The Woman in Einstein’s Social Brain

With my friend and colleague Chandra Murkerji, I revisited the argument in the essay I wrote for Zócalo on Einstein’s Brain. We can now offer some observations on the perennial controversy concerning the role of Einstein’s first wife, Mileva Marić, in his achievements. Marić was a Serbian physicist and mathematician, and the only woman in Einstein’s class at Zurich’s Polytechnic. She was the second woman to complete the program of study in the Department of Mathematics and Physics at the Polytechnic. 

We now have a new way to evaluate her contributions to Einstein’s thinking. Among the historical reasons for considering her influence are the facts that her handwriting is on some of Einstein’s early manuscripts, and she helped him with his math. But if we consider that from the perspective that “Einstein’s Genius Wasn’t In His Brain; It Was In His Friends” we see that Mileva was one of those in his social network whose shoulders he stood on; in other words, she was very much a part of his social brain. We are not dealing here with the question of whether or not she was his intellectual equal. The classical way of considering the extent of her influence (based on the myth of individualism) was to look for direct, physically visible signs of influence. We suggest the revision of the “Giants” metaphor to read “Standing on the Shoulders of Social Networks” means that Mileva was part of Einstein’s social brain. We don’t have all the data needed to establish the precise content of her contributions but there can be no question that she contributed to his thinking. Women have not been standing behind their men; they have literally been in their heads.

—Sal Restivo and Chandra Murkerji, Professor Emerita, UC San Diego


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