Whether people earn their savant syndrome or are born with it, all show a range of astounding skills. Most share one constant characteristic, and that is having a great memory. The most astonishing abilities of the human brain are revealed when things go wrong with it. Consider, for example, savants – people who have mental abilities that could only be portrayed as superhuman like having a photographic memory, playing music flawlessly after hearing it just once, or doing complicated mathematical calculations in one’s head but otherwise seriously impaired in every day cognitive functions and social interaction.
Does the human brain have hidden savant-like abilities? Do our higher cognitive functions somehow block these abilities, and why? And can we have savant-like capabilities without the accompanying autism or developmental limitations? One interesting study by Dr Snyder of the Centre for the Mind proposed that temporarily impairing the left frontotemporal lobe in healthy subjects by low-frequency magnetic pulses could result in savant-like mental abilities
Most savants are born with their skills and regrettably, their developmental disorder, but not all critical brain injuries can, in very few instances, cause savant-like talents to surface. One noted savant, Daniel Tammet, is a profoundly functioning autistic savant who can perform amazing mental feats but does not have significant developmental limitations.
There are some savants in the world called prodigious savants whose skills are so outstanding that they would’ve been labelled as extraordinary with or without cognitive impediments. Take a glimpse at some savants with superhuman memory and mental skills:
Sancy Suraj worked hard on his memory, he wasn’t born with it. He learned and became proficient in-memory techniques when he was at Monash University. He joined the World Memory Championship in 2011 and there he memorized, 176 abstract images in 15 minutes, 98 words in 15 minutes, 480 numbers in 60 minutes, 51 names, and faces in 15 minutes, 460 binary digits in 30 minutes. In 2012 he held the world record for the longest colour sequence memorized. He Memorized 160 colours in 5 minutes 20 seconds and recalled all colours in perfect sequence. Sancy Suraj currently holds the Singapore record for pi memorization and recitation. Sancy memorized & recalled 1505 digits in 30 mins in perfect order.
Yanjaa Wintersoul is a Mongolian-Swedish triple world-record holding memory athlete. She is one of only 22 international grandmasters of memory. She first rose to prominence in memory sports in 2014 by winning the team gold medal as well as first place in names and faces at the World Memory Championships 2014 in Haikou, China during her first year of memory training, at the age of 20. Yanjaa and Mongolian teammate Munkhshur Narmandakh became the first women in history to place at the world event, placing in bronze and silver position respectively out of over 130 contestants.
Nelson Charles Dellis is an American memory athlete, Grandmaster of Memory, mountaineer, published author, public speaker, and consultant. He is a four-time USA Memory Champion, tying the record for most wins of the national memory champion title. He is also one of the co-founders of Memory League. Nelson also runs Climb 4 Memory – a nonprofit which “aims to raise funds and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease research through mountain climbs around the world.”Dellis was featured in the 2012 documentary Ben Franklin Blowing Bubbles at a Sword: The Journey of a Mental Athlete. He also appeared in the Science Channel program Memory Games in July 2013, which covered the 2013 US Memory Championships.He has also been interviewed regarding memory training on Today, The Dr. Oz Show, and Nightline.
Johannes Mallow is a German memory sportsman. He is a two-time winner of the World Memory Championships. Some of his memory records includes: Memorized 400 play cards in 10 minutes and he memorized 364 spoken numbers spoken at a rate of 1 seconds each.
Alex Mullen (born 3 March 1992) is an American physician and three-time world memory champion. The first American to win the world title, he won for three consecutive years the 2015, 2016, and 2017 World Memory Championships and held the IAM world No. 1 ranking from 2016-2019. He is also the 2016 USA memory champion. Along with his wife, Princeton alumna Cathy Chen, he runs Mullen Memory – a nonprofit which “provides free resources exploring memory palaces as learning tools.” Mullen has held world records in 12 different memory sport disciplines, most involving the memorization of numbers or playing cards.
The motivation for the movie Rain Man, Kim Peek could read 2 pages of a book simultaneously and immediately commit them to memory. His recall of more than 12,000 books made him a walking Wikipedia.
Stephen Wiltshire, was born autistic. He loved to draw and was drawing buildings by age 8. As an adult, he has drawn beautiful and accurate portraits of cities from memory. In 2007, Wiltshire flew over the Thames for only 15 minutes, then sketched 7 square miles of London’s buildings, streets, and rivers. He was extremely precise right down to the windows in each building.
Dominic O’Brien is a mnemonist and an author many of memory-related books. He is the eight-time World Memory Champion. He had an entry in the Guinness Book of Records for his 2002 achievement of committing to memory a completely random sequence of 2808 playing cards, that is 54 packs of cards, after looking at each card only once. He was able to perfectly recite their order, making only eight errors, four of which he immediately corrected when told he was wrong.
Pridmore is a 3-time World Memory Champion winning the title 2004, 2008 and 2009. From Derby in the United Kingdom, Pridmore did this by winning a 10-discipline competition, the World Memory Championship. Pridmore has also received the prestigious title of Master of Memory. Ben held the world record for memorising the sequence of a randomly shuffled 52-card deck in 24.68 seconds.