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#6955 - 12/24/09 07:07 AM Savants
ryck Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
I've always been astounded when seeing television reports showing some of the things that savants are capable of doing. Mostly the reports would be about a savant with an amazing ability in a specific area - music or math or....

I had never heard the term "Megasavant" until reading about the death of Kim Peek this past week. When I read about a few of his capabilities I have to say that "astounded" is an inadequate word.

I certainly don't know anything about neurology or the related sciences but I do wonder what this means about human brains. Clearly they are capable of tasks beyond our imaginations but the capabilities only seem to be tapped when the brain is damaged (if that's the appropriate term).

ryck


Edited by ryck (12/24/09 07:09 AM)
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#6975 - 12/24/09 09:39 PM Re: Savants [Re: ryck]
tacit Offline


Registered: 08/03/09
Loc: Portland, Oregon, USA
There's a common myth that the human brain only uses 20% (or 10% or some other number, depending on who's repeating it) of its capacity.

That's actually not true at all; we use our entire brains, and perform some pretty amazing things with them. A normal human being is capable of an incredible range of tasks--parsing, understanding, and producing language, reading and responding to subtle and extremely complex social cues, integrating real-time information about our environment into a constantly evolving physical, emotional, and social map; solving highly abstract problems; generating abstractions from concrete information; correlating information from a wide variety of different sources...the only thing that prevents people from walking around in a constant state of awe at what we do every single day is the fact that almost all of us do it all the time.

Savants have very high degrees of skill in a tiny area of expertise, but it comes at the price of a single-minded focus that renders them largely incapable of the flexibility that most of the rest of us are capable of. The result may look impressive, and in its own way I suppose it is...but I'm honestly far more impressed by the flexibility, adaptability, and abstract reasoning process of an ordinary human being.

In the 1960s, computer scientists were convinced that true "strong" artificial intelligence was right around the corner. One after another, cognitive tasks that we had always assumed required intelligence were falling; we learned how to make computers play chess, write in calligraphy, diagnose diseases, predict the interactions of drugs, model complex self-organizing systems...all with a proficiency much greater than humans. (They don't even do man-machine chess tournaments any more; even a PC can defeat any human player, including a human grandmaster.)

But what we've discovered is that mastery of a particular cognitive task is easy; it's flexibility that's hard. We don't all walk around with savant-level capabilities for the very simple reason that so much of our cognitive horsepower is being consumed simply by being able to respond to the environment as flexibly as we do. THAT is the amazing stuff.
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#6978 - 12/25/09 01:14 AM Re: Savants [Re: ryck]
artie505 Online


Registered: 08/04/09
> Clearly they are capable of tasks beyond our imaginations but the capabilities only seem to be tapped when the brain is damaged (if that's the appropriate term).

A CPA with whom I used to work can spit out the product of two four digit numbers before mere mortals can even focus on them, and another CPA I knew had eidetic memory; neither displayed any signs of "brain damage" unless "quirkiness" falls into that category.
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#6981 - 12/25/09 05:11 AM Re: Savants [Re: tacit]
ryck Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
Originally Posted By: tacit
We don't all walk around with savant-level capabilities for the very simple reason that so much of our cognitive horsepower is being consumed simply by being able to respond to the environment as flexibly as we do. THAT is the amazing stuff.


I'm with you in being in complete amazement of the human brain's capabilities.

In my post I used the word "damaged' but having read a little bit it seems that word was quite wrong. i.e. 'damaged' should apply to a perfectly good brain hurt in a car accident whereas savants' brains seem to have been 'wired differently'.

If my assumption is correct, would "different wiring" then account for the way so many brains are so different? We look around us and see people who are extremely bright while others are just thick. Some are very talented musicians while others are tone-deaf. Picasso was a genius in art and Einstein was a genius in math, but I'm pretty sure that neither could do what the other was capable of. Et cetera.

Could these (or artie505's examples, for that matter) be greater or lesser degrees of what you call the savant's "single-minded focus"?

ryck
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ryck

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#7126 - 12/30/09 12:38 AM Re: Savants [Re: ryck]
grelber Offline


Registered: 08/05/09
Loc: North of 49th ||
The December 2005 article on Kim Peek has been made available (reposted) by the Scientific American in light of his death: Inside the Mind of a Savant, accompanied by a brief obituary, A window on savant syndrome closes with the death of Kim Peek.

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#7194 - 01/01/10 09:49 AM Re: Savants [Re: grelber]
ryck Online


Registered: 08/04/09
Loc: Okanagan Valley
Thanks for the links. Inside the Mind of A Savant is particularly interesting.

ryck
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ryck

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