Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Could You Become a Savant?

Left: Autistic musician Derek Paravicini performs his first professional concert at St Georges Hall, Bristol, UK (Image: South West News Service / Rex Features)

How to Unleash Your Brain's Inner Genius

An article in the latest online New Scientist suggests we all may have the stuff to become savants. You may know about savants, like the character Dustin Hoffman planed in "Rainman," who was able to memorize phone books and count at lightning speed. Or Derek Paravicini, who can play complex piano compositions after hearing them only once. Here's a fascinating mini-doc (9:58) about him:

The brains of savants and non-savants look different. However, the differences sometimes are not present at birth, but rather seem to emerge over time. Interestingly, the same thing is true of London taxi drivers, whose hippocampus regions grow in size as they memorize more than 25,000 streets and spots of interest.

[BTW, I understand a prospective London cabbie must study what is called "the Knowledge" for three years before being licensed to drive one of those iconic black cabs. Since London streets change names every time they jog one way or the other, I can certainly believe that. The cabbies' hippocampus regions then begin to shrink after they retire and no longer must store all that information in their memories.]

If you're wondering if you could develop some special skill, the answer is "yes." And you don't have to be autistic to do it. But autistic people have one key advantage over you: they focus fiercely on developing their one talent, and they practice it incessantly. But you probably have many different interests and duties, which keep you too busy to practice 12 hours a day, say, memorizing a phone book. Well, at least I hope you do.

If you're interested in brain function, motivation, and becoming a savant, read the article here.

P.S. To see if you have a "prodigious talent," go here.

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