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Brain Plasticity and Savant Abilities for All

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posted on Jul, 3 2005 @ 11:26 AM
Neuroscience is a topic that I think is very interesting, and in this post I want to cover two new findings that challenge long held beliefs, and may possibly have a great impact on society. The first topic has to do with the brain’s ability to grow, adapt, and use any part to perform functions that for a very long time were thought to be compartmentalized and static. The second part deals with the possibility for anyone to harness savant-like abilities, whether they be math, memory, calendar, art, or music related. I started this topic in a post a little while ago, so if any mods see this, Kinglizard OK’d it. Hope you guys enjoy it, just wanted to post what I thought was great material and share it:

posted on Jul, 3 2005 @ 11:27 AM
Scientists studying the brain have long-believed that certain parts of do not grow to accommodate new needs, you basically get what you are born with and need to use it the way it was made. New studies however are breaking down this long-held assumption with findings from London Taxi drivers and blindfolded subjects who agreed to participate in a study.

The first study of taxi drivers measured the relative sizes of their hippocampus, specifically the rear portion which is known to function in mental map-making. Not surprisingly, taxi drivers had a larger rear hippocampus than the average person. It’s quite possible that these people were born with this larger portion of their brain, and put to use their natural ability by becoming taxi drivers after all. Some researchers however were convinced that their brains had restructured themselves to better suit their needs, but since extended time off from work could have some negative consequences for the taxi drivers, they moved their study to Germany with a group of people who were being trained to juggle.

In this particular study, participants spent 3 months learning how to juggle. The result was an “increase in the amount of gray matter in two areas involved in visual and motor activity. When the newly trained jugglers stopped practicing however, these regions shrunk back”. Their brain regions returned to their normal sizes, but scientists couldn’t tell if this was due to the reorganization of existing circuits, an increased number of neural connections, or the actual birth of new brain cells, an idea that was scoffed at until now. Fred Gage, a neuroscientist from California, found that the hippocampus can actually grow new cells, and this is thought to be due to stem cells in the brain. This new finding gives hope for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, Parkingson’s, and many other degenerative disorders.

In a study of “blind” people, researcher wanted to see how the brain adapts and changes, if at all, when a normal-sighted person is blindfolded for three days. After only two, fMRI scans showed “bursts of activity in their visual cortex when they performed tasks with their fingers, or even when they listened to tones or words.” The problem with this was that two days was far too short a time for nerve connections to grow from the cortex to the area that processes sight. What’s being suggested is challenging the assumption that certain parts of the brain have specific functions. It is being argued that although some parts are better suited for certain needs, every part of the brain is hardwired for any other function.

“It's provocative, but we're arguing that the brain may not be organized into sensory modalities at all. What neuroscientists have been calling the visual cortex for the past century might not be devoted exclusively to the eyes, but should more accurately be defined as the area of the brain best able to discriminate spatial relationships-and it will grab whatever input is available to perform that task"

posted on Jul, 3 2005 @ 11:28 AM
“Sometimes the ability of a savant is so striking, it eventually makes news. The most famous savant was a man called Joseph, the individual Dustin Hoffman drew upon for his character in the 1988 movie Rain Man. Joseph could immediately answer this question: "What number times what number gives 1,234,567,890?" His answer was "Nine times 137,174,210." Another savant could double 8,388,628 up to 24 times within several seconds, yielding the sum 140,737,488,355,328. A 6-year-old savant named Trevor listened to his older brother play the piano one day, then climbed onto the piano stool himself and played it better. A savant named Eric could find what he called the "sweet spot" in a room full of speakers playing music, the spot where sound waves from the different sources hit his ears at exactly the same time.”

There are many skills that savants have, some of which are not listed above. They may not be able to function in society, but in their one area of specialty, they are vastly superior to the average person. Their brains see only the raw, uninterpreted data of things, while normal people make thousands of connections to see the big picture which is where much of our brain power goes to. This is how savants have these incredible abilities. They have brain power to spare and that power is used to perform these amazing feats of the mind. So what if it was possible to tap into this ability? If a normal person could have not one, but many savant-like abilities when needed for help inventing something, memorizing material, performing calculations, or any other of a variety of functions. This is now being thought of something that is possible in the near future, and if made possible, would have far-reaching impacts on the world.

“Allan Snyder, a vision researcher and award-winning physicist who is director of the Center for the Mind at the University of Sydney and the Australian National University, has advanced a new explanation of such talents. "Each of us has the innate capacity for savantlike skills," says Snyder, "but that mental machinery is unconscious in most people."


posted on Jul, 3 2005 @ 11:30 AM
”Savants, he believes, can tap into the human mind's remarkable processing abilities. Even something as simple as seeing, he explains, requires phenomenally complex information processing. When a person looks at an object, for example, the brain immediately estimates an object's distance by calculating the subtle differences between the two images on each retina (computers programmed to do this require extreme memory and speed). During the process of face recognition, the brain analyzes countless details, such as the texture of skin and the shape of the eyes, jawbone, and lips. Most people are not aware of these calculations. In savants, says Snyder, the top layer of mental processing—conceptual thinking, making conclusions—is somehow stripped away. Without it, savants can access a startling capacity for recalling endless detail or for performing lightning-quick calculations. Snyder's theory has a radical conclusion of its own: He believes it may be possible someday to create technologies that will allow any nonautistic person to exploit these abilities.”

Machinery already exists that can temporarily give people savant-like abilities. The process used is called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. What this stimulator does is disrupt the person’s conceptual brain machinery to render them savant-like. Of 17 volunteers the machine was used on, 5 improved, but not quite to savant levels because Savant’s practice their skills, sometimes almost incessantly. With practice, it is possible that these people would fully develop their abilities.

So to summarize these two articles: The brain is more plastic than ever before thought. It’s believed that it can use any area for any purpose because the entire brain is hardwired for a multitude of functions in the case that a new ability demands more brain power, or something is lost such as vision, and the brain needs to open connections to direct brain power to another area. Stem cells in the brain may be responsible for growth of new gray matter, and more research may lead to advances in the fight against a plethora of degenerative brain diseases. Savants have amazing skills, but it's thought possible that average people may be able to tap into this ability as well. This would transform the workplace and other things, and help people overcome obstacles that normally they would find impossible to surmount.

So what do you guys think of this in terms of ethics (changing the human brain to allow savant-like abilities) and implications? How do you think society would change if these abilities became universal? Feel free to comment on this!

edit: since I subscribe to discover, I'm not sure if you can read the entire link. I'll e-mail anyone with a copy and paste if you want. The 3-4 articles in the March issue of National about brain plasticity can't be accessed, so sorry for not providing a link.

[edit on 3-7-2005 by zhangmaster]

posted on Jul, 3 2005 @ 09:14 PM
um... just FYI, the guy used as reference for Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man was named Kim Peek not a "joseph", he was actually interviewed and hung out with cast members and can probably be found any day at the Salt Lake City public library.

There he sits and reads books by scanning pages quickly, one eye on each page from top to bottom recalling 98% of all text and can randomly access anything he's seen with rapidity when questions are put to him, but you're right about the math part, he also has some wicked fast math smarts.

But I actually question whether he was just recalling the page he read where all sums of math problems were listed or if he could really calculate problems in his head. Since there are many books that list all sums, squares, roots, etc., all he would have to do is take 5 minutes to scan it in order to wow people with his math abilities. I think he is just a memory wiz.

[edit on 3-7-2005 by Incognita]

posted on Jul, 4 2005 @ 11:09 AM
Thanks for a really interesting topic.

One idea that comes to my mind is the possibility that there may be many ancient techniques to develop savant-like or other types of brain skills.

The constant practice of meditation, visualization, and concentration may train the brain to function in enhanced ways.

Certain occultists have prescribed exercises such as using the non-dominant hand and eye to write, writing backwards, disrupting routines or learning to count a large number of objects instantly.

It is commonly accepted that practicing skills helps to maintain them. I think it is also true that doing new things or doing familiar things in a different way helps to increase the brains plasticity and versatility.

posted on Jul, 4 2005 @ 11:29 AM
Thanks for the great post. Even though it was rather long, it was very easy to read and follow.
This is great info that the brain is more plastic than previously thought. Maybe somebody will work to develop a race of savant warriors who would put MacGuyver to shame.

posted on Jul, 4 2005 @ 11:58 AM
Savant-like warriors better than McGuiver? That's all we need: "Hey Osama, want me to build you an atom bomb? Just gimme 2 straws, a spoon, and a yo-yo...."

But yeah, Groin, now that I look back at it, it does seem rather long...I originally meant to put it in one post, but once I started, everything just seemed to flow and I couldn't stop writing lol. But thanks to everyone that had the patience to read it through. I hope the length doesn't deter anyone from reading it.

I've thought about that too Cimmerius, if meditation, concentration, and practice could help us unlock these abilities, or if there were methods developed by previous peoples to do the same. I wonder if in meditation, you could manually switch off parts of your brain and stimulate others. Stimulate one part to become a math genius, another to have amazing memory skills....etc. If that fails, I heard talk of machines that could render someone savant-like in the near future, which was actually mentioned in the article, or even pills that could perform the same function. However, I'd hope there was no possibility of remaining in that state. That would be a very scary thought.

What gives me some hope that we'll be able to unlock these abilities in theb future is one man who appeared on either Guiness book of world records or Ripleys Believe it or Not. He was just an average guy, not autistic, but on command he could fire away answers to complex math problems. You could give him a number that results from the cube of a 2-digit number, an he could identify that 2-digit number instantly. He could double up large numbers repeatedly and actually beat an adding machine operated by a person in speed, and could give answers in many decimal places. When he went into that state of mind, he described his thinking as being 'laser guided thought', in which his mind was only concenrated on the math problems, nothing else. He could just as easily snap back into his regular state of mind. It would really be wonderful to see this become commonplace relatively soon, and for numerous abilities.

[edit on 4-7-2005 by zhangmaster]

posted on Jul, 12 2005 @ 07:55 PM
I'm not really sure what the advantages of savant abilities are, though. Sure, it's a cool parlor trick to tell someone what day of the week a person's birthday falls on for the next 400 years. It's great to know every latin name for animals and plants. But we have calenders and the internet for both of those things.

posted on Jul, 13 2005 @ 05:30 PM
You'd love a book all about neural plasticity. I read it, one of the most interesting reads ever.

Up From Dragons

Check it out, you'll love it.

posted on Jul, 14 2005 @ 06:19 PM
oops, haven't been keeping up with my topic....I'll definately check out the book Amory
. Is it all about the brain's physiology, or is there discussion of possible applications with this new knowledge of greater plasticity?

posted on Jul, 14 2005 @ 07:11 PM
It does a sterling job of explaining the developing history of the brain, how it evolved to its current state, and then discusses what that means. Everything from future evolution to a blind man using echolocation to ride his bicycle.

posted on Oct, 19 2014 @ 11:15 AM
Sorry I didn't read the thread fully: I searched a lot for answers and hardly anyone in the world is interested in the subject; and even fewer answers.
I know how to get any possible abilities. I'm having problems with the first step.
The simplest first step I figured out is to see something from imagination; and starting to control\influence it. From there I can program my brain in any way possible.
Can you contribute something to my knowledge; perhaps you've heard of some methods?
Here are a few I've heard and haven't yet succeeded.

In hypnagogia period - you can start seeing waves which you can start manipulating. Then you can start seeing a mash etc. It is covered to some degree - in the method I'll post a link to.

Looking at a candle light\sun's reflection; and then closing the eyes and being able to start influencing the afterimage.
Also other kinds of afterimages.

Perhaps drugs. Unfortunately - I don't have any connections. :-/

Meditation is what I'm trying now; and I have a lot of progress to make.

Here's a method that didn't really seemed to work for anyone in the thread; though seems really promising and if would work - definitely would bring the state.
You can find my post there with the same nick. you can see that I actually had some success with it; only one time.
The method -

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