Eureka! When a blow to the head creates a sudden genius

May 20, 2012 | Source: The Atlantic

Dubai Panorama (credit: Stephen Wiltshire)

How can we explain “acquired savants” — people with extraordinary talent who’ve miraculously developed artistic, musical, or mathematical abilities as a result of a brain injury, or temporarily from a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) session — since they weren’t born with the talent and didn’t learn it later?

For example, how is it that somebody like Derek Amato (video below), who’d never demonstrated any musical talent before hitting his head at the bottom of a pool, could suddenly handle jazz and classical pieces of astounding complexity without training?

Darold A. Treffert, M.D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and consultant for the movie Rain Manspeculates that it could be the result of  what he calls “genetic memory” (“ancestral memory”) that is triggered by rewiring of the brain to compensate for the injury.

See also:

Savant Syndrome (Darold Treffert website)

Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired, and Sudden Savant
, Darold Treffert and Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2011

“Ancestral” or “Genetic” Memory: Factory Installed Software Darold Treffert, 2011

Conversations on Creativity with Darold TreffertPsychology Today, April 27, 2011 (open access)

Augmenting Cognition,  Idan Segev and Henry Markram, EFPL Press, 2011

Stephen Wiltshire MBE

While the article in The Atlantic does not cover new findings, it summarizes some of the key ideas well. — Ed.