Re: Einstein's Brain
Sun, 25 Apr 1999 11:23:16 -0700

David Musick,, wrote:

> Very good point. Our minds improve with use. Einstein was so
> intelligent because he was always thinking, always trying to understand
> things. His intelligence was not a random event; he deliberately chose
> it by constantly exercising his mind. I believe that nearly all humans
> are capable of becoming geniuses; of course, it takes years of intense
> mental exercise and mental discipline, and one must be committed to
> increasing one's own intelligence (this is why most people, sadly enough,
> are not geniuses).

I'm not that familiar with Einstein, but from what I understand this is not a very accurate characterization of his intelligence.

Actually, Einstein did almost all of his best work when he was young. His papers on the photoelectric effect, brownian motion, and special relativity would any one of them have been worth a Nobel prize, all published in his twenties. He set the foundations for quantum mechanics and relativity, the great revolutions of 20th century physics, in just a year or two.

After that, he slowed way down. He labored for almost two decades to incorporate gravitation into relativity, finally producing his magnum opus of general relativity. But that seemed to burn him out. He never accomplished anything else of significance.

Einstein is in fact considered a notorious example of a great mind which loses its flexibility once it gets older. He was never able to accept quantum mechanics in its full form, tossing out one objection after another, all of which were defeated by younger and more vital thinkers.

There have been scientists who remain active and productive throughout their lives, people who, as David says, constantly exercise their minds and maintain their intelligence. They are like the marathon runners of the intellect. But Einstein was a sprinter. His early brilliance was so impressive that we are still dazzled by it today, 100 years later. But after that, he burned out.

I wonder whether this loss of creativity and intelligence would show itself in his brain structure. Maybe when he was younger he would have had more neurons, which died off to leave an apparent excess of supportive glial cells. Maybe his brain mass would have been above average instead of below average. Perhaps in the future we will be able to make measurements of great minds while they are still alive and at their peak of power.