Tuesday, September 16, 2008
good ol al...silly tom
BIT OF GENIUS: Thomas Harvey, 94, who conducted an autopsy on Albert Einstein and made sure his brain was preserved, with a slide containing a sample of the physicist�s brain tissue.
By taking Einstein's brain, Thomas Harvey had succumbed to an impulse older than medicine.
Since the days of Hippocrates, philosophers and scholars have been arguing over how the brain houses an intangible human spirit. St. Augustine was convinced that the soul lodged in the fluid-filled cavity of the organ's middle ventricle. Galen, the ancient pioneer of medicine, argued that vital spirits resided in the fourth ventricle.
When modern scientists discovered that intellect could be traced to neural tissues, brains became precious curios. Pathologists collected the brains of gifted musicians, scientists and other notables the way 18th century literary enthusiasts held onto the hearts of poets such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron.
Researchers at the Moscow Brain Institute measured dozens of the most brilliant brains. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of Russia's Soviet revolution, had a brain weighing about 3 pounds, they determined. The brain of writer Ivan Turgenev weighed 4.4 pounds. That of satirist Anatole France was 2.1 pounds. At Princeton Hospital, Harvey weighed Einstein's brain on a grocer's scale. It was 2.7 pounds � less than the average adult male brain.
He had the fragile organ infused with fixative and dissected it into 240 pieces, each containing about two teaspoons of cerebral tissue. He shaved off 1,000 hair-thin slivers to be mounted on microscope slides for study. For years, Harvey agonized over how next to proceed. His odd pursuit inspired two books: "Possessing Genius" by Carolyn Abraham and "Driving Mr. Albert" by Michael Paterniti. Through the decades, however, he drifted in obscurity.
Finally in 1985, pioneering neuroanatomist Marion Diamond at UC Berkeley persuaded him to part with four small plugs of brain tissue. Diamond discovered that the physicist's brain had more cells servicing, supporting and nurturing each neuron than did 11 other brains she studied. These unusual cells were in a region associated with mathematical and language skills. When they published their findings, the researchers speculated that these neurons might help explain Einstein's "unusual conceptual powers." Critics contended the study was riddled with flaws, its findings meaningless.
Eventually, Harvey mailed bits of Einstein's motor cortex to a researcher at the University of Alabama, who reported that the cortex appeared to be thinner than normal but with more tightly packed neurons. Had it simply been compacted by time and storage conditions? DNA testing revealed nothing. The preservative fluids apparently had scrambled Einstein's genetic code.
Then in 1995, Harvey happened across Witelson's work. He read her research paper on gender differences and neuron density in the Journal of Neuroscience. "It was impressive," he recalled. He was even more intrigued to learn about her collection of brains. He was 84, still hoping that his tissue samples had something to teach about the neural geography of genius. To make ends meet, he was working in a plastics factory. Worrying about Einstein's brain, like the years, had become a burden.
Harvey carefully packed it in the back of his battered Dodge and drove north to Witelson's laboratory. "I had the brain in a big jar," Harvey, now 94, recalled. At midnight, he crossed over the Rainbow Bridge by Niagara Falls into Canada. Customs officials asked if he had anything to declare. Just a brain in the trunk, he told them.They waved him through.
Pieces Fall Into Place
Witelson could barely contain her curiosity. Einstein's brain � so far from ordinary in its intellectual achievement � might reveal a telltale anatomical signature. Size alone certainly could not account for his brain power. "Here was somebody who was clearly very clever; yet his overall brain size was average," Witelson said. "It certainly tells you that, in a man, sheer overall brain size can't be a crucial factor in brilliance."
For a moment, she was like a schoolchild picking candies from a Valentine's Day sampler. She judiciously selected 14 pieces of Einstein's brain. She took parts of his right and left temporal lobes, and the right and left parietal lobes. Never had Harvey given away so much brain.
Witelson and her colleagues carefully compared the 40-year-old tissue samples with dozens of normal male and female brains in her collection. She also compared them with brains from eight elderly men to account for any changes due to Einstein's age at the time of his death. She found that one portion of Einstein's brain perhaps related to mathematical reasoning � the inferior parietal region � was 15% wider than normal.
Witelson also found that it lacked a fissure that normally runs along the length of the brain. The average human brain has two distinct parietal lobe compartments; Einstein's had one. Perhaps the synapses in this area were more densely interconnected. "Maybe this was one of the underlying factors in his brilliance," she said. "Maybe that is how it works."
She took it as confirmation of her suspicions about the anatomy of intelligence. If there were differences affecting normal mental ability, they would show up in the arrangements of synapses at particular points in the brain. Einstein, she was convinced, had been born with a one-in-a-billion brain. "We suggest that the differences we see are present at birth," Witelson said. "It is not a consequence of environmental differences."
She turned again to the brains in her refrigerator. Wherever she looked, she began to see evidence of how microanatomy might underlie variations in mental abilities. As she matched the brain specimens to the intellectual qualities of their owners, she discovered that differences in the size of the corpus callosum were linked to IQ scores for verbal ability, but only in women. She found that memory was linked to how tightly neurons were packed, but only in men.
Witelson determined that brain volume decreased with age among men, but hardly at all among women. Moreover, those anatomical changes appeared to be closely tied to a gradual decline in mental performance in men. "There is something going on in the male brain," she said, "that is not going on in the female brain."
Brain Conquers All
Last year, a worried farming couple brought their youngest child to McMaster University Medical Center. They were no longer certain whether their child was a girl or a boy. The youngster had traits of both, as occurs in about one in 5,000 births. In this child, nature had devised a living test of gender and the brain.
The medical experts determined that the child's body was a composite of normal and abnormal cells. Some had a girl's usual complement of two female sex chromosomes. Many, perhaps due to a mutation, had only one female chromosome and consequently were almost male. "Which cells got to the brain?" wondered Witelson, who was called in as a consultant. "You have to consider the sex of the brain."
The doctors all suspected the child's brain was masculine. There was no way to know for sure. They could not safely take a sample of neural tissue to biopsy. Until recently, reconstructive surgery based on a doctor's best guess was the rule in such cases. But in Hamilton, they counseled patience, Witelson recalled. "We said, 'Let the child's behavior tell us what sex the child is.' "
Given time, she believed, the brain would reveal itself.
Thomas Stoltz Harvey (October 10, 1912 – April 5, 2007) was a pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Albert Einstein in 1955. He kept Einstein's brain after the autopsy, apparently without permission from the Einstein family. The managing director of the Einstein Memorial Hospital expected Dr. Harvey to write a report on Einstein's brain. The quite limited knowledge about the human brain at that time did not allow for any conclusions beyond the ordinary. Dr. Harvey never finished the expected report.
The controversy cost Harvey his job. In August, 1978, New Jersey Monthly reporter Steven Levy published an article: I Found Einstein's Brain based on his interview with Dr. Harvey when he was living in Wichita, Kansas. In 1988, Dr. Harvey retired and moved to Lawrence, Kansas. In 1996, Harvey moved from Weston, Missouri to Titusville, New Jersey. In 1998, Harvey delivered the remaining uncut portion of Einstein's brain to Dr. Elliot Krauss, a pathologist at Princeton University. Certain parts of Einstein's brain was found to have a higher proportion of glia cells than the average male brain.
In 2005, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Einstein's death, the 93-year-old Harvey was able to give interviews regarding the remarkable history of the brain from his home in New Jersey. He died at the University Medical Center at Princeton on April 5, 2007.
1933: The genius next door
By JON BLACKWELL / The Trentonian
When 8-year-old Adelaide Delong struggled over her addition and times tables, she turned to the one Princeton neighbor she figured could help -- Albert Einstein.
Clutching a plate of homemade fudge and a book of arithmetic problems, young Addie knocked on 112 Mercer St. one day in the 1930s and told the white-haired man who opened the door: "Will you show me how to do my homework?"
The world's greatest scientist could have shooed the little girl off, telling her he was at work on a theory to explain the nature of all physical forces in the universe.
But Einstein didn't do that. Instead, he smiled and accepted Addie's chocolate gift. As gently as he could, he said he would love teach her to add and subtract, but that wouldn't be fair to the other girls at school. And he gave her a cookie in return for her fudge.
"She was a very naughty girl," Einstein would later say with his distinctive, hearty chuckle. "Do you know she tried to bribe me with candy?
From the moment Albert Einstein arrived in Princeton in 1933, a shaggy, sweater-wearing genius with a pipe in one hand and a sheaf of papers in the other, stories like the one about the girl's homework got a good laugh. And the amazing thing is, they were true.
He had no interest in publicizing himself -- "my life is a simple thing that would interest no one," he said -- but his characteristic modesty only made him the more beloved.
Beloved, that is, everywhere but in his native Germany, where Adolf Hitler took power in January 1933.
The Nazis despised Einstein on three counts. He was too smart for them, he was Jewish, and he advocated world peace. It didn't matter that his famous formula of E = MC squared laid the theoretical basis for an atomic bomb; Under the twisted logic of anti-Semitism, he was Jewish. Therefore, his work -- work that had wrapped up thousands of years of scientific observation into a few, dazzling theories -- was "Jewish physics" and must be wrong.
While Hitler raved, his goons went into action. They burned Einstein's treatises. They raided his lakeside villa in suburban Berlin. They seized his furniture books, bank account and even his violin.
Einstein's fellow physicists, the leading brains of German society, goose-stepped right in line with the brownshirts and threw him out of the Prussian Academy of Science as a "traitor."
Fortunately, Einstein was world-wise enough to know what was coming.
The previous fall, he had accepted an invitation from educator Abraham Flexner to study in America. Flexner's idea was to create a haven where physicists and mathematicians could ponder the nature of the world while remaining free from the world's cares -- and free from having to teach. He called this haven the Institute for Advanced Study, endowed it and set it up on the Princeton University campus.
Einstein left Germany for good in December 1932, a month before the Hitler takeover. For most of 1933, he lectured and studied in England and in Belgium. In October, he set sail for America, for what he thought would be a six-month appointment at the Institute.
A delegation of well-wishers were on hand Oct. 17 to greet the great scientist. Einstein gave them the slip. He debarked south of Manhattan, was whisked to the Jersey Shore by launch and driven to Princeton.
Einstein's first act in Princeton was to buy an ice-cream cone. He stopped at the Baltimore ice cream parlor on Nassau Street and ordered vanilla with chocolate sprinkles. An amazed divinity student, John Lampe, watched a transaction that stayed with him the rest of his life. "The great man looked at the cone, smiled at me ... and pointed his thumb first at the cone and then at himself," Lampe later recalled.
On arrival, Einstein made it clear he wished to stay in seclusion. But a group of girl trick-or-treaters knocked on his door at 2 Library Place Halloween night, Einstein came to the front porch and played the violin for them.
Originally, Einstein's stay in Princeton was to be a temporary one. The growing menace of fascism, however, made it unlikely he would ever return to Europe, and he never did.
The new Princetonian never was a fervid booster of his adopted town and once laughed at the borough's leading figures as "demigods on stilts." But he chose to stay anyway.
Carnegie Lake offered him a place to engage in his second-favorite pastime, boating; at his home, he
could practice his greatest love, music.
In 1935, Einstein settled into 112 Mercer St., a white, clapboard house with a spacious back yard for gardening. Five yars later, he took an oath of United States citizenship at the federal building in Trenton, and became an American patriot in his quiet, unostentatious way.
The Mercer Street household also included Einstein's second wife, Elsa, who died in 1936; her daughter, Margot; and the professor's doting secretary, Helen Dukas.
Left behind in Europe were Einstein's first wife and his two sons, one of them an incurable schizophrenic. With time, revisionist historians, would claim Einstein was a cruel, impatient and neglectful husband. But his acquaintances in Princeton had a different impression: of a relaxed, cozy home life where the professor chatted with his friends in German.
Sycophants and glory-seekers clamored to the Einstein household. The professor was wary of them. He preferred friends like young Gillett Griffin, who was an art historian working at Firestone Library with one of Einstein's Czech lady friends.
In 1953, Griffin got an invitation to dine with the Einsteins.
He had the same tastes in music -- Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi -- and he knew I wasn't trying to cash in on his fame," said Griffin, who still lives in Princeton. "After dinner, he said he had work to do and excused himself. I offered to help with the dishes and he said, 'Ach, in Europe, only the women do the dishes!
"Before I left, he showed me this wind-up toy. It was a dickie bird with suction cups for feet, and he put it against a mirror and it climbed to the top. And here I was standing, with my jaw down to my clavicle, and Einstein was watching my face this whole time. Intently.
"He asked me, 'Did you like that?" And I said yes. And afterward, Helen told me, 'You're his friend now.' "
Princetonians loved to joke about Einstein as the absent-minded professor. And absent-minded he could be.
Someone once called the dean's office for directions. "How do I get to Albert Einstein's home?" the caller asked. When the man at the dean's office said he couldn't give out those directions, there was a pause on the other end. Then, a sigh, and a response: "This is Albert Einstein. I got lost walking home from the campus."
But Einstein had to wrestle with problems more weighty than Princeton geography.
In 1905, as a 26-year-old patent clerk, he had floored the science community with special relativity -- adding a fourth dimension, time, to length, height and width. Then, he followed it up with E = MC squared, which proposed that atomic mass could be converted into energy.
By the time of his Princeton years in the '30s, Einstein was growing frustrated by the new quantum theory of physics, where subatomic bodies inhabited a speculative world that behaved according to statistical probabilities, not cause and effect.
"God does not play dice," he muttered and set to work trying to find a grand theory that would replace quantum mechanics with earthly logic. He never came up with it.
Einstein never helped to split the atom and doubted it was even possible. But in 1939, he signed a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt urging him to consider development of an atomic bomb -- a bomb perhaps powerful enough to destroy an entire city -- before Nazi Germany could do the same.
After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the man who devised E = MC squared was seized by a regretful conscience. He campaigned for world government to end the chance of atomic war. He spoke out for civil rights for blacks. His work on behalf of creating a Jewish state of Israel led the new nation to offer him its presidency. (He politely declined.)
In the turbulent atmosphere of the Cold War, some people smeared Einstein as an agitator with "un-American" views, perhaps even a communist.
But for most of the world, his godlike stature only increased with age. His hair grew whiter and wilder, his eyes seemed more soulful and understanding. His daily walks to the Institute for Advanced Study, sandals flapping against his sockless ankles, became slower and slower.
This was the Einstein that Mary Wisnovsky remembered. "To us kids, he was fascinating," said Wisnovsky, who was 6 when she first saw Einstein, and who still lives on Mercer Street neat the Einstein home.
"It wasn't because he was famous -- we didn't know anything about that -- but he had this exotic accent and he was this wonderful, grandfather-like neighbor."
Einstein never lost his sense of humor. The year before he died, he was laughing with Griffin over a letter he got from a Catholic priest friend. The priest wrote that he prayed for Einstein every day through the Virgin Mary -- and that Einstein shouldn't mind, since she was a nice Jewish girl.
On April 18, 1955, at age 76, Einstein died at Princeton Hospital. He had been ill with heart disease and murmured a few words in German before he expired. Because the nurse didn't speak the language, his last words will never be known.
Einstein's will instructed that his brain be removed for further study. Most of it is still kept at a secret location. by the same Hopewell doctor, Thomas Harvey, who performed Einstein's autopsy. Cross-sections of the brain the century's most powerful engine of scientific thought are sometimes mailed to specialists seeking signs of abnormality. Results have been inconclusive.
The rest of Einstein's body was burned at the Ewing Crematorium and the ashes scattered at an unknown site.
So the greatest scientist of modern times has no grave marker. But a cartoon done by Herblock after Einstein's death suggested that didn't matter.
The drawing showed planet Earth with a simple inscription:
"Einstein lived here."
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