A Daily Galaxy post last year, The Importance of Being Forgetful, featured the built-in neural process of forgetting, which discussed why the average human brain is equipped with the ability to filter through seemingly irrelevant details. While the average person may not have vast memory resources, it appears to be an evolutionary trade-off that allows the majority of us to focus on the most relevant facts.
However, some of the most incredible minds on Earth lack this ability to filter irrelevant facts, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that to a savant, the irrelevant IS relevant, and incredibly so. Somehow their brains are able to store and access incredible loads of information, even perceiving and relating to this information in an entirely different way.
Stephen Wiltshire is considered an autistic savant. He has an ability which can certainly be described as a “super power”. Sometimes referred to as the “human camera”, Wilshire has the unnerving ability to draw exact replicas of intricate structures, buildings and landscapes—virtually anything he lays eyes on—after a quick glance. Without taking notes or drawing rough sketches, Wiltshire methodically replicates what his eyes have seen down to the exact number of windows in tall skyscrapers.
While watching a video (see link below) of Stephen drawing Rome, it almost seems as if he is a character straight from NBC’s popular TV series Heroes—born with a superhuman ability. Like many other savants, Wiltshire’s mind is a mystery. He did not speak his first words, “pencil” and “paper” until he was five years old. Savants like Wiltshire seem to have been born fundamentally different.
Imagine being able to learn one of the most difficult languages on Earth, Icelandic, in just 7 days. Well known Savant, Daniel Tammet, makes is look easy. His extraordinary abilities are linked to synesthesia. He “feels” numbers in terms of texture, shape and color. Some scientists believe that the epileptic seizures he suffered as a small child, which nearly ended his life, somehow unlocked the door to an incredible ability that may be inherent in all humans.
Individuals have been known to develop extraordinary abilities much later in life, or after severe brain trauma. Alonzo Clemons, for example, developed an incredible talent, which appears to have emerged directly following a head injury as a child. He can see a fleeting image (on a television screen for example) of any animal, and in less than 20 minutes sculpt a perfect replica of that animal in three-dimensional accuracy. The wax animal is correct in each and every detail, down to each fiber and muscle.
Similarly, Orlando Serrell did not possess any unusual skills until he was struck by a baseball on the left side of his head on August 17, 1979 when he was ten years old. Serrell suffered from a long headache, but after the headache ended, Orlando inexplicably had the ability to perform calendrical calculations of amazing complexity. He can also recall details of his life, like the weather, where he was, and what he was doing every day since the day that baseball hit his head.
Because of cases like these, some scientists believe that the potential to express multiple super-abilities is a universal trait, but is obscured by the normal functioning intellect. In the case of some savants, it is believed that damage to the brain has somehow disrupted normal functioning and therefore allows the brain to express these incredible skills and abilities. Various researchers have noted how many “disabled” individuals are simultaneously “superabled” through some little understood phenomenon.
Mind expert Allan Snyder of the University of Sydney and director of Centre for the Mind, is certain that all people have these latent super abilities, but only some are able to express them through “malfunctions” of overriding brain functions.
"They are exceptional in that they can tap in and somehow we can't. They have privileged access," said Snyder.
So, if all of us have latent super-abilities, is it possible to activate them permanently, or at least periodically, without compromising normal brain functioning? Probably, say the Australian scientists who used transcranial magnetic stimulation to temporarily switch off the frontal temporal lobe of volunteers. Afterwards the subjects showed an immediate improvement in calendar calculating, naming the day of the week of any recent history event, and in their artistic abilities. Of course these were just the abilities tested. Scientists do not know all of the latent abilities that humans may possess.
It has been predicted that more advanced neurological studies may someday discover how to allow “Regular” people to tap into the incredible latent powers of their own mind, and thereby unleashing some of the “superhuman” potential in all of us.
Posted by Rebecca Sato.
Related post: The Importance of Being Forgetful