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Mind

#93: Re-Analyzing One of the Greatest Brains in History

The quirks in Einstein's thinging parts may have reflected his “preference for thinking in sensory impressions, including visual images rather than words.”

By Jane BosveldDecember 17, 2009 6:00 AM

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There has been yet another attempt to identify the unique traits of Einstein’s brain, this one by anthropologist Dean Falk of Florida State University in Tallahassee. Falk did not have access to the actual brain, so she used techniques developed for the examination of fossils and applied them to photographs of Einstein’s brain taken after his death. In a study published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience last May, Falk reports that the brain exhibited “an unusual mixture of symmetrical and asymmetrical features” that may have contributed to Einstein’s genius.

For one thing, the parietal lobes of the great scientist’s brain were wider than normal (something that other researchers have noted in the past), and its grooves and ridges were oddly patterned. These details are important, Falk says, because the brain’s parietal lobes process numbers; they also integrate sensory information from different parts of the body. She believes that the novelties in Einstein’s lobes may have contributed to his “preference for thinking in sensory impressions, including visual images rather than words.”

Falk also observed a small, knoblike structure coming off the right motor cortex, an area of the brain that controls the fingers of the left hand. This knob is sometimes seen in the brains of right-handed string players who train from a young age. Einstein was an avid violinist from childhood on. “It tickled me,” Falk says, “that the knob may well have been tied to Einstein’s musical ability.” The cognitive connection between music and mathematics has, of course, been noted for many years.

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