Einstein’s EEG

I’ve been reading through neurological atlases of the intracranial electroencephalogram to research the frequencies of oscillations that are characteristic of different brain areas in health and disease.  Today I was able to exhume from a library Epilepsy and the Functional Anatomy of the Human Brain, a 1954 book by the pioneering Wilder Penfield and Herbert Jasper.  In it is an amusing anecdote about the EEG alpha rhythm and Albert Einstein:

‘The familiar blocking of the occipital alpha rhythm when the eyes are opened also occurs when the eyes are opened in a totally darkened room, “trying to see.” (Adrian and Matthews, 1934.)  It is the attention rather than the visual stimulus as such that causes the reaction.  This is shown also in problem solving.  Simple arithmetical operations cause no appreciable effect, but when a difficulty is encountered which requires special concentration, the alpha waves are blocked, to reappear promptly when the problem is solved.

For example, Einstein was found to show a fairly continuous alpha rhythm while carrying out rather intricate mathematical operations, which, however, were fairly automatic for him.  Suddenly his alpha waves dropped out and he appeared restless.  When asked if there was anything wrong, he replied that he had found a mistake in the calculations he had made the day before.  He asked to telephone Princeton immediately.’ [pgs. 189-190]

I had heard Einstein’s EEG had been recorded (one of the many attempts at trying to understand the mechanism of his genius), but had not heard of any results.  Does anyone out there know if any of his data were ever published?

The secret to legendary hair? Conductive EEG paste.



2 thoughts on “Einstein’s EEG

  1. Hi David,

    It seems the results of Einstein’s EEG were never written up scientifically, but they made Life and the New York Times with some amazing photos accompanying them!

    Here’s a link to the Life Magazine page:

    And to the New York Times:

    And this history of neuroscience article discusses the effort:

    “In fact, the result of the experiment was not so spectacular, but the event itself was: it was a kind of brain wave contest between three scientific geniuses, Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, and Norbert Wiener … Unfortunately, only one result has been published (see Figure 2). Neither the EEG of the theory of computation nor that of cybernetics has been made available, only the EEG of the theory of relativity, or to be more precise, the visualization of the electrical activity of Einstein’s brain while he was asked to think on the theory of relativity.”


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