Saturday, April 18, 2009

Einstein's brain

Today on Science's online news service, ScienceNOW, I report on the latest in the long saga of Einstein's brain. An anthropologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Dean Falk, has taken a new look at photographs of the brain (pretty much all that is left of it) and found some very interesting and unusual features in both its parietal cortex and motor cortex. The parietal cortex finds could be related to Einstein's claim that he thought in images and sensations rather than words, and the motor cortex features might be related to his musical training with the violin. (The link to the story is free for four weeks from publication.)

All this is speculative, of course, although Falk compares Einstein's brain with those of many other "controls" to come up with her conclusions. Give it a read and see what you think.

At the bottom of the story, I link to a terrific article by Frederick Lepore, a neurologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, about the history of Einstein's brain and attempts to study it as well as Lepore's own thoughts and reservations about what we can and cannot conclude from its unusual parietal lobes, which had also been spotted by an earlier team I mention in my story. I highly recommend it.

One big remaining issue, of course, is whether Einstein's brain became unusual because he was a genius or whether he was a genius because his brain was unusual to begin with. Falk and others I interviewed think that the brain's shape was determined largely by genetic factors, although the unusual configuration of its motor cortex could have been due to his early violin training. As for his genius in physics, Falk says that this was probably a combination of the brain he was born with and environmental factors, as Einstein had a very nurturing homelife especially in his early years.

Also in ScienceNOW: The latest in the saga of Homo floresiensis, aka The Hobbit, from my colleague Elizabeth Culotta. Did modern humans copy the toolmaking techniques of this tiny human? Check it out.

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