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The Brain of Einstein

  1. Nov 4, 2004 #1
    The Brain of Einstein, a Question

    I have a foggy understand of Special Relativity, and understand that it was understood previously without a real theory by Lorenz, but the General Theory was such a shot coming out of nowhere, without physical validation, that is impossible to understand the mathematical capability, imagination, intuition and the certainty with which Einstein presented it.

    In Math I have heard the question, "How do you know you are right?" Well, a problem can be approached by many avenues, so there are many checks on the work. In Physics I assume the checks largely come from experimental verification, you try this experiment and then you modify your hypothesis.

    This work of Einstein has no parallel, is it the greatest achievement of the human intellect in History? Was his brain no different than that of others? Was it merely a lucky guess, or did his intuition have some special ability, or was it--at least to him--just a question of following the most logical course?

    Newton, after all, had many reasons to know he was right, and the work was scarcely criticized, yet with Einstein, there was much to verify even after his death, even today, such as in 1971 sending up planes with atomic clocks to discover a time dilation on the order of one ten millionth of a second. And remember we have a problem with the rotation of the earth, and with the time dilation caused by gravity. How could he have thought of this? How could this be?
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 5, 2004 #2
    Just as Newton "stood on the shoulders of giants," Einstein did, too. There are probably more contributors to Einstein's work, but at first thought I can identify 4:

    1. Georg Riemann -- laid the mathematical foundations for GR in mid 1800's
    2. James Maxwell -- established relation between light & E&M in late 1800's
    3. Michelson/Morley -- failed to demonstrate the existence of ether in space, thus hinting at the constant speed of light for all inertial observers.

    Einstein stood on the work of these fellows, including many others, and using imagination, creativity, good logic and reasoning, and inherent mathematical ability, he was able to develop a new theory of gravity, space, and time that went beyond Newton's paradigm.
  4. Nov 5, 2004 #3
    Yes, but I have gone into this before on PF, Einstein never acknowledged that he had heard of the Michelson/Morley result in formulating
    SR, and in his later years said at Princton that if he had heard of it, he would have referred to it in his 1905 paper. https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=41371
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2004
  5. Nov 5, 2004 #4
    I believe that a lot of people would argue that Isaac Newton's surpassed Einstein's in both ingenuity and in the quantity of new ideas. After, all, Isaac Newton pretty much formulated the entire field of classical mathematical physics. Obviously even he admits to have stood on the shoulders of others, but still he basically addressed every concept in physics while his predecessors each only focused on one tiny little part of it. He took on the whole field.

    He also invented the calculus of mathematics right along side the physics (not to imply that he was the only one) but he certainly invented his calculus on his own, he wasn't working directly with others on calculus.

    Compare that to Einstein who really wasn't much of a mathematician at all. He required a whole lot of help from mathematicians to formulate his theories. So I personally would say that Isaac Newton achieved more than Einstein over all. Einstein's work was simply more "shocking" to the physics community. These discoveries were also ripe at the time and even if Einstein had never been born someone else (or groups of others) would have necessarily had to come to the same conclusions eventually.
    I personally believe that he simply followed the most logical course. Although some of his insights may have been lucky. But don't forget, Einstein dwelled on these problems almost continuously. Most people simply don't do that. If you think about something long enough and hard enough you're bound to have a breakthrough idea somewhere along the way.
    Again, it all comes back to his relentless pursuit and focus on these ideas. He was determined to solve the puzzle of gravity. It took him many years to accomplish GR with much help from other mathematicians. But ultimately his ideas were his own. He simply had complete faith in the validity of his own logical thought process. Couple that with what the mathematics would dictate and there's only one place to end up.

    Einstein also didn't really care what other people thought or what they were doing. He didn't care whether anyone agreed with him or not. He was only concerned with whether or not his own ideas made sense to him. So he wasn't dissuaded by the opinions of others. He just wanted to solve the puzzles of physics.

    I seriously don't believe that he was much different from anyone else who has a fairly decent logical mind. He was much different that most people on a social level though. But then most passionate scientists generally are.

    Isaac Newton was my first hero in life. Einstein became my second hero. But then I started to really appreciate the work of many scientists. Today I'd have to say that my two most favorite are Zeno and Leucippus, both from ancient Greece and both were probably more philosophers than scientists, but there were philosophizing about physical concepts. I see both Zeno and Leucippus as having been right about concluding that the universe must be discontinuous. To me that is pretty powerful thinking for their time. They both came to the same conclusions from pure thought yet it took the rest of humanity almost 2500 years to catch up to them, and we aren't even quite there yet!
  6. Nov 10, 2004 #5
    I might make it the greatest achivement of that year.

    That decade? No. That century? Hell no. All time? You must be kidding me.

    Einstein is famous because he had fluffy white hair that made him look amusing and had a habit of saying cute things that people can quote. He was a great scientist, but there were many better in the 20th century.
  7. Sep 29, 2006 #6
    Any links or libraries that can show me Einstein's original documents?
  8. Oct 1, 2006 #7

    No doubt science has many things in common with art and this is especially valid in physics where we deal in many cases with unobservables, situated far from direct sensorial experience. The theoretical physicist - like the artist (to some extent of course, the artist has way fewer limitations than a scientist) - has to use his intuition (going well beyond having experience) if he really wants to achieve intellectual breakthroughs, no amount of empirical data is enough to find the system of basic enunciations which to organize and explain sense experiences.

    In Einstein’s own words (paraphrased): “the experience can suggest us useful mathematical concepts but in any case can we deduce them from it. The experience remains of course the only criterion which validates the utility of a mathematical concept for physics…but in some sense I consider true the fact that pure reason is able to grasp Reality, the dream of the Ancients.” (see “On the method of theoretical physics”).

    [Also very important is the capacity to 'see' beyond the context - I mean here enunciations accepted by the majority of scientists, very successful otherwise previously - the scientist must always be able of rational criticism even regarding the most 'obvious' statements accepted by the majority of physicists, otherwise as Popper said (paraphrased) "...even the most obvious connections remain unseen if we are constantly brainwashed that such connections are impossible or meaningless"]

    Theories are ‘invented’ therefore (not derived from experience using induction as some believe though, of course, there are rare cases when this ‘mechanistic’ induction does work) being in an important measure a free creation of the mind. The scientist is free to use even statements that cannot be falsified / corroborated in isolation and the system of axioms chosen in the premises is not fixed, essential is the capacity of this system to explain and organize the multitude of sensorial data in the most economic way possible (of course novel, potentially testable, predictions have to exist).

    As far as I remember the study of Einstein’s brain revealed only a higher concentration of glial cells (I've seen once a documentary about this, on Discovery if I remember well) nothing ‘hors commun’ though. But from what I’ve read recent studies suggest that these cells play a much more important role in human thinking than previously thought (see this for example). This may explain, at least in part, his great capacity of hard work and concentration, the basis for his great intellectual achievements.
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2006
  9. Oct 1, 2006 #8


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    I'd rather be interested in the (unfortunately impossible) study of Archimedes' brain. In terms of intellectual excellence, there is no one who has been so far ahead of his contemporaries as Archimedes was. The only one who could possibly compete with him, is Gauss.
  10. Oct 1, 2006 #9


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    a study on Einstein's brain reveals he had a lot more glia than the average brain, which has also led neurologists to re-examine glia's role in thought processing.

    For uncredible reference, just google "Einstein glia"
  11. Oct 1, 2006 #10
  12. Oct 29, 2006 #11


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    Don't forget Henri Poincaré and Hendrik Lorentz.

    We are led to belive that before relativity, physics was still in the dark ages and Einstein changed everything.
    In fact, many of the concepts normally associated with relativity already existed, including: the principle of relativity, the fact that the speed of light is a constant (from maxwell's equations), space contraction/space dillation rection of movement (lorentz/poincare). Einstein's biggest contribution was e=mc2.

    Read more on this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Poincaré#Work_on_relativity
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