By Gregory Mitchell
There are two burning questions that new students eagerly ask about Mind Development. The first: "Why do we do it?" The second: "How did it start?"
In answer to the first question, in effect: Why did we create Mind Development? The answer is simple. We did it because it can be done; we did it because we have been suppressed from full knowledge for hundreds of generations, so we use much less than all of our mental ability. Above all, we do it because Mankind is heading for a cataclysmic ecological disaster for which we are not mentally prepared, and which is in part directly caused by our lack of such preparation, since we are unconsciously and compulsively creating our present circumstances. In the final analysis, those who know how to think must act, and make others aware that they must create a viable and predictable future before the unpredictable future destroys them.
As regards the second question, the origins of this system go deep into my childhood past. I was a child savant, and even more unusually, one with a natural high IQ (I tested at 178 which is genius level). I was first officially tested by a psychologist when I was thirteen and nine months old, so this was the first time I knew my IQ. When I took the test, I was going on fourteen, and I was fast losing my savant powers, so the score may have been low. As a small child, I was left handed, but subsequently I was forced to train myself to be ambidextrous. Many savants are left-handed, clues that something is amiss in the left hemisphere.
I may have been left handed because I had some slight brain damage. My mother smoked sixty a day when she was pregnant and liked her gin and tonics, or there may have been a hereditary component, as both my grandfather and his father, a competent artist and engraver, were both left handed... I don't know. Also I went to a private school that insisted that all the pupils write with their right hand, and if they were caught writing with their left hand they were hit on the hand with a ruler. As a consequence, I compensated and became to a high degree ambidextrous, but this may be one of the factors that undermined my savant abilities - at the very least, it gave me a bad handwriting style. Throughout sixteen years of childhood, well meaning people tried to make me normal! This may have a bearing on the subject.
My first wish, at three years of age, was to be an orchestral conductor, as this seemed a powerful role and there was no vacancy for a prince, so this was the next best choice. At the age of five or six, I realized I did not have enough talent to be a conductor, so I converted to science. I was inspired by the British composer Edward Elgar who was a keen amateur chemist, practicing the hobby from a laboratory erected in his back garden. The original manuscript of the prelude to The Kingdom is stained with chemicals. So this seemed to be the direction to go, until at the age of about nine I was introduced to Theosophy by my paternal grandmother, which gave me access to Krishnamurti, J. G. Bennett, Ernest Wood and other important personages, and the works of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. After that my major interests became psychology and philosophy.
Between 1920 and 1960, my maternal grandfather had read and collected more than 200 books on psychological subjects. As I was living in his house between 1956 and the early 1960s, I read all his psychological books, and I had many discussions with him on a wide range of psychological topics, including his book Power of Mind. This book was a collaboration between my great grandfather and my grandfather. My great grandfather started writing Power of Mind in 1923, but it was completed by my grandfather later and published in 1930. My grandfather also wrote a book about poetry, since at about that time he was a friend of the poet Ezra Pound.
I gained many insights from these discussions, which later became part of Mind Development. My grandfather knew more than a bit about Freud and Jung, and other psychologists, so he was of considerable help, during my formative years. He stated that the only restraints an inventor should experience were the laws of Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics. At the same time as I lived with my grandfather, my mother introduced me to the classical philosophers Aristotle and Plato, not to mention the controversial Aleister Crowley ("Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law"), and my father introduced me to modern philosophy, starting with Hegel, and continuing with Kant, Spinoza and etc., and the philosophy of mind. My father expressed the opinion that man-made rules were for the guidance of wise men and the restriction of fools. I believe that both my father and grandfather understood the restraints imposed by the Superego. It is my opinion that Superego constraints inhibit savant abilities. One is forced to be normal. This is similar to the ideas of Caroline Dweck.
I know I had reached the first state of Postformal Operations some time between 13 and 15, because I had many arguments that involved Dialectic Reasoning at that time, with my uncle Ted, who was a communist, and dedicated communists are into Dialectical Reasoning and that sort of thing. He is the uncle I mentioned in Savant Consciousness, who was a pharmacist for a few years before the war, until he went to Sandhurst Military College in 1940 to become an officer and fight the war in India and Burma. In 1950, he gave up being a pharmacist, because he was fed up with working in a chemist shop, and he became a journalist. This was easy to do at that time because there was a manpower shortage, for several years, due to the war.
Psychology has been family business for at least four generations: my great grandfather, my grandfather, my mother, and me. My grandfather had a collection of Neo-Freudian books, including Hartmann (who wrote in the 1940s and 1950s), and therefore he was familiar with Ego Psychology. As an inventor, my grandfather was interested in creativity beyond the restraints of the Superego. The education in psychology I received from my immediate relatives gave me a nine year advantage over my contemporaries, so I had already reached first degree level, in psychology and philosophy of mind, by the age of seventeen, and this enabled me to start Mind Development.
Note: In the 1950s, an IQ score was an indication of mental age over chronological age, whereas modern IQ tests are based on the standard deviation. This is a method I don't like, because it is difficult to calculate a child's mental age, with a modern IQ test. With an IQ of 178, I would have had a mental age of nearly eighteen at the age of ten, so it was within my capability to read university text books, when I was nine or ten years of age. I was also an introvert, I enjoyed being alone with my books, and I had little interest in sports, so I had plenty of time to study. This is how I was able to get a first degree level of understanding in psychology by the age of seventeen.
After that, I just did a few fireworks, rockets and batteries, to keep my chemical hand in, and continued with my violin lessons, but my goal was to be an all rounder and for this one needs, among other things, to play a musical instrument and be fluent in at least one other language - French was the natural choice. Had I not lost my savant abilities, I would have gone on to Oxford or Cambridge and read philosophy. Naturally, the loss of my savant abilities at fourteen and several communications and meetings with the phenomenal minds of Krishnamurti, J. G. Bennett and Ernest Wood, lead me in another direction - Mind Development.
Prior to the age of fourteen I had a range of natural savant skills. I was probably not a prodigious savant when it came to the artistic skills, though I could give a good account of myself, but my mathematical skills were prodigious. Not only could I do both mental arithmetic and mental algebra, I could do chemical equations mentally. Both my father and my maternal grandfather had certain minor savant abilities - my father had a photographic memory, he could take a black and white photo and color it accurately from memory, by using an airbrush, and my maternal grandfather, as an inventor, was good at intuitive mental arithmetic - so my savant abilities were to some extent inherited. Both had an IQ of 160 +, so they could be classed as High IQ Savants. I was a child prodigy in a small way. I was precociously talented, I learned to speak before I was six months, and I was musically and scientifically gifted from the age of five. I played the violin, but my greatest talent was science.
At the age of five, I discovered the delights of gunpowder and how you could make this more powerful by using potassium chlorate, I built a crystal set, to which later I added a one valve amplifier, and, among other things, I built a device whereby the water from the tap could generate electricity by turning a turbine, which through a train of Meccano gears turned a bicycle dynamo that lit a 3.5 volt torch bulb. At six, I did a correspondence course roughly equivalent to an O Level in chemistry; also at six-and-a half, I scored 126 on an adult IQ test, given to me by my mother, but I do not know what this means. At seven, I studied Pelmanism, an earlier system of mental development. I was forced to do this by my grandfather, as part of his Power of Mind experiments. From about the age of nine I studied philosophy and psychology; also at nine and a half I started my secondary education. Finding a school that would let me do the 11+ at nine was difficult, so I had to live with my mother and my uncle Vincent, my mother's common-law husband, who was a research chemist. Vincent taught me a lot of Inorganic Chemistry and gave me some coaching for the 11+. As there was a junior school nearby that would let me take the 11+ at nine, I lived with them for about six months, then I went to grammar school back in Leigh-on-Sea, with my maternal grandparents.
At nine years of age I was a boy soprano, and I was put almost in the same category as Ernest Lough, a famous boy soprano before the war. Just before the age of ten, I made a 78 singing "Oh for the Wings of a Dove." This was my one moment of fame. At about the age of ten and a half, my voice began to break, so I could not hit the high notes any longer. Within a couple of years, I became a baritone, as a consequence of early puberty, so my career as a boy soprano was over.
Note: In 1963, I found a book with the title, "The Voice of the Mind" by E. Herbert-Caesari. This is a brilliant book, and it was written in English, it was not a translation. E. Herbert-Caesari was so far ahead of his time, we are just beginning today to understand the concept of what he called "air columns" in the vocal tract. A crucial aspect of singing is that a singer uses the proper amount of air . He writes in depth about this. By reading his book, then looking in the London Telephone Directory, I found his address in London, and it was nearby in Kilburn. I contacted him on the telephone and he granted me an interview. I told him my problem was that I was classed as a heavy tenor, which is another way of saying, I was a baritone, who could sing a few notes in the tenor range, and there were very few solo parts for baritones.
Initially he said: "I am an old man, and I have retired about ten years ago," so I said, "What would induce you to come out of retirement?" He said 15.00 per hour, and I would need to come twice a week. At that time, 15.00 per hour was a lot of money and I was only earning 24 a week. Fortunately, I still had about 2,000 of the money I inherited from my great grandfather, so I could just afford it. I had the privilege of being a pupil for two years with the great Caesari. He taught a method called bel canto, which gave the power to a singer to dominate an orchestra, before the days of electrical microphones and electronic recording. E. Herbert-Caesari almost 100 years ago searched throughout Italy for the source of this already disappearing knowledge. Also he had trained many famous tenors, such as Gigli, by a method that goes back to Enrico Caruso and earlier. Through two years of training, I gained four more higher notes, putting me in the tenor range, so I could almost span the range from bass to lyric tenor: I was then able to sing most operatic solos.
I retained these abilities, until 1985 when I had a bad motorbike crash, which caused a massive stroke in the right side of my brain. After this stroke, I could not sing at all, but over a period of about a year my ability to sing came back, however, I was left with one problem. I could either sing the high notes or I could sing with enough power to dominate an orchestra, but I could not do both at once. My ability to sing has deteriorated a great deal, over the last 25 years, probably because I smoke too much.
When I was eleven, I made a motor that ran on chlorine and aluminum wire (useful on a planet without air), and at twelve, I probably made the first hang glider. I did quite a bit of hard science, and between the ages of ten and thirteen, I attended several evening classes where I took some O Levels in subjects that were not offered at school, then at the age of thirteen or so, as a consequence of my progressive loss of savant abilities, I started to make my first experiments in Mind Development using home-constructed biofeedback equipment. When I was thirteen, I won a free place at public school to do my A levels, and as a consequence of my talents, high IQ, and savant abilities, I got into the Upper Sixth Form at fourteen, i.e. three years earlier than normal. Note that as I learned to speak before I was six months old, I was probably not autistic - just different. Other children had a different agenda.
In retrospect, I think I was operating at the level of Concrete Intuition before the age of seven, as I think this would explain several things that happened, and many of my achievements, during my early childhood. Before the age of about seven, my memory was almost Hyperthymestic (i.e. superior autobiographical memory). I had a detailed, almost daily, memory for everyday events, going back to the pram, so my first reliable memory was when I was probably about eighteen months of age.
After the age the age of six or seven, I lost interest in some of my savant abilities, such as doing calendar calculations, and subitising the number of cows in a field, because these abilities had few practical applications; the consequence of this was I was starting to lose these abilities through lack of practice. I was starting to think at a more, abstract level, so I also lost the capacity for Hyperthymestic Memory. The probable result of moving to a new stage of development is to lose the capacity for Concrete Intuition: although many savant abilities can still be demonstrated when a child has reached the stage of Formal Operations, the capacity for Hyperthymestic Memory, however, depends upon the state of Concrete Intuition. I was probably reaching the end of the stage of Concrete Operations, moving on to the stage of Formal Operations, then starting to operate at some level of Abstract Intuition. Consequently, by the age of seven, at the latest, I ceased to be at the level of Concrete Intuition.
Because intuitive processes are not open to introspection, a savant's subjective experiences are difficult to describe or explain. A Metavert, however, has reached a Post Verbal Stage of Operation, so he can to some extent access the stage of Concrete Intuition , and at least some of the abilities that go with it. If he thinks at all, however, he thinks mainly in images. What I can say with certainty is that most of a savant's mental processes are intuitive at some level; there are few words and little conscious calculation.
Henri Bergson the Philosopher speaks of three types of knowing: Intellect, Concrete Intuition and Abstract Intuition. A range of Savant Abilities in combination with a moderate IQ (below 100) is probably a state of Concrete Intuition, whereas Abstract Intuition is a later acquisition than Concrete Intuition and goes hand in hand with Formal Operations. Abstract Intuition is what mediates perceptions of ideals and connections, and is stimulated by an act of will or intent; it is the ability to know things without conscious, logical reasoning. In my opinion, Abstract Intuition is Left-Brained Intuition, it goes beyond Concrete Intuition, which is Right-Brained, and it is probably a lower harmonic of Mature Intuition. A range of Savant Abilities in combination with a very high IQ, when there is no autism, is Mature Intuition or the Metavert State.
Before the age of fourteen, my experiences, and achievements were very unusual, and my savant abilities wide ranging, but my abilities, achievements and experiences were not unique. Several people have achieved similar things, and more, when they were younger than me, some of these children had a higher IQ than mine, and a few of them had savant abilities. This helped to make what they did possible. They were child prodigies.
Hong Kong's youngest ever university student, March Boedihardjo entered university at nine years of age. (But there are also several children, who were younger than nine, when they entered university, in America and the UK). The maths genius, March Boedihardjo gained two grade As and a B in his A-levels in England -- normally taken by 18-year-olds. I would believe he had some savant abilities up his sleeve, an O level understanding at six, an A level understanding before the age of nine, he had reached the stage of Formal Operations much earlier than normal, he probably had an IQ of over 200 - if it could be calculated, - and little need for sleep. At March's age, I had just started grammar school, my understanding was less than O level, and my IQ was probably somewhat less than 200, but I had some savant abilities, and I had little need for sleep. Had I not lost my savant abilities, which disrupted my education, I would have gone on to a university, such as Oxford or Cambridge, at fifteen, but then I would have been six years older than March Boedihardj was when he went to university. I would guess that March Boedihardjo's IQ is or was twenty or thirty points higher than mine.
When I left school, I had several certificates in both arts and science subjects, so I could not make mind up, whether I would be a performer or scientist,, as I had skills in both acting, chemistry, and electronics. I received a legacy in 1968, which permitted to go into full time education for several years, To solve my problem concerning my choice of a career, I worked both in entertainment and electronics, for several years, then I went into a drama school for a year in 1968, to study Method Acting. At the same time, I studied singing, and some electronics, as these subjects were two of my hobbies. I finally entered university in 1969, as a mature student, when I was twenty-two years of age, to study psychology for a Bachelors Degree. The knowledge I gained, as a student, gave me many much needed skills to run Mind Development. Finally, I realized in 1972 that my destiny was not to be an actor or work in the electronic industry, but to run Mind Development.
During the winter of 1985, I had a motorbike crash, which caused a massive stroke, a detached retina, and some brain damage. Consequently, I ceased to be a Metavert. I spent the next three years, with all my equipment, and everything I could think of, including Hypnosis. Despite my attempts to cure myself, I was not having much luck with this, as I probably had too much brain damage. Consequently, after fifteen years of being a High IQ Savant, my career, as a Metavert and Savant was ended.
It is always a good idea to look on the bright side. I still had an IQ of 171 (Stanford Binet), I had most of my faculties and I was still ambidextrous. After my accident, my capacity for Synesthesia and Hypervision in my left eye were preserved, but my right eye was too damaged. My capacity for speed reading has been partially preserved, as I can still read at 1,000 words per minute, but my memory of what I have read is not so good. My capacity to learn to read a European language in a couple of months has also been spared, but I quickly lose the language if I don't use it. I have retained the capacity to control latent inhibition to a large extent, also my verbal memory is still superior, but it is no longer perfect. However, I still have a minor savant skill, the ability to focus on minutia for hours.
Although my capacity for mental arithmetic is still good, these days, I do not have the capacity I had before, I can only multiply four digits by four digits, because my digit span has diminished, I have to calculate consciously in the conventional way, which is several times slower than intuition. My digit span has fallen from sixteen to eleven, which imposes some limitations, and my long-term memory is not much better than average, unless I use Mnemonics. I cannot play a musical instrument or dance, as I now have poor coordination. This, however, has had little or no effect on my ability to run. I imagine this is because dancing is something you have to learn, but running is instinctive, so it is controlled by a different part of the brain.
Recently I have been observing some strange memory experiences, which for lack of a medical term I call Flash Memories. These can happen at any time, although they usually happen in bed. When I have a flash memory it is frequently in the distant past. For example, I am 63 but I can be transported into the far past, from as early as three years of age, and sometimes even earlier. When I have a flash memory it is in technicolor, and I can see any detail, and sometimes even read a book. I believe this is a residual savant ability that has surfaced recently, related to savant memory. But I don't think this phenomenon is unique. I have tested many of these flash memories against real life, and found them to be nearly 100% accurate, so they are not dreams but themes taken in from daytime experience.
Apart from the few abilities that remain, I have only a vestige of my previous savant abilities, but they are not reliable enough to use. Considering the extent of my brain damage, and the damage to my right eye, the doctors say that I got off lightly. Since the accident, I have suffered mildly from dysgraphia, as most of the damage was to the frontal lobes, and I have had mild problems with ADHD, because of the damage to the right hemisphere. Since 1985, I have taken a backseat, and delegated much of my work, such as writing course materials, to others. In 1988, Keith Wakelam and Nigel Gowland took over running the lower level courses, and public relations, while I only ran the upper level courses and did the individual work, so I fell out of sight, until I finally retired, for reasons of bad health and serious epilepsy, in 1994. At the present state of the art, it has not been possible to remedy these lost abilities, yet.
The dawn of Mind Development
In a school playground back in the 1950's an awareness of a possibility dawned on me. It was the possibility that we were all on a trip, that somehow we had better get free of this trip, and the realization that: "He who knows creates now!" This is the essence of the last of the Mind Development courses: the first part of the system that we tried to accomplish, and the last we eventually did accomplish. The reasons for our initial failure explain why there are currently a range of courses to progressively prepare a student for the final stage of getting free of the trip. As this final stage requires the use of biofeedback equipment, it has been incorporated into the Insight Project.
As I played with these ideas various other possibilities occurred to me. It struck me that I had to seek some very general factor of intelligence. After a long look at the situation it seemed abundantly clear that the speed of mental processes was the most central factor. Whatever a person did correctly within an allowed time determined their I.Q. Whatever a person did, could in theory be done more quickly if one could find the central controlling mechanism of the brain and speed it up.
Latent inhibition is a preconscious filtering mechanism that allows people to ignore stimuli previously experienced as irrelevant. To learn to inhibit the passing of unnecessary information into consciousness, concentration exercises are effective, such as those included in the Mind Development Course, Concentration: Developing Willpower. During my childhood, I had extremely low latent inhibition, i.e. I could absorb a large amount of information at once, not needing to restrict my focus to one isolated source of stimulation. I could follow two conversations at once, or read and listen to the radio, and if called to I could repeat the information. As an adult I have a powerful control over my level of latent inhibition. I can switch from a low latent inhibition when I am following two conversations to a very high level of latent inhibition, such as reading a book and not hearing the doorbell. Perhaps one of the secrets of savant abilities is tied up with control of latent inhibition. These are the kinds of typically savant abilities I exhibited as a child...
Eidetic Memory (a.k.a. photographic memory or total recall) - this is the ability to recall images, sounds or objects with extreme accuracy. Eidetic Memory as observed in about one child in twenty under the age of about fourteen. An example is the ability of an individual to study an image for approximately 30 seconds and afterwards maintain a nearly perfect photographic memory of that image for at least a short time. In one case (a study done by Charles Stromeyer in 1970), a woman was able to write out poetry in a foreign language years after seeing the original text. She was also able to mentally project her images onto a blank canvas; moving her eyes allowed her to scan the projected image, which in her view remained entirely stationary.
Eidetic Imagery tends to disappear with age and is very rare among adults; only about one adult in 2,000 retains the ability of Eidetic Memory. Luke Mason is a case of a British adult able to memorize large pieces of texts, such as text books and strings of numbers, after reading them once and recalling the text as a photographic image with perfect accuracy. Luke also has a gift for natural languages and he experiences synaesthesia. Sergei Rachmaninov, one of Russia's most famous composers and pianists, is said to have been able to perfectly recall any musical score after sight reading it just twice. I had an Eidetic Memory until I was about fourteen. The images could persist for up to several minutes, and I could recall them at will. They had a high degree of accuracy and could be highly detailed, so this permitted me to memorize electronic diagrams and musical scores for the violin.
Memorization - superior memory is a common feature of savant syndrome, but it also can be a special skill in its own right. There are cases of savants who have memorized population statistics, telephone books, and in one remarkable case the 9 volume edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians. The mathematician John von Neumann was able to quote verbatim a book or article he had read; moreover he could do it years later without hesitation. He could also translate it at no diminution in speed from its original language into English. His ability was tested by asking him to say how the 'Tale of Two Cities' started. Whereupon, without pause, he immediately began to recite the first chapter and continued until asked to stop after about ten or fifteen minutes.
New Scientist writer Celeste Biever describes studies that have shown that savant brains are physically somewhat different from average brains. These differences may not be innate, rather they may develop with practice. Some London taxi drivers have an encyclopedic knowledge of the layout of 25,000 streets and thousands of places of interest. Studies have shown differences between their brain structures and the brains of adults who do not drive taxis. It seems that they start out with typical brains that then develop with training and practice to accommodate the special skill. Hard work seems to play an essential part in the development of savant skills.
The fundamental difference between a low IQ savant and a high IQ savant is that the latter can use his savant abilities for himself, because he can apply them. I believe this is because the left hemisphere is involved. In my own case, I could not pose myself a mathematical problem that exceeded my working memory span, unless I wrote the question down. As a child, I had an eidetic memory, so I could read a book, then reread the book in my mind's eye. I could paraphrase, summarize and recall this material at random. My ability to paraphrase, summarize and access at random material stored in the form of eidetic images was probably the contribution of my left hemisphere. I memorized science text books, philosophy and novels, encyclopedias and mathematical tables... this was more useful to me than telephone books and train time tables. This kind of greatly enhanced memory is called hypermnesia and involves both episodic memory (recall of experiences) and semantic memory (recall of meanings, information and concepts).
A low IQ savant only has Verbatim Memory, he is forced to rely on Verbatim Memory, since his Gist Memory - that ability to connect a series of experiences into a meaningful pattern - is still in its formative stage, but a high IQ savant has both Verbatim Memory and Gist Memory, so he can paraphrase and summarize and put information into a meaningful pattern. Accurate solutions to reasoning problems depend primarily on Gist Memory abilities (extracting the correct gist from problem information, focusing on that gist during reasoning, and accessing reasoning operations that process that gist).
Researchers have concluded there are two distinct types of memory: Verbatim, which allows us to recall what specifically happened at any given moment, and Gist, which enables us to put the event in context and give it meaning. After conducting numerous studies with her partner, psychologist Charles Brainerd, Valerie Reyna concluded that Verbatim and Gist Memory are separate, parallel systems. So separate, in fact, that there is some evidence they occupy different sections of the brain. When an event occurs, Verbatim Memory records an accurate representation. But even as it is doing so, Gist Memory begins processing the information and determining how it fits into our existing storehouse of knowledge.
In normal people, Verbatim memories generally die away within a day or two, as they are probably only stored in Medium-Term Memory leaving only the Gist Memory, which records the event as we interpreted it, but in the case of savants, however, Verbatim Memory does not die away, it is retained permanently. Many savants have a Verbatim Memory that is developed to an advanced degree - this is one of the abilities one has in a state of Concrete Intuition. In my opinion Gist Memory is left hemisphere and Verbatim Memory is right. However, the volume of the amygdala is shown to correlate positively with Gist Memory, but not with overall memory, whereas the reverse is true for the hippocampus.
Lightning calculation - this is exhibited in the instantaneous calculation of multiplications, square roots, cube roots etc, the determination of prime numbers, or subitizing*. I could multiply eight digit numbers mentally and also do basic algebra mentally. At that time, my Working Memory Span was sixteen digits forwards and fourteen digits backwards, this limited me to the multiplication of an eight digit number by an eight digit number, or the equivalent, intuitively, unless I used Mnemonics, or broke the problem into several sections, which I stored in Intermediate-Term Working Memory for later retrieval. Longer calculations than eight digits by eight digits often required some combination of written mathematics and intuition.
*Subitizing refers to the rapid, accurate, and confident judgments of number performed for a range of items. The term is derived from the Latin adjective subitus (meaning sudden) and captures a feeling of immediately knowing how many items lie within the visual scene. The accuracy, speed and confidence with which observers make judgments of the number of items are dependent on the number of elements to be enumerated. The subitizing limit for a person of average intelligence is between three and four. People can be trained to subitize somewhat more than 1-4, but not by much - six is the practical limit for most people, unless they practice for years. However, the subitizing limit for a savant can be as high as thirty.
A few "normal" people, such as Carl Gauss and Andre-Marie Ampere, physicist and mathematician, and the scientist Erich von Neumann, have matched the capabilities of the autistic savants. Ampere and Gauss were both recognized as prodigies at three years of age. Carl Friedrich Gauss, the famous scientist, was a prodigious mental calculator. Reputedly, when asked how he had been able to predict the trajectory of Ceres with such accuracy he replied, "I used logarithms." The questioner then wanted to know how he had been able to look up so many numbers from the tables so quickly. "Look them up?" Gauss responded, "Who needs to look them up? I just calculate them in my head!" Gauss usually declined to present the logic behind his often very elegant theorems - he preferred them to appear "out of thin air" and erased all traces of how he discovered them - indeed, perhaps he didn't know himself if they were discovered intuitively. Ampere started calculating even before he could read numbers, working out complex formulas with stones and cookie crumbs. Erich von Neumann could divide a multi-digit number by a four digit number. This is why I believe Gauss, Ampere and von Neumann were Prodigious Savants.
Dr. Neils Birbaumer cites, for example, a non-autistic student whose calculating skills rival those of the best mathematical savants. Electrical monitoring of the student's brain waves while he was doing a calculation showed that his brain was more active than usual at the start but less active just before he answered. "Later cognition involves more cortical activity and is associated with conceptual thinking," says Birbaumer. "This student seems to be able to prevent this activity from occurring when he is calculating - leaving him free to access the earlier low-level processes." If, as we believe, all savant skills have a common origin, then the skill for integer arithmetic, (like that for drawing, perfect pitch, and recall for meaningless detail), arises from an ability to access some mental process which is common to us all, but which is not readily accessible by normal individuals.
Calendar calculating - often involving the ability to identify the day of the week upon which a particular date falls, in one case any time in the last, or next, forty thousand years! I never really practiced much, but in my prime I could tell you the day for any date in the 1900's. Our observations suggest that calendar calculation is a left brained savant ability.
Musical ability - this is a relatively common savant skill. Savants will have perfect pitch, and can play a complete piece of music after hearing it only once. I could sing a piece of classical music after only hearing it once and I had photographic memory of the musical scores.
Artistic ability - not as common as musical abilities, but there are savants with exceptional painting, sculpture and especially drawing skills. I could do a pencil drawing that looked like a photo, I could also sculpt in clay.
Language ability - this is fairly rare, but there is one well documented case of a savant with central nervous system damage since birth who could read, write and translate 15 to 20 languages. I could, and still can learn to read a European language in a month or two at most. I have read of many child prodigies who learned to speak several languages, including Latin and Ancient Greek, before they were six or seven. An example being Bertrand Russell, who learned several languages in early childhood and was reputed to have an IQ of 190. I believe, however, these child prodigies have only learned several languages at an early age because they were under parental pressure to do so. During my own early childhood, I was not motivated to learn several foreign languages, which would probably have included Latin and Ancient Greek, although I was under parental pressure to do so, because I did not want to learn languages that I would not be able to apply for fifteen or twenty years, when I was old enough to travel abroad alone, and have an opportunity to use them. I was only interested in subjects I could apply immediately, such as chemistry or how to build a model airplane.
My grandfather was influenced by several ideas in the late forties, so his first experiment was to place a large loudspeaker on my mothers stomach, when she was five or six months pregnant, then played classical music, and simple English. This experiment was partially successful, as it gave me a lifelong loathing of pop music, and I learned to say my first words before I was six months old. My first words were "light" and "door" and I pointed to them. His next experiment was sleep learning, which started when I was about three or four years of age, with a break when I went to Munich for a few months when I was four and a half, then I continued until I was six. I was exposed to several languages, and some other things, including poetry, but with the exception of German, because I had had some prior exposure to this language, I could not speak any of the other languages, but I find that I can follow several of these languages, to a certain degree, when I hear them on television, and this has probably made it easier to learn to read a European language in a couple of months... so we can say sleep learning was also partially successful.
Apart from the above, the nearest I got to learning foreign languages in early childhood was to memorize some phrases from a German phrasebook belonging to my father, so I could deal with essentials, such as finding the toilet, if I were on my own in Germany. Soon after this, I spent a few months in Munich in 1951 with my grandfather's cousin, so I had some practice speaking German. Apart from that, I picked up a little French, because my father, my stepmother and my aunt Shirley would speak French together, as my stepmother could not speak much English.
In late childhood, however, after about the age of ten, I did learn to read some European languages, as these gave me access to a wider range of literature, especially on scientific, philosophical and psychological subjects, which often had footnotes in French, German, and other languages. From the age of two or three, and perhaps a little later, until I started school, because my grandparents did not want to pay a baby sitter, they put me in my pram in front of the radio, as a further experiment. As they had a baby alarm, they could attend to my needs, so this was not cruel. The radio was tuned to the Third Program (the intellectual program of that era in the UK), or the Home Service, and it was turned on for several hours, so I listened to classical music, and intellectual programs, some teaching foreign languages. I believe these experiments had some influence, because I seemed to know things that I should not have known, at that young age. Perhaps this early training did me some good: I don't know! All I do know is that no other Mind Development student could reach my level.
My grandfather has performed psychological experiments since 1928. His first subject was my mother, and he experimented on her between the ages of two and eighteen. These experiments included Pelmanism and some of his ideas from Power of Mind. She got fed up with this, so at fourteen, she ran away to live with the Gypsies and ate their diet, which included hedgehog. My grandfather found her some weeks later working in a fairground on the "knock a lady out of bed" stand. He dragged her back to school screaming, then continued his experiments. She left home, after the age of eighteen, because she had had enough. She went into a state of rebellion and affected a working class accent. A couple of years later, she met my father, then soon after, they got married. My granddad was running a finishing school just for one, her. My grandfather took a different tack with me, because I was a boy, so I was made to put my attention on science and psychology. He tried to give me some exercises on elocution. He gave me a bang on the head if I used a working class expression, and this was moderately successful.
Hyperlexia - in hyperlexia, a child spontaneously and precociously masters single-word reading. It can be viewed as a superability, that is, word recognition ability far above expected levels. Hyperlexic children are often fascinated by letters and numbers. They are extremely good at decoding language and thus often become very early readers. Many Hyperlexics have very high reading speeds. Oscar Wilde used to be able to read a book in 20 minutes and tell you the plot and then he could recite huge passages from a novel the size of Middlemarch. He read in German, Italian, French and Russian and had a quite extraordinary mind, partly because he had read more than anybody else!
Some hyperlexic children learn to spell long words (such as elephant) before they are two and learn to read whole sentences before they turn three. A brain scan examination of one particular child showed that hyperlexia may be the neurological opposite of dyslexia. Precocious reading is brought about by simultaneously drawing on both left hemisphere phonological and right hemisphere visual systems, reconciling the two prevailing, but seemingly contradictory, single hemisphere theories of hyperlexia. I learned to read before I was three, and I was reading adult books before the age of seven, often at speeds in excess of 1,000 words per minute.
Mechanical Aptitude - although he had little education, James Watt was an enthusiastic inventor, with a fertile imagination that sometimes got in the way of finishing his works, because he could always see "just one more improvement." He was skilled with his hands, and was also able to perform systematic scientific measurements that could quantify the improvements he made and produce a greater understanding of the phenomenon he was working with. I too could build complex equipment, both mechanical and electronic, without diagrams and with limited formal training.
Synesthesia - a sensation that normally occurs in one sense modality occurs when another modality is stimulated. A condition in which normally separate senses are not separate. Sight may mingle with sound, taste with touch, etc. The senses are cross-wired. For example, when a digit-color synesthete sees or just thinks of a number, the number appears with a color film over it. A given number's color never changes; it appears every time with the number. Synesthesia can take many forms. A synesthete may sense the taste of chicken as a pointed object. Nikola Tesla engaged in reading many works and memorizing complete books, supposedly having a photographic memory. During his early life, he was frequently stricken with illness and suffered a peculiar affliction in which blinding flashes of light would appear before his eyes, often accompanied by hallucinations. Much of the time the visions were linked to a word or idea he might have come across; just by hearing the name of an item, he would involuntarily envision it in realistic detail. Modern-day synesthetes report similar symptoms.
Other synesthetes hear colors. Still others may have several senses cross-wired. Synesthesia seems to underpin some savants' enhanced memory and numerical skills. The hope is that a better understanding of its origins could help to explain savant abilities - and perhaps even shine some light on whether we are all capable of attaining them. I experienced letters, numbers, days of the week, months and sounds as colors, and I experienced smells as sounds: I never lost these abilities.
Other skills - I knew the time without seeing a clock, I had extreme sensory discrimination via smell, sight (hypervision*), touch and hyperacute hearing (I could hear the whistle of a TV screen and the buzz of a fluorescent lamp). I had untaught mechanical skills, I could estimate angles and distances, an unfailing sense of direction and the ability to commit maps to memory. Many savants have significantly better visual acuity (20:7) compared with control subjects' (20:20) - acuity so superior that it lies in the region reported for birds of prey.
*Hypervision permits many savants to read a book at six to eight feet, and to see the moons of Jupiter or the phases of Venus without a telescope. They have up to three times the visual acuity of normal subjects. This is a minor savant ability. There are several aspects of hypervision:
I have a number of advanced students, who have obtained telescopic and microscopic vision permanently. Two have told me that they can see the moons of Jupiter with the naked eye. Frequently a Savant's or Metavert's eyes can focus on extremely minute targets, objects too small for normal vision to perceive. This power functions in two stages: The first is light magnification; the students's eyes function as normal telescopes. The second stage of this ability permits a person to see miniature, rather than distant, targets. This ability goes hand in hand with infra-red vision (a sort of super night vision), super-photographic memory, and super-hearing. Even today, in my sixties, I can read at ten feet, if I have the correct spectacles, and see minute objects, as my eyes have a much higher level of resolution than normal. I have about three times normal magnification, both in Microscopic vision and Telescopic vision. I worked in the electronic industry for twelve years where I often had to solder thick film components that were so small that a person with normal eyesight would need a magnifying glass.
- Telescopic Vision: Characters with telescopic vision can observe objects over remote distances. Their eyesight automatically focuses for distance, and they can see things that are far away with the same degree of clarity that they would if the objects were very close. This power works similarly to a zoom lens on a camera.
- Microscopic Vision: The opposite of Telescopic Vision, Microscopic is the ability to perceive items with normal optical clarity that are normally too small to be seen with the naked eye.
- Infrared Vision: Also known as Night Vision, people with this power can adjust their spectral range so as to be perceive types of light that are normally invisible to normal humans.
A person with above average eyesight can easily read the 10 foot line (smallest bottom line on the Snellen Eye Test Chart), at 20 feet away--20-10 vision. I have seen people who can read the 10 foot line at 20 to 30 feet away -- 30-10 vision, and the 20 foot line at 50 to 60 feet. This is called "telescopic vision." Telescopic and Microscopic let you see things far away and of minuscule size. Both usually come together. Less often, it's also "snapshot vision," letting you see in slow motion or in "Bullet Time." High Speed Vision has many advantages; as a child, I could frequently see the bullet from a 45 revolver as it went towards the target 50 yards away, when I did gun practice with my grandfather - it looked like a supersonic bumble bee, as it traveled towards the target. There may be one drawback to these abilities, however, unless a person has a very fast brain: he or she may be overwhelmed by the wealth of incoming data.
The Athletic Savant - this is a child with a remarkable athletic talent that would permit him to beat boys that were much older than himself, and many adults, who had not received athletic training. For example: take Budhia Singh , a child prodigy, athletic savant, and a typical six-year-old boy. Here's the upshot on Budhia. He has been running extreme distances since the age of four. Has completed several marathons. Has run races as long as 40 miles (65 kilometers) Grew up in a slum in eastern India. Has since achieved great fame in India and has appeared in television commercials, bringing wealth to his family. He was forced by the government to stop training at the age of five, due to medical concerns. In any event, he is now training for the Olympics.
I had my savant abilities for at least ten years. As I could already read and write, I started school at three and a half, my granddad found a school that would accept this. At that time, I had a full set of savant abilities, and I took my 11+ at nine. These abilities in combination with a limited need for sleep allowed me to achieve a great deal, over this time scale. I could compete with older boys, because I was large for my age, until I reached the age of thirteen or fourteen, at which point I ceased growing. This was probably because my granddad was very short. But the period between thirteen and fourteen was a time of decline. I only just made it through the sixth form. Many boys in the sixth form at public school were scholarship boys like myself, the first twelve places in Essex, and elsewhere, so most of them were much brighter than the sixth form boys in grammar school; the competition was hard. Several had IQs in excess of 170. This made it much more difficult for me, as I had lost my powers. I struggled by getting Cs and the occasional B+, but I made it.
I was used to having these abilities but then, so to speak, lightning struck. After the age of about 12, in particular after suffering from severe influenza over Xmas 1959/60, my savant abilities started to become intermittent, so I had to learn to do math and certain other things in the conventional way. This took about two years to unravel and it was not fun. The insight that I got is that we should talk about savant consciousness, not savant abilities, because savant abilities occur in a different state of consciousness and achieving such a state is not limited only to those who are savants, i.e. autistic or otherwise disabled.
My experience of savant consciousness was much like that of the Mentat, as he is described in Frank Herbert's fictional Dune universe. To access his special abilities, a Mentat has to enter a different type or level of consciousness. Unlike computers, however, Mentats are not simply calculators. Instead, the exceptional cognitive abilities of memory and perception are the foundations for supra-logical hypothesizing. Mentats are able to sift large volumes of data and devise concise analyses, in a process that goes far beyond logical deduction. Mentats cultivate "the na ve mind," the mind without preconception or prejudice, similar to the contemporary practice of Zen that can extract the essential patterns from logic or data, and deliver useful conclusions with varying degrees of certainty.
The loss of my personal childhood savant abilities had several effects. The first of my savant abilities to go was my mathematical ability. I came back from a half-term holiday expecting to do what I usually do, but I found I had lost most of my savant calculating abilities. The first lesson was mathematics and most of this was over my head. Later that day I had a physics lesson and again the mathematical parts of the lesson were over my head. I had to learn how to do mathematics in the conventional way. This only took a few months, because I had already got into the habit of writing down the answer to a problem, then writing down the workings to keep the teacher happy, so I was able to do the public school entrance exam and pass. My savant abilities to calculate would come back for short periods, but I could no longer rely on them. Luckily I was able to get up to speed in mathematics within a few months, but other subjects took up to two years to recover, and some (such as art) not at all.
I had lost some of my savant abilities, mainly mathematical, but I gained the ability to do mathematics the conventional way in two or three months, in time to do the public school exam, pass and win a scholarship. I was still ahead of most of the other students, and I had not lost my hypermnesic abilities at that point, so I was able to regurgitate most of the things the teachers had said over the years. This allowed me to answer the other non-mathematical examination questions. Of course I had problems in public school once I got there, I gradually fell to about tenth in class, as I lost my other abilities.
When, some months later I began to lose some of my other savant abilities the effects were devastating. Normally, I could rely on episodic memory; this means I could read a book at about eight or nine seconds a page (3,000 wpm), then reread the book in my mind's eye. I could find any page of any book I had read in a second or two, then quote from it. When no longer in a savant state of consciousness my episodic memory was 90% lost, but my semantic memory was intact, so I still had something of a conceptual memory of what I had read, but I could no longer recite it word for word. Memory is state specific, so only about 25% of what has been learned in a savant state of consciousness can be retrieved in a normal state of consciousness. In a state of savant consciousness, I read several hundred books on scientific subjects; I have retained a conceptual memory for much of this, but I can no longer see the books, and mentally turn the pages. The loss of savant memory had a devastating effect on nearly every school subject with the exception of wood work. I suspect this is the least conceptual of the subjects and relies on motor skills, therefore savant abilities played little or no part.
Note: I was diagnosed by Ghent University Hospital in 1994 as having epilepsy. As this usually does not start at 47, unless you have had brain damage recently, I asked how long I have had this and the doctor said it may have been since childhood, as this condition is lifelong. He went on to say, the roots of epilepsy usually go back to childhood, often starting in the teens. Epilepsy is often caused by a febrile condition especially when there is delirium and in fact I had a bad flu with a high temperature(106), leading to delirium, over Xmas 1959/60, when I was twelve years old.
I was never entirely satisfied with the explanation that influenza was the cause of the loss of my savant abilities. I had flu several times, and a host of childhood illnesses before I was twelve, but there were no cognitive consequences. I think that Influenza followed by encephalitis or meningitis may have been the cause, as both these conditions cause brain damage, leading to epilepsy. I was not diagnosed with left temporal lobe epilepsy, until 1994, as the result of an EEG, because it was petit mal, so there are no external symptoms like seizures, although an uncle of mine, a pharmacist, was of the opinion I had epilepsy some fifteen years before, due to something he observed. There has been a rapid deterioration in my condition, since the diagnosis of epilepsy in 1994; this is why I retired a few months later, and passed all Mind Development affairs to my successor, Peter Shepherd of Trans4mind.
The flu may have led to meningitis or encephalitis which usually result in epilepsy. My caregivers were not always honest about my illnesses, when I was a child, as they did not want to worry me. According to my doctor I had TB when I was five, because I had scars on my lungs, but my relatives said I had whooping cough. My uncle, who lived in the same room had TB, and I probably caught it from him. I was treated with penicillin and sulfonamides.
After my influenza over the Xmas of 1959/60, I knew I had something bad, in addition to the influenza, because I did not return to school until the half term holiday was over. During my convalescence, I could not read music, so I could not play the piano, although this recovered somewhat over time. This was the first sign something was wrong. It may have been that I became epileptic at that time. This is probably why I lost my savant abilities, as epilepsy often causes cognitive impairment. When a person has epilepsy, they frequently have quiet periods when the epileptic center is inactive; these quiet periods can sometimes last for several years. This may explain some of my experiences, and may explain why my savant abilities became intermittent.
Contrary to popular belief, a savant need not lose his savant abilities, as a result of attaining Formal Operations, so I did not lose these abilities for this reason. I attained both Formal Operations and Puberty at the age of nine at the latest, if not before, otherwise I would not have been able to read philosophy profitably. My savant abilities were probably lost as the result of epilepsy, and I did not lose them until I was nearly thirteen, by which time, as a result of my high IQ, I had probably reached the first level of Post Formal Operations. My loss of savant abilities was due to some other factor.
To my knowledge no young savant (when the skill first emerges) has ever given any insight into the methods used, nor can they learn or be taught. With maturity the occasionally offered insights are suspect, possibly being contaminated by expectations or the acquisition of misguided concepts concerning the particular skill. Furthermore, savant skills often recede or are lost altogether with the onset of maturity (Selfe 1977; Treffert 1989; Barnes and Earnshaw 1995).
The left side of your brain is your knowledge, the storage of your experiences so far. This is learned, and can be passed on to others, as some of it was passed on to you. The right side of your brain is your wisdom. This is where the analysis and correlation of the experiences and knowledge gained in the left brain occur. Your right brain you are born with, it has whatever ability it has to perform this analysis. The left brain is the repository of knowledge you gain. The right brain is where that knowledge is used and applied.
The left brain is where the musician adds the knowledge of music theory, knowledge of the mechanics of an instrument. The right brain takes that knowledge and turns it into a song. The left brain is where the facts and formulae and mathematical variables are stored (when learned). The right analyzes and correlates the data to find the answer to the math problem.
The left brain learns the meanings of letters, the rules of grammar and syntax, the right brain uses that to write a story or a poem. The booksmart people have the strong left brain, they can absorb or add knowledge, but have the weak right brain for using that knowledge. The savants have strong right brain abilities, but weak left brain. Their wisdom (right brain) can be extensive, but their left brain ability to absorb new knowledge can be very limited, thus they are savant but in very tight, specific areas. They excel, but only at, often, one specific area, but otherwise considered 'autistic' in all other areas. All of the wisdom is directed in that narrow field because their left brain is inefficient at gaining new knowledge, new things for the wisdom to be applied to.
In my opinion a natural savant, and I mean by this somebody born that way, would read between 6 and 7 on the Bilateral Meter, unless of course he was psychotic in which case he would read about 8. This is how a person would be if they were substantially right brain dominant, 5 being the balanced point on the scale, and 2 being the extreme left-dominant reading on the meter's scale. A savant has a true state of right brain dominance. If there were techniques that would make a student read 6+ on the Bilateral Meter, he would be sufficiently right brain dominant to be a savant. This is a possible route but it would cause its own problems, since the student's left brain would not be up to speed - it would create an unbalanced state of mind. In the case of the Metavert, however, the Bilateral Meter reads 5, because he is firing on all cylinders: he can still think conceptually and he has an excellent semantic memory, but he can switch to a right brain mode of operation to expand his episodic memory and to do mental calculations. A Metavert can consciously move the Bilateral Meter from 7 to 3 by adopting appropriate states of mind. Note: the Bilateral Meter was designed and built by Gregory Mitchell, and unfortunately is not available commercially.
Most autistic savants have very extensive mental abilities called splinter skills, that they acquire almost automatically, without extensive training or even any training at all. However, it is important to notice that people with a very high general intelligence can demonstrate the same skills, especially when the appropriate cognitive skills have been learned and practiced; autistic disabilities are not a pre-requisite for savant consciousness.
The trouble is that savantism is quite complex. According to one source, there are only a few prodigious savants, but about one person in a thousand is a minor savant. Some of these are very smart, but increasingly monomaniacal, and about half of them lay somewhere on the autistic spectrum, but most minor savants, however, have modest IQs. They will have a high score on the sections of a mental test that correlate with their savant abilities, but their score on other parts of the test will often be low. Personally, I still have a minor savant skill, the ability to focus on minutia for hours.
The uneven profile of performance on standard assessments of intelligence upon autistic patients, and the high incidence of savant skills amongst them, has prompted research into the nature of intelligence in autism. A group study of the speed of processing in children with autism, who had an average IQ of 85, the children with autism showed inspection times as fast as an age-matched group of young normally developing children with an average IQ of 115. Children with autism in this study appear to have preserved information processing capacity despite poor measured IQ. This study shows that IQ tests do not measure the real level of intelligence of a savant, and a Speed Test, such as the Nufferno, may be a more accurate tool for measuring a savant's true capabilities. A conventional IQ test could underestimate an autistic savant's true level of intelligence in terms of speed of processing by as much as thirty points. The Nufferno Test was used in Mind Development's earlier researches because it was open-ended and could measure a student's IQ more realistically, even when it was considerably below 100 and also when it was well above 200.
Savants can recall facts, numbers, license plates, maps, and extensive lists of sports and weather statistics after only being exposed to them once. Some savants can mentally note and then recall perfectly a very long sequence of music, numbers, or speech. Some, described as 'mental calculators,' can do exceptionally fast arithmetic, including prime factorization. Other skills include precisely estimating distances and angles by sight, calculating the day of the week for any given date over the span of tens of thousands of years, and being able to accurately gauge the passing of time without a clock. Most autistic savants have a single special skill while others have multiple skills. Usually these abilities are concrete, non-symbolic, right hemisphere skills as opposed to left hemisphere skills that tend to be more sequential, logical, and symbolic. These skills represent an altered state of consciousness.
There is a major difference between savant and genius. A savant is not a genius - and a genius is not a savant (though some geniuses have had savant like skills). Most savants are impaired in their general intellectual functions, though savant like gifts can exist in unimpaired individuals (but these people are not, then, called savants). The key difference between savant and genius is that a savant is not creative; whilst a genius is creative by definition. As for the difference between savant and prodigy: a savant has an over-development of at least one lower level thinking skill; a prodigy has a precocious over-development of higher level thinking skills that allow them to tackle an adult domain, while still a child. Neuropsychological research into savant skills may have direct implications for better understanding the neuroscience of giftedness, particularly as it relates to domain-specific skills (e.g. mathematics) as opposed to general high IQ and giftedness.
An Acquired Savant is someone who exhibits savant skills after injury or disease of the nervous system, as opposed to a person born with autistic disorder or other developmental disability. An example is Orlando L. Serrell (born 1968), who after being struck by a baseball on the left side of his head at the age of ten, soon developed the ability to perform exceptional calendrical calculations. He didn't become autistic, indeed he had an IQ of 114. He also developed exceptional memory of personal experience, being able to recall particular events in almost exaggerated detail, including many seemingly trivial details. He could recall the weather, as well as (to a varying degree) where he was and what he had done for every day since the accident when he was ten. This ability is called hyperthymesia (from the Greek word "thymesis" meaning "memory") and does not rely on conscious mnemonic practices. The hyperthymesics that have been detected so far are not autistic and have been within the normal ranges of intelligence.
Savant abilities are a dimension of the right brain but they are suppressed by the left brain in most people. Professor Treffert relates the case of a man whose savant abilities emerged at the age of nine, after a bullet wound to the left brain left him with motor paralysis on the right side, along with becoming deaf and dumb. Another case was described in Brain and Cognition in which an 8-year-old boy began to show exceptional calendar calculating ability after a left hemispherectomy. Two additional patients likewise displayed new artistic skills in the setting of progressive brain disease, when the damage is restricted to the left frontal lobe. This sometimes occurs as a result of the deterioration of the brain, which occurs during old age. Their creativity was visual, not verbal; the images were meticulous copies that lacked abstract or symbolic qualities; episodic memory was preserved but semantic memory was devastated, in accordance with left brain injury. These examples indicate that savant abilities lay dormant in most people and may become manifest after injury to the left hemisphere that reduces its dominance sufficiently that abilities latent in the right hemisphere of the brain have free reign.
When a person has a high IQ in the absence of brain damage and demonstrates savant abilities, he is often described as a Pseudo Savant. In contrast to a Natural Savant, a Pseudo Savant has probably acquired his savant skills through extensive and intensive practice. Most Pseudo savants have learned mathematical skills, or they are mathematicians. The famous Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) had savant skills but since his IQ was high he was described as a Pseudo Savant. In his childhood, Ramanujan was quiet and meditative and had an extraordinary memory. He delighted in entertaining his friends with repeating the values of pi and root two to any number of decimal places. Ramanujan was a deeply religious man and relied very strongly on his intuition. Ramanujan described his own mathematical discoveries as being handed to him by a Hindu Goddess while he slept. Non-believers can imagine that Ramanujan's unconscious mind allowed him to make his discoveries operating in a way that might be totally different from his conscious mind.
It seems to me that many of Ramanujan's mathematical abilities were governed by Archetypal figures. Ramanujan experienced an archetypal figure in the form of the Hindu Goddess Namagiri, who whispered his famous formulae to him and gave him the answers to mathematical problems. Jung felt that number might be the primary archetype of order of the unus mundus itself: that is, the most basic building blocks of either psyche or matter are the integers. With almost no formal training in pure mathematics, Ramanujan made substantial contributions in the areas of mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions. Often Ramanujan was unable to prove his results and simply thought up the final result directly.
It makes me wonder what connection a savant's abilities have with 'intuition,' where you can predict an answer without consciously being aware of the process you used to obtain it. In my opinion intuition is a domain general savant ability, whereas lightening calculation is domain specific, both require the right hemisphere, and the cerebellum (as this plays an important role in intuition), to perform the computations. Savant Intuition can be very valuable in mathematics, as well as many other areas of life, as it helps to give some idea of where you should be aiming for. Besides being a mathematician, Ramanujan was an astrologer of repute and a good speaker. He used to give lectures on subjects like "God, Zero and Infinity." Ramanujan was a prodigy, savant and a genius!
R diger Gamm (1971-) is another good example of a pseudo savant. He attained his ability to multiply eight-digit numbers in his head at the age of 21. He also can calculate ninth powers and fifth roots, and divide one integer by another to sixty decimal places. What may be even more remarkable is that up until the age of twenty he had neither interest nor talent in math, then he came across an algorithm for calculation of calendar data and everything changed. This Gamm found exciting and he began to practice the algorithm for fun, sometimes more than four hours a day for four years.
A PET scan of his brain detected that when performing mental arithmetic, Gamm showed activity in five additional areas of the right hemisphere than normal subjects. He utilized brain areas normally implicated in episodic memory, and in this way exploited the much greater storage capacity of Intermediate-Term Working Memory to maintain the sequence of steps and intermediate results needed for the more complex calculations. His IQ is very high, yet his brain didn't appear unusual in any other way, nor did he show great aptitude when tested in areas other than mathematics - though it should be noted, he can speak several languages fluently, moreover in these languages he can speak words and even complete sentences backwards.
Most Mental Calculators are Pseudo Savants, only a few are Autistic Savants - they are usually people with a prodigious ability in some area of mental calculation, such as multiplying large numbers or factoring large numbers. Many are people of normal mental development who have simply developed advanced calculating ability. A good many are also experienced scientists, linguists, writers, and so on. Most Pseudo Savants have a prodigious ability in mental mathematical calculation, but a few have phenomenal memory capacity; these are the two main savant abilities that are manifested by Pseudo Savants.
Other brain measurements have been used to compare mathematical prodigies with those of average ability. When performing a mathematical task, children with an aptitude for numbers show six to seven times the normal blood flow to parts of the brain responsible for operations related to math, including parts of the right hemisphere and frontal lobes. While their brains aren't physically different, it would appear they are being used differently. Interest, and willingness to practice intensively, enables the special ability to become embedded.
A prodigious savant is someone whose skill level would qualify him or her as a prodigy, or phenomenally talented, even when compared with highly trained adults. The most common trait of these prodigious savants is their seemingly limitless memories, with many having eidetic or photographic memories. Fewer than one hundred prodigious savants have been noted in more than a century of literature on the subject. Darold Treffert, the leading researcher in the study of savant syndrome, estimates that fewer than fifty or so such individuals are believed to be alive in the world today.
To explain the prodigious savant's abilities, with such innate access to the vast syntax and rules of art, mathematics, music and even language, in the absence of any formal training and sometimes in the presence of major disability, it seems to me that an "ancestral" memory capacity must exist, alongside the cognitive/semantic and procedural/habitual types of memory. Ancestral memory is the genetic transmission of sophisticated knowledge, beyond the instincts. Perhaps, as such, it is better named "genetic" memory, and it may be that other means than the mechanism of DNA can be hypothesized.
Although there are only about fifty prodigious savants in the world today, I suspect there are several hundred people or more with a very high IQ, who can demonstrate prodigious savant abilities. I suspect that High IQ Savants are not that interesting to psychologists, because having a savant ability or abilities against the background of a high IQ and extensive education does not seem so remarkable.
The fact that I did not lose all my savant abilities on the same day but between the ages of 12 and 14, and more importantly, that they would turn on and off at random, suggested to me that firstly my own savant abilities could be restored and secondly, with the correct approach savant abilities could be made available to others. I needed to find how to reproduce savant abilities by cognitive skills. At that time, I made a minor discovery. If I read out loud as rapidly as possible my savant abilities would turn on briefly. This was the beginning of the Tachyphaenomics method, based on speeded speech exercises, which has been part of Mind Development since the beginning.
Indeed, anyone with a normal functional brain can also develop advanced - and even extraordinary - skills. Ericsson, Dweck et al have shown some paths to get there, and Treffert argues that we may be able to develop further training methods based on what we're learning from savant brains. Indeed, my own childhood with savant abilities was the catalyst for 30 years of Mind Development research, aiming to make these cognitive skills accessible to all persons. Motivation and consistently applied effort is key, though, for success...
Carol Dweck, in Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development, states: "The hallmark of successful individuals is that they love learning, they seek challenges, they value effort, and they persist in the face of obstacles." Such people believe that their intelligence is malleable and can be increased through effort; that personal growth is possible for them. People with the growth mindset, who believe that they can improve their abilities and accomplishments through purposeful effort, excel. People with the fixed mindset, who believe that their intrinsic worth is cast in stone, that there's nothing they can do to make their performance better, tend to stagnate because they don't put forth effort.
Carol Dweck's work with children in testing the effects of praise, had the children working on nonverbal I.Q. tasks. Some children, after a job well done, were praised for their intelligence, others for their effort, and then there was a control group with no praise given. When kids were praised for their intelligence they didn't want to be further challenged and when they hit difficult problems, their enjoyment crashed, they thought they weren't smart anymore, and their performance on the test plummeted, their I.Q. with it. All from praising their intelligence! Whereas the children who were praised for effort continued to do even better than before. The control group just stayed the same.
The idea that mental capacities could be increased was not a mystery to me. I had already done Pelmanism, one such system, and I had been reading psychology and philosophy books from the age of about nine. Because of their inherent, utilitarian usefulness we have generally come to rely more heavily on left (dominant) hemisphere functions such as language, logical and sequential thinking, for example, than on right (non-dominant) hemisphere functions that underlie savant-like skills. However, the more primitive memory circuitry, and right brain capacity, both still exist in each of us. Rightly or wrongly, I believed that if you could push a person's non verbal I.Q. up high enough by stimulating the right hemisphere, you would get a savant. Does a savant-like skill and capacity exist in each of us? Probably so, given the appropriate motivation and practical training.
The Metavert state
One of the consequences of my research into Mind Development was the discovery of the Metavert State - a state in which a person restores their savant abilities. The first Mind Development Course included Speed Reading techniques, Tachyphaenomics (speeded speech), Trachtenburg (speed maths) and advanced Memory techniques; four key methods that can effectively raise I.Q. I gradually added techniques for mind development I had learned from when I studied method acting and a range of other methods I discovered in further research at the library and went on to test for efficacy. I was also influenced by books on Buddhism I read at the Theosophical Society.
I briefly regained most of my savant abilities at stage school, in 1968, when I was studying method acting, as this probably made me much more right brain dominant. When I left stage school a year later, however. these abilities went away again, within a couple of months. I did not get these abilities back until I achieved the Metavert state in 1970, as a result of intensive training in Mind Development using the hardware approach, which made a permanent change. During an interview at the computer firm ICL, as a Metavert, I scored a deviation IQ of 195, and on the logical section of the test I scored 215, the highest score recorded, but they did not give me a job because I did not have a degree in mathematics. This is the level of their stupidity. At that time, I was at University studying psychology for a Bachelor's degree, and this was not what they wanted. Had I got this job, I would have received 6,000 pounds a year, a lot of money for 1970, enough to tempt me to leave university.
Hypermnesia is a further savant ability related to the Metavert state. People with the savant ability of Hyperthymesia, as described above, have a page of memory for every day of their life from about the age of two; Hyperthymestic Memory is the extreme case of Hypermnesia, where there is total recall, but this condition is very rare. People with the savant ability of Hypermnesia have among other things an amplified autobiographical memory, but it is not as detailed, and they do not have total recall - so there is a subtle distinction.
Hypermnesia is literally an elevated level of memory recall. Hence: a characteristic of some savants in which there is an extraordinary ability to recall names, dates, places, etc. as well as extremely detailed recollections of particular past experiences. It is observed occasionally in the manic phase of bipolar disorders, during hypnosis, during certain neurosurgical procedures, and it is usual in the Metavert State.
An understanding of savant abilities and the Metavert state is important. All Metaverts that have been created have at least some savant abilities and in all cases a vastly improved episodic memory with no detriment to their semantic memory, in fact the opposite. All types of memory appear to be enhanced in the Metavert state. A Metavert could be described as a high I.Q. savant. So far there have been no Metaverts without a high I.Q. Savant abilities and a high I.Q. can coexist. Brain damage was not a precondition.
George Parker Bidder (14 June 1806 – 28 September 1878) was an English engineer and calculating prodigy. He displayed a natural skill at calculation from an early age. He was able to multiply a fifteen-digit number by another fifteen-digit number mentally in less than a minute. To do this calculation in this short a time, it must have been done intuitively, so he was certainly a savant. His father went on to exhibit him as a "calculating boy," and made money out of it. Many of those who saw him developed an interest in his education, a notable example being Sir John Herschel. His interest led him to make arrangements for George to attend school in Camberwell when he was twelve, followed by classes at the University of Edinburgh. Among other things, George Bidder built the first railway swing bridge, over the River Wensum near Norwich, then went on to become a famous engineer. His son, George Parker Bidder, Jr. (1836-1896), who inherited much of his father's calculating power, was a successful parliamentary counsel and an authority on cryptography. His grandson, also named George Parker Bidder, became a marine biologist and president of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. Bidder's achievements suggest an IQ of at least 140. George Bidder is the first recorded example of a High IQ Savant.
Kim Peek, whose life story was the inspiration for the movie Rain Man, is a savant who got a high school diploma at age 14 and has since gained some honorary college degrees. Peek has scored well below average on general IQ tests, as his I.Q was tested to be just 72, but he has scored very highly in some sub tests. On a scale called the K.Q. (Knowledge Quotient), Kim scored 184, the equivalent of an I.Q. of 230-240. (Einstein had a K.Q. of 149). This puts Kim Peek in the category of High I.Q. Savants.
Daniel Tammet is a British Savant. He is a lightning calculator gifted with a facility for mathematical and natural language learning - he learned Icelandic in a week. And Tammet holds the European record for reciting Pi from memory to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes. He is a high functioning autistic, with an IQ of 150. As well as having an IQ of 150, he has written two books which show evidence of abstract thinking, particularly the second book, so he is probably at the level of formal operations, if not beyond. As I have said earlier in this article, formal operations need not be a barrier to savant abilities. Presently, Daniel Tammet is the best example of a High IQ Savant.
Contrary to popular belief, Savant Syndrome is not necessarily linked to lower I.Q. or mental retardation. In fact, there are just as many cases of savants with above average I.Q. While Savant Syndrome does tend to be linked with a number of different mental disabilities, such as Autism, Asperger's, Mania, Hyperlexia or Williams Syndrome, individuals with these conditions can still have normal or even above average I.Q. Also some people with normal intelligence and superior intelligence, without brain damage, and an absence of cognitive impairment, can however, have savant abilities.
An accompanying article, The Software Approach to Cognitive Development, describes the history of Mind Development and its evolution from a research project utilizing sophisticated equipment to a practical training system for programming the mind's range of cognitive skills.
You may also be interested in Gregory's paper, Amateur Spaceflight - The Exploration of Subspace, which draws on his scientific experiments and inventions between 1965-1990.