Thursday, September 24, 2015

Accidental Genius by Allison Caruso

       In 1980, a nine-year-old boy was reported to have developed incredible mechanical skills after sustaining a bullet wound to his left-brain. "These skills included being able to dismantle, reassemble, and improve multi-gear bicycles as well as invent a punching bag that simulated the bobbing and weaving of a live opponent (Treffert, 2014)." This is just one example of a handful of people in our world who were fortunate enough to have their inner savant released after suffering a major cognitive injury. This amazing anomaly is labeled acquired savantism and can be defined as "an alternate form of the condition in which a person develops the ability to paint, play music or do mental calculations after experiencing some form of brain injury (Treffert, 2014)." In an article published by Scientific America, this phenomenon is explored at length and examples are given of many other traumatic brain injuries that resulted in the near genius-level abilities of its victims. But how does this truly rare and shocking condition relate to perception? I want to focus on one particular brain disorder the article mentioned called frontotemporal dementia (FTD) to answer this question. FTD is a degenerative process of the brain that has resulted in "elderly patients demonstrating musical or artistic abilities for the first time, sometimes at prodigious levels, after their diagnosis. FTD often targets the left anterior temporal area of the brain and the orbitofrontal cortex. Both regions normally inhibit activity in the visual system at the back of the brain, which is involved in processing incoming signals from the eyes. This disease seems to foster a newfound artistic sensibility by turning off inhibitory signals from the front of the brain (Treffert, 2014)." Thus, this pivotal change in inhibited cognitive function allows the brain to perceive and process sight and sound in numerous different ways than ever possible before. Thus, this degenerative process releases creative sensibilities that cannot be fathomed during normal functioning. Ultimately, I find this truly rare occurrence fascinating and I hope you all do too!

Treffert, D. (2014, August 1). Accidental Genius. Retrieved September 23, 2015.

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