And one final thought that struck me from Dr. Michio Kaku’s speech. As with my other two blog entries about him, again, it wasn’t about some of the cutting-edge science he described, but rather an anecdote that piqued my interest.
Kaku described (and a story by National Geographic confirmed) that when Albert Einstein died in 1955, he left instructions to be cremated. As part of the autopsy, pathologist who worked on Einstein’s body extracted the brain. When he held it in his hand, he realized that he had something special — in his opinion, too special to be destroyed — so he took Einstein’s brain home in a jar!
The brain traveled in the back seat of his car, was stored in a cider box for years, moved states again — before he eventually donated it back to Princeton 40 years later.
The pathologist, Thomas Harvey, did receive from Einstein’s son retroactive permission to study the brain, but he did not have authority to preserve it when he did.
Have you ever found yourself in a similar moral conundrum, where you truly believed something was the right thing to do, even though you did not have the right to do it? As in this case, things are often complicated by the fact it is a “now or never” irrevocable decision — if you cremate the brain, there is no deciding later that it was the wrong choice.
Is it better to ask permission or forgiveness? I recommend that you reflect on your values and become clear about your inner compass before you are holding the brain in your hand.
The tragic story of how Einstein’s brain was stolen and wasn’t even special by Virginia Hughes, Only Human, phenomena.nationalgeographic.com, April 21, 2014.