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Finding Einstein’s Brain

Finding Einstein’s Brain

Frederick E. Lepore
Rutgers University Press
2018
256 pp.
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On the day of Albert Einstein’s death, an April morning in 1955, the pathologist Thomas Harvey performed an autopsy and, controversially, took possession of the physicist’s brain. Days later, Harvey convinced Einstein’s closest relatives of his purpose: to retain the brain for scientific research. Three decades passed, however, until the first work on Einstein’s brain was disclosed and, to date, only a few studies, whether histological or anatomical, have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

With intellectual rigor and a quite intimate tone, Frederick E. Lepore meticulously tracks Einstein’s brain in space-time for the more than 60 years that have elapsed since the eminent physicist’s death. But Finding Einstein’s Brain is not only the biography of a genius’s brain. That specific quest is meshed into an instructive perspective that encompasses several decades of scientific landmarks in physics and neuroscience.

In addition, the book extensively explores recent advances in neurotechnology and the impact of these advances on our understanding of human cognitive and behavioral capabilities. These technologies could shed light on the brain functioning “of a future Einstein,” argues Lepore, claiming that “the royal road for studying the next Einstein’s brain will be functional and not dissection.”

Einstein, few will be surprised to learn, had an “exceptional” brain. In particular, the book presents recent anatomical evidence showing two main findings. First, Einstein’s corpus callosum—the white matter bundle that connects the left and right hemispheres—was larger than that of control subjects, which might suggest that “Einstein had greater neural interconnectivity” than an average human. Second, every lobe of Einstein’s brain presented differences relative to standard atlases of brain anatomy. For instance, Einstein’s right frontal lobe had four gyri, one more than typically found in humans.

Anecdotally, Einstein’s brain weighed “a little less than expected for a seventy-six-year-old man.” This observation is actually unsurprising, given the current agreement that the correlation between our intelligence, however measured, and our brain size (normalized to body size and age) is vanishingly small. In any case, it will never be possible to know what Einstein’s brain looked like 50 years earlier, when he wrote the fundamental energy equation.

Lepore discusses the philosophical and medical implications of brain examination, focusing on the brain-mind dilemma. Indeed, although the brain has long been considered the primary organ of the mind, it seems clear that the relationship between the brain and the mind is far from understood.
A professor of neurology and clinical researcher, Lepore has an impressive knowledge of the history of science. With this original book, he gives Einstein’s brain a second life and offers the reader a rare opportunity to discover the distinctive features of a genius’s brain, while insisting on the explanatory gap that still exists between brain and mind.

About the author

The reviewer is at Laboratoire Plasticité du Cerveau Ecole Supérieure de Physique et Chimie Industrielles (ESPCI Paris), Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) University, Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), and Institut de la Mémoire et de la Maladie d’Alzheimer (IM2A) Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière, Paris, France.