How Einstein’s Brain Was Probably Different Than Yours, And Why He Was So Creative

When it came to the connection between the left and right brain, Einstein was one remarkable specimen.

How Einstein’s Brain Was Probably Different Than Yours, And Why He Was So Creative
Einstein’s Corpus Callosum [Photo courtesy of Dean Falk | Florida State University | The image of Einstein’s brain was published in Falk, Lepore & Noe, 2013, The cerebral cortex of Albert Einstein: a description and preliminary analysis of unpublished photographs, Brain 136(4):1304-27 and is reproduced here with permission from the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, MD.]

In 1905, at the astoundingly young age of 26, Albert Einstein came up with the quantum theory of light, proved the existence of atoms, and created the theory of special relativity. If you’re wondering how so much genius could possibly be jam-packed into one head, a new study just published in the journal Brain, provides a clue.

Right Side

It turns out that Einstein had a killer corpus callosum–a large bundle of fibers connecting the left and right hemispheres to each other. “The corpus callosum keeps each side of the brain informed about what the other half is doing,” says Dean Falk, a professor of anthropology at Florida State University, who contributed to the study. According to Falk, the corpus callosum is both physically and cognitively important. The inter-brain connection allows our hands to coordinate and our bodies to move with intention. But it also allows thoughts and ideas that are generated in the right brain to be processed and expressed with language, which originates in the left. “We all have that connection between the left and right,” says Falk, “but for Einstein, the connection was extraordinary.”

Masterpiece Mystery: Einstein’s Brain

Left Side

How do we know this for sure? After Einstein died in 1955 and his brain was photographed, it was then cut into 240 pieces, which were distributed to labs and archives unknown. “A bunch of pieces are sitting in a lab at Princeton,” says Falk. “But it’s almost impossible to get access to them.”

Then in 2010, never-before-seen high-resolution images of Einstein’s brain were discovered. With these photos at his disposal, the study’s lead author, Weiwei Men of East China Normal University’s Department of Physics, devised a graphical method of measuring the thickness and number of nerves of Einstein’s corpus callosum. He and Falk then took MRI scans of living guys (they were all right-handed with normal IQ’s) and plotted similar graphs onto their photos. The result: “No matter who you compare Einstein to–young or old–the right and left sides of his brain were really connected,” says Falk.

Convincing Nobel prize-winning physicists to submit themselves to brain scans is clearly the next job for Falk’s team. “It’s the obvious thing to do,” she says. “It would raise the significance about how a really big corpus callosum affects brilliance.”

So, Stephen Hawking, if you’re reading this, how about stepping up to the plate in the name of science? You can’t possibly say no to an Einstein-Hawking brain-off!

About the author

Jennifer Miller is the author of The Year of the Gadfly (Harcourt, 2012) and Inheriting The Holy Land (Ballantine, 2005). She's a regular contributor to Co.Create.