intellectually, mind you, but still...)

    • by fwarren (579763)

      Remember. He did his best work with his ex-wife. There is the possibility that as a patent clerk, it was Einstein and his wife that worked on the theory of relativity.

      After the divorce, he never did anything that matched the quality of that work. Much like George Lucas with Ex, Marcia Lucas.

    • by neonKow (1239288)

      Nobody's deifying him. Einstein was an extremely gifted scientist and mathematician, the same way Michael Phelps is a gifted athlete. Neither are flawless or religious icons, but their abilities do make them stand out far beyond average human beings and we like to study how they got that way.

    • Seriously. He was just a scientist among many others.

      What a bunch of baloney. He was the forefather of modern physics, and a groundbreaking one as well. This ranks him up alongside with Newton. He was *not* just a scientist among many others, and every single piece of modern physics is based upon the foundation he made. Pleas think before you post.

    • by kmoser (1469707)
      The bigger question: was he born with those unusual features of his brain, or did they appear because of the nature of the things he used his brain for?
    • Seriously. He was just a scientist among many others.

      Right. So how many other great scientists share this "unusually complex pattern" of the brain. Perhaps we should take more brain scans of dead scientists to see if this is contributing factor to brialliant insight.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 17, 2012 @02:46PM (#42013453)

    That's all well and good but what did his brain actually taste like?

  • ...Ronald Reagan, Bill Gates, Andrei Chikatilo and other people famous for various forms of stupidity and mental deficiency, have the same traits.

  • by lawpoop (604919) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @02:55PM (#42013515) Homepage Journal
    This is interesting, but will this tell us if his brain is truly different from any other physicist, mathematician? Before we go making any pronouncements, I think we should do a little more research into people of his profession.
    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['ish' in gap]> on Saturday November 17, 2012 @03:00PM (#42013543)

      Yeah, some kind of quantification is definitely missing. How unusual? How unusual among people of the same profession? How common are major physics discoveries among people who don't share such features (i.e., is it a necessary feature?). Attempting to draw conclusions about complex cognitive functions from small-n measurements of a handful of macroscopic features feels a little bit like phrenology.

  • by johnrpenner (40054) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @03:01PM (#42013553) Homepage

    we are quick to attribute a causal relationship: a certain anatomy causes genius; but this is, strictly speaking, an interpretation. we can not dismiss out of hand that a sense of genius works into a given environment, and moulds and forms the brain from habits that result from genius, rather than genius resulting from habits — the brain the enscribed result of the history of your thinking — the history of your perception of thoughts and mental effort (or lack thereof).

    2cents from sunny and cold toronto island
    jp

    • Basically, TFA is correlating cortex surface area (or volume) with intelligence. While intuitively appealing, I'm unsure if this has been subject to any sort of real analysis. Anybody out there with some data?

      Dr. Frankenstein?

    • I have a particularly crenulated scrotal sack and I'm a genius when thinking with that.

    • by ozydingo (922211)
      I can't really tell if the authors were in fact more careful than this article suggests, but the following demonstrates your point quite clearly:

      Falk and her colleagues also noticed an unusual feature in the right somatosensory cortex, which receives sensory information from the body. In this part of Einstein’s brain, the region corresponding to the left hand is expanded, and the researchers suggest that this may have contributed to his accomplished violin playing.

      It is already quite known that experience can cause expanded representation in various cortical areas, so failing to address that this "unusual" feature might have been caused by practicing the violin, rather than being the cause of violin skill, does little to boost the credibility of this article.

  • First thing the title made me think of, sorry about the Godwin: They Saved Hitler's Brain [wikipedia.org].

  • All these folds and cracks in the brain ... Are they different for different people, like fingerprints? Or, do these folds and nooks and crannies largely the same for all human beings with small variations, (like the palm of the hand or something)?

    Same thing with molars. I keep reading article about finding a 100000 year old human molar in the rift valley or something. All the complex pattern on the molars... are they the same for all human beings? Or are they as distinct as finger prints?

    • by ozydingo (922211)
      I'm not an expert on the subject, but I know there are at least several landmarks in the "nooks and crannies" (search for: gryi and sulci) that are shared across different people, and different areas of the brain are very typically found by looking relative to these landmarks (though often some amount of individual mapping is required in brain imaging studies).
  • Einstein specifically requested his brain not be analyzed or end up as a grotesque and bizarre display stoking morbid curiosity.
    • by Nyder (754090)

      Einstein specifically requested his brain not be analyzed or end up as a grotesque and bizarre display stoking morbid curiosity.

      Well, let this be a lesson then. You 'after I'm dead' wishes might not get granted.

  • Funny, it looks just like my brain.

  • Obviously this is an attempt to biologize intelligence which, as we all know, is on the slippery slope to becoming anaziwhowantstokillsixmillionjews.
  • Statistical fallacy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by paiute (550198) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @05:05PM (#42014465)
    I don't remember the exact details, but I recall that if you define say 20 parameters for measuring an object, there is a high probability that one of the parameters will be several sigma removed from the mean. So if you take a brain you already know is Einstein's, you can eventually find a property of that brain which is far from average. Does that mean he was a genius because of that property? Probably not.
    • by ozydingo (922211)

      If using a significance level of 0.05, then if you have 20 independent parameters and the null hypothesis is true for all of them, then the probability of all 20 statistical tests showing no difference is 0.95^20 = 0.36. Therefore the probability of getting at least one false positive is 64%. (I think I'm doing that right, anyway. Feel free to correct me)

      Of course not all the measurement are independent, etc, and perhaps the authors already corrected for multiple comparisons. I don't really know, I'm not th

  • Is he a genius because of the shape of his brain? Or is the shape of his brain the result of a lifelong pursuit of the intellectual? It's like saying someone lifts weights because they have overdeveloped muscles.
  • Does a person think with surface area? Without comparative data from a large number of individuals and some known relation between brain surface area and intelligence, there is no significance to the shape of a man's brain compared to that of another man.

  • This whole thing smacks of the crackpot science of phrenology. (i.e. a psychological theory or analytical method based on the belief that certain mental faculties and character traits are indicated by the configurations of the skull. In other words, reading the bumps on a person's head.)

    Sure there are very broad indications that certain parts of the brain are associated with broadly defined functions. There may also be a valid general inference that more wrinkles in a brain are better. But those things

  • This is "selection bias" taken to an extreme. I read he had a lump on the left parietal lobe from playing the violin and that pianists have a corresponding lump on the right. Did you read this in the Onion?
  • "You are a product of your environment." --Clement Stone

  • The complexity and convolutions could we explained by the kind of unique mental excercises Einstein engaged in to arrive at his theories. The mental processes altered brain physiology, rather then the other way round.
  • In the same article, they claim two opposing features are both representative of his genius. Absence of a furrow in parietal suggests greater connectivity (tracts tend to be somewhat reduced going 'around' bends vs. 'across' them). Conversely, increased convolutions in frontal suggest greater surface area (ignoring the prior mention that his brain was smaller than average). Give me a break. Until we get a decent library of brains (which some folks are working on, thankfully), this is all as bad as evolution

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