Did you ever want to be super smart in Math, history, or science or how about have an incredible memory or even be the next Picasso or Rembrandt? What if all you had to do was get hit in the head and that was that?
There have been documented cases of such a phenomenon called Acquired Savant Syndrome, most of them involved every day people who led normal lives before their incidents. The syndrome began to be studied relatively recently; while there are records of cases dating back to the 1920’s and 60’s most the rest are within the past two decades. We are all aware of how concussions have negatively impacted our football players and boxers so it seems hard to conceive that it may, in some cases, be a positive thing to have a head injury.
Trauma to the head of Orlando Serrell by a baseball at the age of 10 led to a dramatic ability to remember every day of his life after the accident with astounding detail.
Then there is the case of Jason Padgett. He grew up a normal child and young adult until one day in September of 2002, at the age of 31, he was physically assaulted outside a bar. Two men punched him in the back of the head, kicked and struck him repeatedly. He suffered a “Profound Concussion.” When he awoke the next morning after going to the hospital and returning home, he realized there was something different. He became obsesses with washing his hands, but also noticed incredible details and intricate shapes in normal, everyday objects.
As his brain became overstimulated, Padgett turned to mathematics and drawing geometrical shapes. He became a number theorist specializing in intricate geometrical shapes and often speaks on the subject.
Then there is Anthony Cicoria, an orthopedic surgeon from New York. Being a doctor his intelligence could be considered above normal. At the age of 42 in 1994 he was talking on a pay phone when lightening from a thunderstorm struck the booth, shot through the phone and into Cicoria’s head. He recovered a few weeks later and neurological exams showed no unusual brain activity. Yet he developed an urge to listen to classical piano music, despite never having played. He began to teach himself to play but found the process too slow and started playing melodies that appeared in his head. Within three months of his accident he was spending almost all his time composing music and has since made his public debut as composer and pianist. In 2008 he released a CD called Notes from An Accidental Pianist and Composer.
Cases of Acquired Savant Syndrome have been documented in stroke patients and, interestingly enough, in people with dementia. In particular, one 68-year-old man with no prior interest in art who gained spectacular artistic skills as his dementia proceeded.
Such incidents of the Acquired Savant Syndrome bring up an interesting question, do such talents lie dormant in all our brains? Perhaps as scientist’s study more and more of these cases, they will find out all of our true potential, without having to get hit in the head.