I’ve been trying to understand right brain education and the potential of the right brain ever since I heard about it. But the more I read, the more questions seem to crop up. Everything I read and hear leads me to further redefine what I have learned about right brain education, the potential abilities of the brain, and how we can develop them.
When I try to understand the right brain, I often come back to such individuals as autistic savants whose impediment on their left brain unveils the potential ability of the right brain, thereby allowing them to perform amazing feats that leave the rest of the world breathless in amazement. So when I heard about Daniel Tammet’s talk on TED I was very eager to hear what he had to say. Here’s the video of his talk:
You may be wondering who the heck is Daniel Tammet (I hadn’t heard of him before this either). Daniel Tammet is a high-functioning autistic savant with linguistic, numerical and visual synesthesia. Although there are other high-functioning autistic savants, Daniel Tammet has caught the attention of some of the world’s leading neuroscientists because of his ability to explain how his mind works. Scientists have called him the Rosetta Stone because they believe he could be the key to discovering how the savant’s mind works and how normal people can become savants. To observe Daniel Tammet’s abilities, you can watch the full documentary about him on The Boy with the Incredible Brain.
What I found interesting was the way Daniel “works out” the answers to challenging Mathematical equations in his head. In his own explanation, he doesn’t “work it out”, he sees images that translate to the answer because numbers to him have their own shape, colour and texture. When you put different numbers together (as in an equation), they create a new image in the center that reveal the answer. Here is something he said on Scientific American:
In my mind, numbers and words are far more than squiggles of ink on a page. They have form, color, texture and so on. They come alive to me, which is why as a young child I thought of them as my “friends.” I think this is why my memory is very deep, because the information is not static. I say in my book that I do not crunch numbers (like a computer). Rather, I dance with them.
That sounds like a very right brain explanation of Maths to me, which leads me to ponder: could this be how children with right brain training work out the solutions to complicated Mathematical equations? I wondered about this because I recall a newsletter from Right Brain Kids talking about how children perceive colours as having different textures and hence were able to figure out the hidden colour through touch alone. If colours have different textures to differentiate them, then why not numbers with different colours and shapes?
In every measure of ability, children undergoing right brain education who have come into the realisation of their potential abilities are very much like autistic savants:
Autistic savants have displayed a wide range of talents, from reciting all nine volumes of Grove’s Dictionary Of Music to measuring exact distances with the naked eye. The blind American savant Leslie Lemke played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No1, after he heard it for the first time, and he never had so much as a piano lesson. And the British savant Stephen Wiltshire was able to draw a highly accurate map of the London skyline from memory after a single helicopter trip over the city. – The Guardian.
Look at the testimonials from right brain education and you will see that there are children capable of the following: perfect pitch, rapid mental math, photographic memory, and speed reading – similar to those abilities demonstrated by autistic savants. Because these children have full function of their entire brain, they do not have the limitations that autistic savants have as a result of their condition – they can empathise, socialise and interact easily with other individuals.
Is it fair then to say that right brain education is the answer to developing savants?
As I read the comments from TED on Daniel Tammet, I noticed that some watchers were accusing him of being a fraud. They claimed to have proof that he was not autistic and that everything he could do were the result of memory tricks. Personally, I’m disinclined to think he is a fraud. A clever individual might be able to fool the lay public, but to fool a specialist on Autism would be an impressive feat. Daniel Tammet was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome by Simon Baron-Cohen who is a professor of Developmental Psychopatholgy in the Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, and the director of the University’s Autism Research Centre. To call Daniel Tammet a fraud would be the same as saying that Professor Baron-Cohen is incompetent because surely someone best known for his work on autism would not have made such a gross error.
But for the sake of argument, even if Daniel Tammet was a fraud, I would still be very interested to discover how he managed to correctly recite pi to 22,514 digits from memory and learn a new language in one week. I would love to discover the secret to his linguistic genius and his uncanny mathematical abilities. Even if he was a fraud, he would still be an amazing individual who holds the key to some very powerful secrets to the human brain. Either way, he is an individual worth understanding. If he was a fraud then how did he develop his amazing memory and his mathematical and linguistic genius?
They say that autistic savants usually have a history of some sort of trauma to the brain that damages a part of it. This damage then leads to the development of these amazing abilities. Similar to Shichida’s research on brain development, that suggests that we all possess this genius ability but something inhibits us from accessing it. Shichida says we can unlock this hidden potential with right brain training and that it is easiest when it begins as early in life as possible.