Geniuses, Prodigies & Savants and Extraordinary People. What Can We Learn from Them?
Idiot savants or autistic savants are individuals with the savant syndrome condition are people who demonstrate above average super abilities and skills such as rapid calculation, artistic ability, map making and musical ability usually in the categories of art, memory, arithmetic, musical abilities and spatial skills. Savants usually have one special skill or super intelligence as a result of some mental disabilities or brain injuries. Some savants acquired super skills after an accident. For example, Derek Amato suffered an injury from diving into a swimming pool. After that, he discovered he was really good a playing piano.
Research on the savant syndrome
Dr Darrold Treffert, a psychiatrist in St. Agnes Hospital at Fond-du-lac, Wisconsin and the author of the books on autistic savants, Extraordinary People – Understanding Savant Syndrome and Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired and Sudden Savant. Treffert was the first researcher to suggest that we all possess innate savant skills. In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks writes about the calculating twins, George and Charles who entertained themselves by trading six-digit prime numbers with what Sacks described as “holy intensity.” in spite the fact that the twins were incapable of performing simple multiplication.
Can anyone acquire super abilities and skills? How can we release or tap into our dormant potential?
Professor Allan Snyder and Dr Elaine Mulcahy state they have completed experiments that showed they could develop the creative function of the brain using magnetism using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) which can temporarily shut down the left hemisphere of the brain where speech and short-term memory are supported or other parts of the brain and simulate and stimulate development or acquiring of new skills in perfectly healthy humans. Researchers have noticed that music, math and other skills savants acquire easily are usually associated with the right side of the brain. They suggest that autistic savants have access to very fast, early brain, unconscious processing functions, for skills such as calculation and hand-to-eye coordination and visual skills. Snyder is an inventor of ‘thinking cap’ or ‘duns cap‘. Other ways to release our dormant savant potential or our inner genius (without the brain injury or autism) are electronic stimulation, pharmacological stimulation and brain boosters, medical intervention such as DNA editing, meditation, hypnosis, cognitive approaches and effort and ‘rummaging in the right hemisphere’.
“Most of the ‘eureka’ moments come from the non-conscious parts of the brain,” says Snyder. “It’s like you’re an executive and you only see one paragraph of a report, while others see the whole 50 pages. We’re bypassing the bit that sees the paragraph and looking at the whole 50 pages. That’s the best analogy. “We’ve definitely shown that (we) can bypass the executive brain and do things we cannot normally do.” In speed reading, the downloading (photoreading) technique is based on this concept where you look at the whole page or both pages at the same time in order to prime your brain or subconscious mind with information so it’s easier to get the big picture of the material and find and extract information based on your purpose.
One application of downloading and tapping into our inner genius is direct/implicit learning. To direct learn you download specific books to gain particular results or skills without the need for conscious practice. Direct learning relies on the ability of the non-conscious mind to recognise, process and implement the information or skill you need. More on direct, implicit learning
Types of savants or the spectrum of savant skills
There is the congenital form of savant where people have the ‘island of genius’ that you’ve seen on the TV. The second type is an acquired savant and then there is a sudden savant. “The most common are splinter skills, which include obsessive preoccupation with, and memorization of, music and sports trivia, license plate numbers, maps, historical facts or obscure items such as vacuum cleaner motor sounds, for example. Talented savants are those cognitively impaired persons in whom the musical, artistic or other special abilities are more prominent and highly honed, usually within an area of single expertise and are very conspicuous when viewed in contrast to overall disability. Prodigious savant is a term reserved for those extraordinarily rare individuals for whom the special skill is so outstanding that it would be spectacular even if it were to occur in a non-impaired person. There are, from my experience, probably fewer than 100 known prodigious savants living worldwide at the present time who would meet that very high threshold of savant ability.” from The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future by Darold A. Treffert
Known savants are
- Anthony Cicoria, acquired savant pianist
- Alonzo Clemons, acquired savant sculptor
- Daniel Tammet, author and polyglot
- Derek Amato, composer and pianist
- Derek Paravicini, blind musical prodigy and pianist
- Kim Peek, “megasavant” Raymond Babbitt, fictional character from Rain Man was based on Kim Peek
- Leslie Lemke, musician
- Matt Savage, musician
- Orlando Serrell, acquired savant
- Stephen Wiltshire, architectural artist
- Temple Grandin, professor of animal science.
- Tom Wiggins, blind American pianist and composer
- Tommy McHugh, artist and poet
Watch one of the top researchers on the savant syndrome – Dr Darrold Treffert
Other known savants are
Thelonious Monk: jazz composer and improviser with a possible diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome.
Carl Friedrich Gauss: mathematician and astronomer with a possible diagnosis of prodigious savant. Gauss taught himself to read at age three and by 10 he was considered a math prodigy. His discoveries in number theory threw open the gates of post-Euclidian geometry.
Glenn Gould: classical pianist, with possible Asperger’s syndrome and like many savants had absolute pitch and a perfect memory.
Samuel Johnson: writer and lexicographer, possibly with Tourette’s syndrome, the author of the first English dictionary.
André-Marie Ampère: the 18th century, French, physicist and mathematician with a possible diagnosis of prodigious savant. A pioneer in the study of electromagnetism he started calculating even before he could read numbers, working out complex formulas with stones and cookie crumbs.
Temple Grandin: professor of animal science with a diagnosis of high-functioning autism. Grandin designs more efficient and humane livestock-handling facilities by taking a cow’s-eye view, using an autistic mode of cognition that she calls “thinking in pictures.”
What can we learn from geniuses, prodigies and savants and other extraordinary people
The main lesson is that we all have innate, dormant potential, super capabilities that need to be tapped. Brain plasticity, ability to re-wire itself, grow new neural connections and heal itself is another key learning. And the third lesson is developing and evolving our consciousness as well as accessing higher states of potential and higher superconsciousness. One definition of consciousness is “the ability to respond to stimulation” dependent on its state and the stimuli. For example, the ‘consciousness’ of a tree responds to pressure, heat, vibration and so on. Human consciousness is infinitely multifaceted and always evolving, developing and becoming more self-conscious, based on the stimuli and its ensuing response. In the future, AI with machine learning algorithms will become self-conscious (if it hasn’t already) and will crack what ultimately consciousness is.