The Fine Line of Intelligence
Hey everyone! How’s it going? I hope that you’re all having a wonderful summer. Last night, while browsing the internet, my, dear, David, came across a really interesting online documentary video called, “The Boy with the Incredible Brain”. I was flabbergasted. It follows Daniel Tammet, a high functioning autistic savant who can calculate huge sums in his head within seconds and can recognize whether a number is prime or composite, has a gift for sequence memory–he holds the European record for the recitation of Pi to the 22, 514 decimal place in 5 hours and 9 minutes–and natural language learning–he speaks 9 languages and learned to speak Icelandic fluently in one week’s time. Tammet is a synesthete. Synesthesia is the phenomenon when stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. For Tammet, he experiences numbers visually and emotionally. He claims that every number up to 10,000 has a unique landscape and shape.
According to Tammet, himself, he has difficulty understanding emotions but, unlike other savants, whose extraordinary gift comes with a heavy physical and/or mental disability, and are unable to describe their experience, Tammet seems to be in good health and is able to express himself and his perception. There was a sequence in the documentary of his meeting with another savant, the famous Rain Man, Kim Peek. It was so cool! I’m giving too much away, you guys have to check out the video yourselves. It’s available on YouTube. Just look for “The Boy with the Incredible Brain” or “Daniel Tammet”.
Watching this documentary made me really wonder about and reconsider our definition and perception of intelligence, and the fine line that borders it and other neurological conditions, such as mental retardation and insanity. What is intelligence? How can someone be considered so stupid that he’s also considered so highly intelligent? At 9 months, Kim Peek was diagnosed by a neurologist to be so severely mentally retarded that he needed to be institutionalized and forgotten because he would never be able to learn or, even walk. Today, he is a walking encyclopedia or Google who requires 24/7 care from his father. So, is he smart because he can suck up retain knowledge like a sponge does with water, or is he dumb because he needs his dad to help him shave and comb his hair? Daniel Tammet is epileptic and autistic and can’t discern his left from his right but, while most of us have trouble multiplying double digits in our heads, he can calculate 37^4 within seconds. Is he smart? The brain is so dynamic and mysterious. Are we all capable of same feat as Peek and Tammet?When a child appears impervious or resistant to knowledge, is it because he doesn’t have the capacity to learn or is it because we, as educators, do not hold the skills, patience, and tools to tap into their talent? I wonder.
What do you guys think?