If I Only Had Einstein's Brain
The human brain is a funny thing. Some of us use it. Some consider it a vestigial organ like the appendix or little toe and treat it like a museum piece that shouldn't be disturbed. Still others forget they have one, but we're not here to talk about TV programming executives.In any case, according to scientists, one physical brain is pretty much like the other. That's right, the difference between two brains, like say Albert Einstein's and Jesse Helms', is negligible. Aside from the fact that in this case neither of them shows any sign of neural activity.Einstein's shouldn't. After all, it's been sitting in a cafeteria-size mayonnaise jar full of formaldehyde for 44 years, taking up precious cardboard box space in the Kansas office of Dr. Thomas Harvey. Harvey is the doctor who performed the autopsy on Einstein, saving the brain even though he didn't have permission. In some states -- okay all of them -- this is what's called theft. But the Einstein family let him keep it, probably because he used the convincing argument that "It's too light for a doorstop, too wet for a paperweight, and you'll need to get your hands on a second one if you're going to use it as a bookend."A couple of years ago, doing his best Calvin Coolidge imitation, Dr. Harvey sent a one-sentence fax to McMaster University in Canada asking if they wanted to check out the cool brain he had. Now the people at McMaster weren't exactly sitting around the Bunsen burner toasting S'mores and singing, "If we only had a brain." After all, they already had one of the world's largest collections of brain samples. Some people collect thimbles. Some Beanie Babies. In Hamilton, Ontario they figured brains would be a fun thing to amass. And why not? When it comes time to sell them there won't be a whole lot of competition on eBay, now will there?That's how a team of neuroscientists ended up going over Einstein's brain with a fine tooth comb, which is more than he ever did with his hair when he was alive. It turns out that his brain is very much like yours and mine only much, much smarter. Okay, much, much, much, much, much smarter. It's average size, average weight, and looks like a soggy gray cauliflower that's been sitting on a Las Vegas buffet table way too long.They did, however, discover something interesting -- it turns out the parietal operculum (Latin for "icky brain stuff") was missing. They called Dr. Harvey, the guy who stole -- I mean yanked it out in the first place, but he swore he didn't have it.That's how they came to postulate a theory, which lucky for them is legal in Canada. At least during any month ending in 'R'. They theorized that the lack of the parietal operculum (or "missing gunk") left a gap so another part of the brain (technically called "other stuff") grew larger than usual, which may have accounted for Einstein's ability to stay dead all these years without his brain. Oh yeah, and come up with those high falutin' theories of his.Scientists are convinced that by examining and probing the brain they'll eventually understand how it works. Right. These are, after all, people who have trouble remembering to zip up their musca domestica. Or call it a fly like the rest of us.The problem is they're looking for rational answers in an irrational organ. How else to explain a recent survey by Home and Garden Television (Motto: "Zzzzzzzzzzz") that claims 52 percent of the men they surveyed prefer to spend their leisure time doing gardening and landscaping while 47 percent would rather have sex. Yeah, right. What the study failed to point out was that the ones who preferred pulling weeds to pulling, well, something much more fun bore a remarkable similarity to Einstein -- they were medically brain dead too.But scientists keep trying. And Lord knows they have plenty of brains to work with. They have the smartest (Einstein's), the most powerful (Stalin's), and the most warped (Jeffrey Dahmer's). The Russians claim to have the biggest collection of brains in the world, including those of czars, politicians, and criminals, which does seem rather redundant. One brain they don't have, though, is John Dillenger's. Then again, neither do we. Well, not exactly. The Smithsonian Institute reputedly has his penis and, as any woman will attest, this means they also have his brain.Probing the brain with forceps, a scalpel, and a Ronco Home Garnish Tool isn't going to reveal but so much. The brain will always do unpredictable things. An article in the June issue of the Southern Medical Journal ("Y'all turn your head and cough, now, ya heah?") says psychotic patients are starting to have delusions about being controlled by the Internet, replacing such standbys as Communists, the CIA, radio waves, and that voice on Punky Brewster reruns that keeps telling me to wear Tupperware in my pants so I don't become sterile.Yes, the Internet is now The Official Delusion of the New Millennium. The article tells of a man who was convinced that someone placed Internet bugs in his ears that could read his mind and control his thoughts. And that his web page was linked to his extremities so when certain keys were pressed his arms and legs would jump. Sounds like the next generation of sex chat rooms if you ask me.Maybe when he dies he'll donate his brain to science so they can see how it compares to Einstein's. And Dahmer's. I suspect they'll discover them all to be about the same size, same weight, and even have pretty much the same parts. Except, of course, Einstein's will be much, much smarter.