Einstein’s Brain: New Insights on Old Gray Matter

Albert Einstein.
Photograph by Oren Jack Turner. Image in the Public Domain due to age.

Albert Einstein would unquestionably be called one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. So did his brain look much different from the average person’s? As reported on SciTech Daily, anthropologists from Florida State University recently examined photos from Einstein’s 1955 autopsy and found some notable features:

The most striking observation was the complexity and pattern of convolutions on certain parts of the cerebral cortex, especially in the prefrontal cortex and also the parietal lobes and visual cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is important for abstract thinking. The complex pattern of convolutions probably gave the region an unusual surface area, which might have contributed to his remarkable thought processes.

via Photos of Einstein’s Brain Show Unique Features | SciTech Daily.

For those who want to mull over Einstein’s gray matter some more, scans of his brain can be purchased as an App, according to this article on redOrbit.

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Austen: This reading nook comes with an MRI scanner

Jane Austen
Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin

Now how do I sign up for a study like this one? Natalie Phillips, an assistant professor of English at Michigan State University, has been looking at what happens in the brain when people read Jane Austen novels.

The study is still in progress, but so far she has found some fascinating differences between two kinds of reading—pleasure and close analysis—in the way they affect brain activation and blood flow.

For the sake of science, I would gladly volunteer to lie down in an fMRI scanner and enjoy some uninterrupted reading time. I even think I could manage the distraction of being surrounded by a noisy magnet while I pore over the advice of Captain Wentworth in Austen’s Persuasion:

Your sister is an amiable creature … Clang.

But yours is the character of decision and firmness, I see... Thump.

If you value her conduct or happiness, infuse as much of your own spirit into her, as you can… Clunk.

The only thing missing is a nice cup of tea.

Phillips’ brain-on-Austen studies emerged from her work on a book about the history of distraction and attention in the 18th century. While she was a post-doctoral researcher at Stanford University, she became interested in the use of brain scans to study literary reading in the present day. Continue reading