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MEGAMIND - The Story Behind Einstein’s Brain, and How it Was Stolen

Pao P

Regarded as one of the greatest scientists to have ever lived, the German-born physicist was a global celebrity for developing the Theory of Relativity (in layman's term, “How Everything Works”). Very few people in the world does not know his famous mass energy equation, E=mc2. This, together with his immense contribution to the sciences, has made him a Nobel Prize winner before the previous World War. He was so famous in America during that time that, as written in The New Yorker, he would usually be stopped on the street by people wanting him to explain “that theory.'' 

Einstein, even many years after his death, will still be the subject of many novels, films, plays, and works of music. Being the usual model for mad scientists and absent-minded professors in popular media, with his distinctive hairstyle and expressive face being copied and exaggerated widely. Such is the legacy he left behind that his surname “Einstein” has been made synonymous with the word “genius”.

The Story Behind Einstein’s Brain, and How it Was Stolen

No doubt people thought of his brain as extraordinarily special, and sprouted interests all throughout on what makes him this “Megamind”. 

During his death, it was already agreed that his body shall be cremated. He did not want to be idolized and worshipped, so “He had left behind specific instructions regarding his remains: cremate them, and scatter the ashes secretly in order to discourage idolaters,” (Burell, 2005). But on April 18, 1955, during an autopsy at the Princeton Hospital, a pathologist named Thomas Stoltz Harvey, removed Einstein’s brain and took it with him, without the permission of the Einstein's family. 

Thomas eventually lost his job at Princeton’s, and went to Philadelphia taking the brain with him. Developing some sort of obsession in uncovering its supposed secrets, he kept the brain in a beer cooler while continuing to practice medicine in Weston, Missouri. Upon losing his medical license, however, he was forced to move again to Lawrence, Kansas as an assembly-line worker in a plastic-extrusion factory. During this time, he cut off the brain into portions that he would eventually send off to different researchers around the world. 

The Story Behind Einstein’s Brain, and How it Was Stolen

Some of the first results would come from California, which published the “First Study of Einstein's Brain.” Eventually, it lead to five other studies that all pointed out to abnormal proportions of different cells in it (neurons and glia), and how this could help uncover the inferiority of a normal human mind. 

But it was proved that the premise is nonsense and the studies bunk, according to Terence Hines, a psychology professor at Pace University. Some things he stated were the inconsistencies of comparison between Einstein’s brain and a couple other fresh, healthy subjects, whereas the aforementioned brain has been fighting-off decay for almost three decades under Thomas’ basement and beer cooler. And how the explanation about enlargements in certain portions of his parietal lobes link to his astounding mathematical prowess, while Hines points out that Einstein was, in fact, not that of a great mathematician. In short, all the results are merely busted myths.

The Story Behind Einstein’s Brain, and How it Was Stolen

All this proves is that in the end, Einstein was as human as any of us and he knew this. He probably foresaw a future where his brain will be extracted and studied over different laboratories across the globe, prodding over what makes him special. And he knew that in the end, it wouldn’t matter, since they will discover nothing. 

What will make you special, is the moment when you believe yourself as special. As Albert Einstein famously quoted, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”


By Pao P
Works as Customer Service Representative/Technical at Sykes Asia Inc.