Who stole Einstein’s brain and sent it in pieces all around the world?

Albert Einstein was undoubtedly one of the best-known characters of the 20th century. A certain veneration for his image of absolute genius and scientific messiah orbited him. It was an interesting era of worship of science back in the 1920s and 1930s.

Einstein became a kind of oracle who was asked a series of questions, far beyond the scientific. They asked him about religion, the Jewish holocaust, his personal life, politics, practically everything, and he said more than once, that what he wanted was time alone to think, without distractions.

Best known for developing the general theory of relativity and the mass-energy equivalence, one of the most absent-minded genius physicists, Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Germany.

His scholarly feats have made the name of Einstein synonymous with ‘Genius’. When he passed away on April 18, in the year 1955, in Princeton, New Jersey, from an abdominal aortic aneurysm, his brain was stolen by the pathologist on call, Thomas Harveys.

Why Einstein’s brain was stolen

Because of his world-renowned genius, Albert Einstein’s brain became a coveted object — even after he died. Within hours of Albert Einstein’s death on April 18, 1955, an autopsy was performed on him by a doctor who actually stole his brain.

Einstein was not very fond of this general admiration. He hated her. He hated being in everyone’s “crosshairs”. But it was inevitable. When offered the presidency of the newborn nation of Israel, he rejected the proposal, saying he would not know how to run a country.

All these kinds of petitions, exaltations, and distinctions overwhelmed him. He then made sure to explicitly state in his will that he did not want to be buried but cremated and have his ashes scattered so that there would be no grave to visit. Specifically, he had commented while alive “I want to be cremated so that people will not worship my bones.”

But the plans weren’t going to go exactly as Einstein had calculated.

On the day of the autopsy, two professionals, friends with each other, Dr. Harry Zimmerman and Dr. Thomas Harvey (who had been a student of the former), were talking about who would do the work. In the end, the task fell to Harvey. He wanted the honor of working with the most admired character of the day, and Zimmerman thought it only fair to let his former student have that honor.

Harvey came face to face with Einstein and determined that the cause of his death was an abdominal aortic aneurysm; which they had already warned the Physicist in his lifetime could happen if he did not undergo an operation. But Einstein flatly refused to have surgery and decided that he did not want to extend his life.

The rest of Einstein’s body was cremated in Trenton, New Jersey, on April 20, at which time his son, Hans Albert Einstein, learned what Harvey had done. He eventually agreed that the brain could be studied, but only on the condition that those studies be published in scientific journals of high standing.

Not only did Harvey steal Albert Einstein’s brain, but he also removed the physicists’ eyes, which he then gave to Einstein’s ophthalmologist.

What happened to his brain of Einstein afterward
Harvey soon lost his job at the Princeton hospital and took the brain to Philadelphia. He carved the brain responsible for the equation E=mc2 into 240 pieces. The parts were preserved in celloidin- a hard and rubbery form of cellulose. He put the pieces into two jars and stored them in his basement.

Harvey traveled to different parts of the world carrying the parts of the brain with him.

In the year 1985, Harvey and collaborators in California published the first study on Einstein’s brain. It claimed that it had an abnormal proportion of two types of cells, neurons, and glia. The study was followed by five others, reporting additional differences in individual cells or in particular structures in Einstein’s brain.

The 1927 Solvay Conference in Brussels, a gathering of the world’s top physicists. Einstein is in the center.
However, the studies were controversial with Terence Hines, a professor of psychology at Pace University, branding them as bunk. He presented a poster at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society annual meeting outlining all of the ways in which each of the six studies was flawed.

In the year, 1999, Harvey and Canadian collaborators got Einstein’s brain into one of the most prestigious medical journals. Based on an old photograph of Einstein’s brain, before it was cut, the researchers claimed that Einstein had an abnormal folding pattern in parts of his parietal lobe. It is the part that is linked to mathematical ability.


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