Sunday, December 26, 2010

Idiot Savant

If you haven't seen Temple Grandin, you should. If I could meet her, I would. She, and others with various types of savant syndrome exemplify our scientific ignorance. Incredible documentaries also exist of Kim Peek, the man who inspired Rain Man, Stephen Wiltshire, a man called "The Living Camera" due to his ability to draw detailed and accurate maps of cities such as Rome after only looking out during a 45-minute helicopter ride, and a host of others.

Wow. I wish they could see Boondock Saints II, as they could actually claim the line: "I'm so smart, I make smart people look retarded." But of course, they might not get it. Even better. Innocent intelligence. Almost an oxymoron in our culture today.

I tire of parents who constantly tell their child (and everyone else in earshot) how brilliant their child is. Affirmation is one thing, but overconfidence can kill character a lot quicker than insecurity. Encouragement is healthy, but cockiness is easily bred and hard to handle.

I never knew how smart I was until I taught school and learned that some people try very, very hard and just can't get it. I never knew how dumb I was until I went to law school and learned that some people don't try at all and always get it. I respect the ones who try; I envy the ones who don't have to. Sad, but true. I've discovered I'm somewhere in between: sometimes a lazy learner who gets things easily; sometimes a disciplined learner who never gets as much as I want.

Back to the savants. Kim Peek's parents were told when he was 9 months old that he was severely mentally retarded and should be institutionalized; instead he read (and memorized) the first 8 volumes of the encyclopedia when he was 4 years old. Science is awesome, phenomenal, and often way beyond our imagination. But science is not perfect, nor will it ever be. It is the quintessential intelligence, gathering and sorting information, but it makes human mistakes along the way. Because it is humans that translate knowledge. What we think are scientific absolute truths are only hypotheses we are able to prove by today's standards. The alchemists of old may be foolish to us today, as we may be foolish to scientists of the future.

Kim Peek was a megasavant, with the ability to remember virtually every page he ever read, every music he ever heard, every statistic he ever saw. But he could not conceptualize. He could not understand metaphors, as his mind worked on an extremely literal level. When asked what it meant to "get a grip on himself" he would grab himself all over. Apparently his brain lacked a core component that connected the left side to the right side, and the nerves that usually support such connection were scattered in unusual directions as a result. His mind made up for his inability to make connections and read nuances by remembering details. Like not seeing the forest, but seeing the trees in detail.

I like Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, that IQ tests only reveal standard intelligence levels, and there are many more types of intelligence, such as musical, kinesthetic, and interpersonal. When we judge someone merely by how smart they are, we are surely showing our own ignorance. 

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this, so much of what we think is smart and great and wonderful in this world is not the way God sees it. He chose the "least of these" in the worlds way of thinking! Thanks for sharing!
    Debbie Keys