Einstein's Brain Scanned Into iPad App, Still Beyond Our Understanding
Digital technology has made it so that the world’s rarest and most delicate treasures can be placed into the hands of anyone showing an interest. If it can be photographed or scanned, it can be offered as a download. This week a new iPad app opens the door to one of the most unexpected and extraordinary of such artifacts, the brain of Albert Einstein.
Not that there’s much to see or understand. After many attempts by several individuals to try to study and perhaps unlock the genius of Einstein’s brain, it now exists as a collection of cross-sectional slides at the National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago. With some private funding, the museum has scanned a large percentage of these microscope slides and it’s these raw images that make up the app.
Unlike the Da Vinci: Anatomy app I reviewed earlier this year, which uses curatorial videos, animations, and translation software to help users comprehend what they are seeing, the NMHMC Harvey Collection app makes only the simplest effort to organize the slides and offers no guidance as to what they display. If you don’t know the difference between the parietal or occipital regions of the brain, you’re on your own.
This is because the intent of the app is to reach out to students and scientists in the hopes that they may notice something that’s been overlooked. Despite 57 years of selective study, the anatomy of perhaps the most unique mind in history has offered no substantial breakthroughs.
An interactive map shows how all the pieces would be connected to each other within the brain and when displayed, each slide can be zoomed as if under a microscope, up to 100%.
We know very little about the human brain today, let alone in 1955 when Albert Einstein died. As the pathologist left in charge of the autopsy, Dr. Thomas Harvey was struck by that reality and the unique nature Einstein’s genius may offer (although he was disappointed that it’s size and weight was merely average). He made the controversial decision to secretly remove, preserve, and hide the brain, hoping his actions would be later forgiven if breakthroughs were made. Despite sending out samples of the tissue to leading neuroanatomists, no discoveries were made. Instead word of his actions got out and Harvey lost both his job and his reputation.
This isn’t to say that Einstein’s brain is average. In recent years it’s been noted that part of his parietal lobe, the region associated with mathematical ideas and visuospatial abilities is 15% larger than average and lacking a fold found in other brains. During the 1980’s, Marian Diamond, a University of California, Berkeley scientist noticed a higher number of glial cells between the neurons (thought to participate greatly within aspects of learning and memory) within the very same region. It’s clear that there was something radically different going on within the theoretical physicist’s mind, perhaps this app will help reach the right person to uncover it.
Note: If you're looking to merely satisfy your curiosity, the museum does offer the images as a free download for your computer here.