Thursday, May 24, 2012

Accidental Genius

In 1955, when Darold Treffert, MD, (1989) reported for his first position as an attending psychiatrist, among his first patients there were several autistics with special abilities. Young David had memorized the bus schedule for each stop in every major city in Wisconsin. Then Billy could stand on the free throw line of the hospital's basketball court and NEVER miss a shot. During his career Treffert discovered that approximately 10% of all people diagnosed with autism in the state of Wisconsin had some type of savant-like abilities.
One of the most notable of the cases reviewed by Treffert was Kim Peek, a prodigious savant of phenomenal ability who began reading at 2 and can, among other amazing abilities, quote verbatim from over 12,000 books. Medical research has indicated that Peek's brain does not function normally. Specifically, the corpus callosum and the anterior commissure - the two structures that connect the left and right hemispheres of his brain - are missing. He also was born with macroephaly and damage to his cerebellum. (Kim Peek was the subject of the Rainman movie. Peek's character was played by Dustin Hoffman.)
Treffert's research into prodigious savants (i.e. people with diagnosed both as having the savant syndrome and the most remarkable abilities) led him to several conclusions. The main one is what he calls the "tyranny of the left brain." This means that once the rest of the brain - and especially the right brain - is free from interference from the left, then phenomenal abilities emerge. Secondly, the memorization ability of the savant predominantly involves implicit memory - that is, memory devoid of meaning. These savants tend to have unfathomable memory and calculating capability. However, as there is a disconnection between the semantic facilities of the brain and their explicit memory formation, the practical value of their ability is largely negated.
What this does underline, however, is that the expanse of implicit memories, calculating abilities, and musical abilities is allowed to emerge because of a lack of interference. This leaves open the door for the possibility that these potentials could be tapped in ordinary individuals. Treffert's recent writings - which may be found on the Wisconsin Medical Society's website - highlight his concept that there may be an accidental genius within everyone. This reflects his research into several cases where an otherwise normal person develops savant-like symptoms soon after experiencing brain trauma or an illness.
At this point, Treffert's research establishes that the there are two criteria for unleashing potentials hidden deep within the human substrates. First, a person would need to be born with a neurological defect or the defect would have to occur during the first couple of years of their lives - this implies that increased abilities can occur due to a destruction of mental capacity. This leads to the obvious question as to whether enhancements can occur without the cost created by diminished mental functioning. While it may be a long time before clinicians and scientists can recreate savant-like abilities in normal people (i.e. non-savants), by conducting an evidence-based study of hypnosis subjects and reviewing Transcranial Magnetics (TCM) research literature, one could logically infer the high probability of mental enhancement.
Treffert's second criterion was that once detected, the ability needed to be nurtured. He noticed that once a prodigious savant's special ability was discovered it began to flourish once it was encouraged through praise and other recognition. However, when the interest waned or was removed - sometimes for the good of the patient - then the ability diminished. (Treffert objects to the misguided removal of such nurturing.) Additionally, it was discovered in the analysis of Kim Peek that once one savant ability was uncovered others could arise. For instance, Peek's ability to memorize books came first; his ability to memorize symphonies, later.
Tim Brunson, PhD
The International Hypnosis Research Institute is a member supported project involving integrative health care specialists from around the world. We provide information and educational resources to clinicians. Dr. Brunson is the author of over 150 self-help and clinical CD's and MP3's.
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