“What’s a Savant?” is probably what you first thought. It is a condition of the human brain than enables a human being to do incredible things (usually at the price of a normal life). One of the foremost experts on Savant Syndrome Dr. Darold Treffert explains it as:
“a condition in which a person, usually with serious mental disabilities, including autistic disorder, demonstrates profound and prodigious capacities or abilities far in excess of what would be considered normal.” – The savant syndrome: An extraordinary condition. A synopsis: Past, present, future (2009).
Get it? It means they’re superhuman in some respects but cannot function normally in society. Ever seen the movie Rain Man? Well that movie was based on one Kim Peek. Kim Peek is cursed with Savant Syndrome yet through it, blessed with incredible abilities.
He has read over 12,000 books and can recall every little detail from any of them. ( The New York Times)
When he reads a book, he reads the left page with his left eye and the right page with his right eye. Taking mere seconds to read a page.(The Real Rain Man, documentary)
He knows the Bible and the Quran word for word. Learning every word of the Quran in 10 minutes makes Kim Peek a Hafiz. (People with Photographic Memory, BBC Documentary)
The man could tell you the weather of any day in last 100 years. He was considered a genius in over 15 subjects.
“When an interviewer offered that he had been born on March 31, 1956, Peek noted, in less than a second, that it was a Saturday on Easter weekend,” Dr. Treffert and Dr. Daniel D. Christensen wrote about Mr. Peek in Scientific American in 2006.
These incredible facts not only showed just how incredible Kim Peek was, it also showed just how unimaginably powerful the human brain can be. Kim Peek was socially dysfunctional, however. He couldn’t do basic things like taking a bath or travel alone from one point of the city to the next. This was the catch. Despite all his phenomenal abilities. The man was dysfunctional. He could not connect the dots to create a commentary on history; merely tell you the answer to your question. Like a computer. He was affectionately called “Kimputer”.
Yet, there exists a very unique savant who is both functional as well as incredibly gifted. Daniel Tammet was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was a child, yet he does not suffer from the inability to function socially. What is his ‘mutant power’?
Tammet could recite the value of pi up to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes on 14 March 2004 at Oxford University.
He has learned 10 languages including Icelandic (Which is considered a “Category II language” http://www.nvtc.gov/lotw/months/november/learningExpectations.html) which he learnt in a week for the previously linked documentary.
What makes Tammet unique is that he is able to tell us exactly how he is able to do this. From his point of view, at least. He says numbers appear to him in his head and he simply says it aloud. Perhaps this could be the way prodigious Indian mathematician Ramanujam was able to do complex equations when he was a child. Ramanujam too claimed the answers just came to him in his brain. Though, he said it was a Hindu Goddess who gave him his answers.
Whatever be the case. One fact emerges from the collage of ideas before us. The fact that the human brain is capable of unthinkable calculations. I see the irony in that statement but that explains it quite poignantly I think.
The human brain is so complex and powerful that it remains one of the great mysteries of the world. There are so many things unknown about it that to start talking about it would be like embarking on an epic tale (something I’m not so keen to take you through right now!)
However, we can wonder about the wonder that is the brain. Imagine you switched on your computer today and surfed the web for 30 minutes. Let’s say you read 50 web pages of Wikipedia. Imagine you read through all of Wikipedia! Can you even comprehend what you would be able to accomplish if you could practically use that information? It’s a breathtaking idea. One that collapses the foundations of society itself. One that could rewrite human history.