Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Man Who Found Einstein's Brain

At left: Einstein's brain, compared to a normal brain.

I had a long conversation yesterday with Stephen Levy, who is the head science correspondent for Newsweek Magazine. We were mostly talking about the culture of people who like to make things that go whoosh, boom, and splat. Hopefully, Newsweek readers will see my name in print in the next issue.

Besides that, Levy is an interesting guy. One thing I learned while talking with him is that he is the person who first broke the story of Einstein’s brain.

For those of you that don’t know the story, when Einstein died in New Jersey in 1955, his body was cremated, except for his brain. The brain was removed in hopes of performing analysis to figure out why the guy was so amazingly intelligent.
The strange part of the story is that the pathologist, Dr. Thomas Harvey, who performed the autopsy kept the brain.

No one really knew that until Steven Levy, then a reporter for the New Jersey Monthly, set out to find Einstein’s brain. He discovered that Einstein’s brain was still with Dr. Harvey who was now in Wichita, Kansas. The brain was in two mason jars in a cardboard box that was marked with the words "Costa Cider". Most of the brain, except for the cerebellum and parts of the cerebral cortex, had been sectioned.
Stephen told me that when Dr. Harvey showed it to him,
“There were a few sections that looked pretty brain-like. But I have to say, what really hit me, was that it had this power to it; knowing what that brain had done. To see it was in some ways a spiritual kind of thing .”
Steven published his story in 1978 and some of it can be found here .