The book

The author

  • David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including The Forgetting ("remarkable" - Los Angeles Times), Data Smog ("indispensable" - New York Times), and The Immortal Game ("superb" - Wall Street Journal). He is a correspondent for, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.

    More info here.

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March 07, 2007


Cyndie Braden

It has been a while since a post-so I'm just taking a chance.....
My daughter suffered a life altering brain injury 8+ months ago and she is really a different person now. She was 14 at the time of the injury and is now 15. I am reading "Musicophilia" by Oliver Sacks and read about Savant Syndrome and that it can be acquired as a result of a brain injury...How do you know? She was musical prior to the injury but since she has been recovering, she has been amazing. Many people including her therapists, rehab doctor, voice teacher and psychologist have mentioned it and have just gushed over her talent. One of the specialists even wonders if she hit the part of her head that produces music. Although she is now officially "special ed," even after her injury she has been clinically described on her neuro-psych exam as having "superior intelligence." I just want to help her blossom. I know that with a brain injury we can't "restore" her to what was, but we can help provide the experiences she needs to be who she is meant to be. Any information would be helpful. Thank you.

Ray Cheng

I want to react to your sentence above "At first blush, one might assume that savants are proof that biology trumps effort: everyone's brain has a slightly different circuitry and will perform accordingly; savants are at one extreme end of the spectrum, with very strange wiring that confers amazing ability."

In a different article at Treffert's site he wrote "[Savants] come heavily endowed from birth with what might be termed 'software', if you like, to carry the computer analogy further. Such a differential endowment of 'software' — innate ability or talent — is distributed to all of us, non-disabled or disabled persons alike, in the usual bell-shaped curve. Thus within each of us, it seems to me, is not necessarily the talent of a Picasso or Mozart, for such prodigious ability is rare on that bell-shaped curve for all persons, disabled or not. But we do each have differential endowments of various inborn talents and abilities. Some of us are more musically inclined than others. Some of us are more mechanically inclined, mathematically inclined, athletically inclined than others and so forth. What direction and strength our buried talent might take, should that be tapped by disease or injury, as in the case of the FTD patients described above for example, or by design and determination as might be possible as suggested here, would be determined, as in the case of savants, by some of these genetic factors beyond exposure and learning opportunities." (Click on the link "Is there a little Rain Man in each of us?") This picture of innate ability is quite in line with what I believe. Note especially the incidence of the bell-shaped curve.

One of Treffert's students, Jef Reinten, wrote "[Not all] individuals in this study [to induce savant-like abilities] demonstrated the tendency to be effected [sic] by the treatment. Treffert (2004) suggests that this may indicate that only some people have the neuronal architecture necessary for savant abilities." ("Inducing savant-like abilities in ordinary humans by applying slow repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation to the left anterior temporal lobe.") If we accept Treffert's opinion on this (and I couldn't find the referenced line), is it such a stretch to believe that only a tiny minority of people have the neuronal architecture to become a world-class pianist, chess player, golfer or physicist?

Biology has not yielded to effort!

Cris Cohen

Does this also explain people like Bill Gates? I believe he has admitted to having Asperger Syndrome. I'm not sure if he could be classified as a savant, but I think an argument could be made that he has a natural predisposition toward technology, computer engineering, and the skills that requires.


My dad can tell you the result of every FA Cup final from the year of his birth. He often knows the half-time scores too.

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