Albert Einstein’s brain was left to science. What can we learn from his gift that might be useful to caretakers, teachers, parents and children? What things don’t we do for our kids that we might, things which could make a significant, positive difference throughout their whole lives?
First of all, Einstein’s brain was different than yours and mine, but apparently not by all that much. According to Dr. Ken Heilman, author of Creativity and the Brain …
Einstein had an enlarged left inferior… undivided parietal lobe, suggesting that this bigger and more highly connected supra-modal cortex gave Einstein an advantage in doing mathematics and spatial computations. In 1985, Geschwind and Galaburda posited that delay in the development of the left hemisphere of the brain may allow the right hemisphere, which mediates spatial computations, to become highly specialized. It was Einstein’s view that his own creativity was heavily dependent on spatial reasoning. Thus, the abnormal development of his left hemisphere may have led to the right hemisphere becoming highly specialized for spatial computations.
If you have something going on in one side of the brain, [could] that “disinhibit” the other side of the brain [into] developing even greater ability? Could Einstein’s dyslexia and lack of development of his left hemisphere have allowed his right hemisphere to grow and be well connected and to have excellent modules? People who have tremendous creativity also have tremendous connectivity.
What does this mean in everyday language? It might mean that American education’s early emphasis on left brain learning – logical and linear thinking, language learning and literal-mindedness, might be coming at a greater cost than we realize. Because our left brain is allowed to dominate so early, might it end up costing our children a life of brilliant creativity? For example, recent research shows that functional impulsivity is strongly correlated with entrepreneurial success. If delayed left brain learning encourages and cultivates functional impulsivity might parents want to consider this for their children?
Cultivating Human Connectivity
According to Heilman and his colleagues, creative innovation is “the ability to understand and express novel orderly relationships.” A key here for me, is that creative innovation requires having someone important and significant to express that creativity to! Without such people, many of us only get to express our uniqueness – as Mark Twain recently observed – from the grave.
One piece that I think is critical to Einstein’s development is that he wasn’t excessively shamed and ridiculed for his “differentness.” And I would argue that his lifelong involvement with the supportive allies who formed his Olympia Academy: Michele Besso, Paul Ehrenfest, Conrad Habicht, Marcel Grossmann, Maurice Slovine, not to mention his math-whiz wife, Mileva, were essential to his success. Would Einstein, for example, have continued his work in physics after his University of Zurich doctoral dissertation was rejected, had he not had this group’s unqualified support?
Outside the Outliers
In his new book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell further underscores the importance of creative allies – significant people who “get” us in ways that allow us to feel embraced and welcomed in all our weirdness and divergence. Bill Gates had his Paul Allen, Steve Jobs had his Steve Wozniak, Sergei has Larry, and the Beatles had each other, which allowed them to learn their trade playing together in Germany. They played for months and months for little money to a distracted audience in the Indra Club and the Kaiserkeller, located in Hamburg’s red-light district. Without passionate and compassionate allies, it becomes difficult to deal with the hardships and challenges that will inevitably arise and threaten to derail us.
Back to Brain Basics
What I find particularly compelling about this social necessity for optimal neurological development, is that it continually brings us back to The Big Brain Question. Most of the struggles and suffering that have shown up in my life have been when I was not able to answer The Big Brain Question with an unqualified “Yes” for those who counted on me. And they were not able to answer it “Yes” for me, especially in times of crisis – when each of us was most in need of having it answered unfailingly in the affirmative.
And answering this question Yes consistently is not at all an easy thing to do, especially when our neurophysiology is working against us – when our limbic system is being regularly highjacked and flooding our body and brain with cortisol and adrenaline. In excessive amounts, these chemicals become neurotoxins that we know “damage” the brain. Important connections wither and die, particularly where the prefrontal regions connect to and help regulate the limbic structures. Without these connections it’s difficult to consistently feel calm and safe. When we’re operating at the level of survival, it becomes a superhuman challenge to make our life a creative work of art. In fact, the brain at survival level more closely operates as it does in someone who’s suffered a stroke. Stay tuned for ways to creatively address this recurring challenge.