BBC Learning: Fragments Of Genius. This is a remarkable show on autistic savants. I’ve included the link to the BitTorrent file of the show. Here are some of the highlights.
Derek Paravicini is completely blind and autistic. Numbers are difficult and he doesn’t know right from left. Yet he can reproduce anything he hears on the piano. Watch him play Bye, Bye Blackbird (12:00), recreate Memories at an early age (13:00), and demonstrate absolute pitch of not just single notes but complex chords (22:45). He was born premature at 26 weeks and weighed 1 pound 5 ounces. He clinically died 2 or 3 times yet beat the odds and made his debut as a concert pianist at only 9 years old. Wait until you hear his Art Tatum-esque piano solo (9:45).
Steven Wiltshire, an autistic artist, is known for his drawings of buildings and has an audience of millions. He draws them completely from memory with astonishing accuracy. He can’t do math but if there are 145 windows in a building he’ll reproduce exactly 145 windows. He’s had this skill ever since he was a young child. Watch in amazement as he takes a helicopter ride–constantly changing and no longer than a few minutes, mind you–to get a birds-eye view of London. Then on the ground, 3 hours later and from memory, he has produced an exact copy drawn to perspective and scale of 4 square miles, with 12 major london landmarks and 200 other buildings (28:54). Watching him draw it in real time is almost scary (27:00).
Professor Allan Snyder, University of Sydney, is convinced that these amazing abilities are in each and every one of us and we can tap into them. The theories about savants are they either practice a lot or are born with these skills but no current theory can explain exactly why they can do what they do. Snyder believes that we have learned how to simplify information and savants have not. He plans to use a technique called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to bring on savant behavior in himself and his colleagues. Count me in.
On the other side of the Pacific, Dr. Bruce Miller, University of California San Francisco, studies patients with dementia and finds links to savants. By analyzing brain scans of patients with autism and dementia, he discovered diminished function in the left anterior temporal lobe, the part of the brain that controls analysis, conceptualization and language. He believes this damage has led to a release of visual skills.
The only thing I have to add is the work of Win Wenger. His Image Streaming technique attempts to do naturally what Allan Snyder believes is at the root of savants gift. By removing the filters to the flow of information into and within the mind, image streaming allows you to demonstrate higher intelligence. From my own experience, I believe this to be true. But savant-like skills? Not yet anyway.
Enjoy the show.
Link: Fragments Of Genius
(Cross-posted at The Graham English Blog)