The Story of Einstein’s Brain

Josh Jones in Open Culture:

The 1994 documentary above, Einstein’s Brain, is a curious artifact about an even stranger relic, the brain of the great physicist, extracted from his body hours after he died in 1955. The brain was dissected, then embarked on a convoluted misadventure, in several pieces, across the North American continent. Before Einstein’s Brain tells this story, it introduces us to our guide, Japanese scholar Kenji Sugimoto, who immediately emerges as an eccentric figure, wobbling in and out of view, mumbling awed phrases in Japanese. We encounter him in a darkened cathedral, staring up at a backlit stained-glass clerestory, praying, perhaps, though if he’s praying to anyone, it’s probably Albert Einstein. His first words in heavily accented English express a deep reverence for Einstein alone. “I love Albert Einstein,” he says, with religious conviction, gazing at a stained-glass window portrait of the scientist.

Sugimoto’s devotion perfectly illustrates what a Physics Worldarticle described as the cultural elevation of Einstein to the status of a “secular saint.” Sugimoto’s zeal, and the rather implausible events that follow this opening, have prompted many people to question the authenticity of his film and to accuse him of perpetrating a hoax. Some of those critics may mistake Sugimoto’s social awkwardness and wide-eyed enthusiasm for credulousness and unprofessionalism, but it is worth noting that he is experienced and credentialed as a professor in mathematics and science history at the Kinki University in Japan and, according to a title card, he “spent thirty years documenting Einstein’s life and person.”

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