Tap Into the Inner Genius You Didn’t Know You Had

Originally Published in Psychology Today


Derek was a 39-year-old sales trainer with no musical skill when he dove head first into a very shallow swimming pool while visiting his mom. He suffered a severe head concussion and was taken to the hospital. Four days later, when he was resting at one of his friends’ house, he discovered that he was able to play the piano flawlessly and beautifully even though he couldn’t read music. That day, he played the piano for 6 hours. He is now working as a well-paid musician and composes music.

Now, don’t get any wrong idea. Do not dive head first in shallow swimming pools because the brain damage can be severe and irreversible. Derek is the only known case in the world of music savant happening after such a dive. You will find at the end of this blog safe ways to try to unleash your inner genius.

But Derek is a great example of what we call acquired savant syndrome—people who spontaneously develop prodigious memories and genius level abilities. There are 32 documented cases of Acquired Savant Syndrome worldwide, where, in every case, the savant had no particular skill before the incident or accident that unleashed their inner genius.

Here are a few other cases.

Tony, an orthopedic surgeon in New York was struck by lightning while talking to his mother from a telephone booth. While recovering, he became obsessed with listening to piano music, bought a piano, then taught himself to play. In addition to resuming his medical practice, Tony now also gives classical music recitals and composes.

Orlando, after being hit in the head with a baseball at age 10, was suddenly able to name the day of the week for any given date.

Alonzo had a bad fall at the age of 3. Despite permanent cognitive impairment, he developed a talent for sculpting animals with spectacular accuracy and speed.

Acquired savant syndrome can also develop after other types of brain damage, such as stroke or dementia. Bruce Miller, a behavioral neurologist who directs the UCSF Memory and Aging Center in San Francisco, noticed that some frontotemporal dementia patients, as their language and social skills worsened, displayed unexpected new artistic talent like one patient who became obsessed with painting. The more neurological deficit this particular patient had, the more beautiful his paintings became.

Special skills in acquired savants, like the unusual abilities of “natural savants” like autistic children, usually manifest as musical abilities—most often the piano with perfect pitch like Derek—visual memory, arithmetic abilities, painting, drawing, sculpting, and spatial skills where the savant can construct complex accurate models or excel at direction finding and map making.

© Dr. Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD

Originally published on Psychology Today

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