Monday, May 22, 2006

Postcards from the Coincidence Museum

I just finished reading Postcards from the Brain Museum: The Improbable Search for Meaning in the Matter of Famous Minds (Amazon). It is a great book, and it was a graduation gift from a great friend, Narine Yegiyan (thanks Narine!).

In short, the book chronicles the attempt to solve genius by examining actual (dead) brains of famous people. It is a good read if you are interested in both the mind and the history and philosophy of science. It dovetails nicely with Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man (Amazon).

As I was reading the penultimate chapter, I came across a rather trivial historical fact. Thomas Harvey was the pathologist on duty when Albert Einstein died. And somehow he made off with the famous man's brain. It is pretty clear that this was strongly against Einstein's wishes. However, he convinced the next of kin that the brain would be used for scientific discovery.

It seems that a couple of trivial -- and wrong minded -- journal articles did result from investigation of Einstein's brain. But mostly it moved around the country with Harvey.

And there was one particular incident that reveals the very bizarre nature of this whole business of preserving, pickling, and slicing dead men's brains (sadly, I cannot recall a single named woman in the book).

What caught my eye was that the book said that at one point in the mid-1980s, Harvey practiced medicine in Weston, Missouri (until he lost his medical license in 1988). Well, it just so happens that my wife grew up in Weston, and it's the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone. And my wife was a teen-ager then.

I mentioned the weird link (Einstein's brain lived in Weston the same time she did), and she thought she recalled the name. Well, today she confirmed it with her grandmother -- and even discovered that her great grandmother had employed the services of said Dr. Harvey. Not surprisingly, they did not have a favorable impression of Dr. Harvey.

It's a small, weird world. Sometimes you just don't know you're living in the same small town as Albert Einstein's brain. Maybe it's just me, but how darned weird is it to think of Einstein's brain in your neighbor's basement?

To me the funniest part was my wife's quip, "Too bad the smartest thing to ever be in Weston was a dead man's brain." Har.


Post a Comment

<< Home