The Rainman Within — Part 2 of 2

Disclaimer

2014-0622 MemoryThe article that inspired this post was written by Victoria Lambert, published by The Daily Telegraph, and distributed by National Post Wire Service. I like the fact the article mentions more than one plausible explanation for Savant Syndrome, so I referenced the article in this post. I included links to other posts I have written about Savants in case you want to read more about this fascinating syndrome. Please click here if you have not read the first part of this post.

Article by Victoria Lambert Part 2 of 2

All savants boast a very deep memory, Treffert has reported. For example, on March 14, 2004, Daniel Tammet publicly recited, from memory, pi to 22,514 decimal places. It took him five hours and nine minutes. He explained how he had committed the sequence to memory in his book Thinking in Numbers. Daniel has also taught himself 11 languages (including Icelandic in just a week).

But savants’ powers extend far beyond mere recall. Treffert has identified the most significant areas of savant skill — what he calls “islands of ability” — as taking in art, music, calendar calculation, math and spatial skills. For instance, Leslie Lemke, from Wisconsin, born with such severe birth defects that doctors had to remove both his eyes, was put up for adoption and could not stand unaided until he was 12. Four years later, his adopted mother woke up one night to hear him playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1. Leslie, who had no classical music training, was playing the piece flawlessly after hearing it just once earlier on the television. His remarkable ability to play by ear saw him performing and recording until ill-health finally scuppered his talent.

After a head injury as a toddler, Alonso Clemons of Boulder, Colorado, now in his fifties, discovered an ability to sculpt animals to a remarkably life-like degree just using his hands and fingernails. Orlando Serrell could tell the day of the week of any given date after being struck by a baseball at the age of 10 in 1979. Anthony Cicoria, a 62-year-old orthopaedic surgeon from Oneonta, N.Y., could play the piano to concert standard following a lightning strike in 1994. Meanwhile, Pip Taylor, a 49-year-old woman from Birkenhead, northwest England, recently discovered a talent as an artist after hitting her head falling down the stairs. She is now being commissioned to produce portraits.

So what lies behind these astonishing brain boosts? Some neurologists believe that it is the brain’s ability to bend and rewire itself, its neuroplasticity, which leads to the development of extraordinary new skills. Behavioural neurologist Bruce Miller, of the UCSF Memory and Aging Center in San Francisco, however, has come up with a new theory to explain the phenomenon. He believes the talents of a savant emerge when the areas damaged — those associated with logic, verbal communication, and comprehension — have inhibited latent artistic abilities already present. According to this theory, these hyper skills, such as great proficiency in music, manifest themselves as the areas of the right brain associated with creativity operate unchecked for the first time.

“Different parts of the brain are massively interconnected and it is possible that inhibition in one part of the brain following injury can lead to increased activity in other areas, which can sometimes result in surprising and unexpected effects.

“However, it is important to remember that brain injury almost always impairs rather than enhances people.”

Indeed, despite Jason’s new savant status, he too has spoken about the toll his injury has exacted. While he was once outgoing, the shock of discovering his new skills made him introverted, and he started to spend all of his time at home, covering up his windows with blankets and refusing visitors. He became obsessed with bacteria and would scrub his hands until they were red. He would not even hug his own daughter until she had washed her hands.

In the process of understanding sudden savants, he said, “we can also learn more about ourselves, explore the ’challenge to our capabilities’ and uncover the hidden potential — the little Rain Man — that resides, perhaps, within us all.”

Credits

Click here to read a Beyond Injury post about Rex.

Thanks to Victoria Lambert for writing the article; The Daily Telegraph for publishing the article, National Post Wire Service for distributing the article; New York Post for its contribution; Google for helping me find the article and picture; as well as all the people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text I used in this post.

2 Comments

  1. I read some scientists say the only way to know things one never learned is for that knowledge to have been genetically programmed into our brains from birth, factory installed. How exiting.

    This research has been going on since 1999. A Dr Allan Snyder neuropsychologist with others at the Centre for the Mind at Sydney University, created a “thinking cap” that stimulates creative powers using magnetism. I hope their theory is proven correct . I could use some extra talents.

    1. Esther, given the choice, I think we would all pick extra talents if we could pick them like we pick food from the buffet line. However, even if we had the skill, the skill must be nurtured (practiced) before it blossoms into a real talent. For example, even though many people have the ability to eat well and exercise, but they don’t. Great athletes, inventors, Nobel prize winners, etc. achieved what they did through practice, commitment, and repetition.

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