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Is Einstein’s Brain Different?

“Nothing at all that present neuroscience can identify, anyhow.” This is the note of a challenging article by Pace University psychologist Terence Hines, just issued in Brain and Cognition: Neuromythology of Einstein’s brain.

As Hines writes, the story of how Einstein’s brain was well-kept is very famous. When the great physicist died in 1955, his desire was to be burnt, but the pathologist who did the autopsy decided to save his brain for science. Einstein’s son Hans in future gave his permission to this fait accompli. Samples and photos of the brain were then prepared available to neuroscientists everywhere in the world, who expected to discover the secret of the great man’s brilliance. Many have claimed to have found it. But Hines isn’t committed.

Most famous studies of Einstein’s Brain was committed by Diamond et al, who in 1985 stated that Einstein’s brain had a considerably higher amount of glial cells than those of matched, normal control brains. But, Hines indicates that this ‘finding’ may have been a textbook example of the multiple-comparisons problem:

“ Diamond et al. (1985) reported four different t-tests, each comparing Einstein’s brain to the brains of the controls. Only one of the four tests performed was significant at the .05 level.

    Although only the results of the neuron to glial cell ratios were reported by Diamond et al. (1985), the paper makes it clear that at least six other dependent measures were examined: (1) number of neurons, (2) total number of glial cells, (3) number of astrocytes, (4) number of oligodendrocytes, (5) neuron to astrocyte ratio and (6) neuron to oligodendrocyte ratio. Thus a total of seven different dependent measures were examined in four different brain areas for a total of 28 comparisons… one p less than 0.05 result out of 28 is not surprising.”

Now what about the size and figure of Einstein’s brain as a whole, the neuroanatomy? For this, Hines says, the story is much identical. Several features of Einstein’s brain structure have been held up as abnormal, but it is not clear whether these are matchless to Einstein as contrasting to just normal alternatives. Hines also condemns the logic of trying to ‘explain’ Einstein’s brain from his neuroanatomy, post hoc. In reply to one fresh attempt, Hines says:

    “Falk et al comment on “the extraordinary expansion of the lateral part of Einstein’s left primary somatosensory and left primary motor cortices” the face and tongue areas. They say “In this context it is interesting that Einstein’s famously wrote that thinking entailed an association of images and feelings, and that, for him, the elements of thought were, not only visual, but also muscular”

    The fact that Einstein described his thinking in such a way is “interesting”. But would anyone ever have taken that description of his thinking process and predicted that the motor cortex in his left hemisphere representing his face and tongue would be “extraordinarily expanded”? I think the answer is clearly “no”.  This type of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning pervades much of the interpretations of the cognitive correlates of the observed differences in Einstein’s brain.”

You Can Get The Entire Paper Here

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