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.
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.