For years I have been fascinated with the memory and computational abilities demonstrated by autistic savants such as Laurence Kim Peek, Daniel Paul Tammet, and Leslie Lemke. I look forward to the day when scientific research unlocks the mysteries of the brain allowing everyone to develop super human mental abilities. Scientists believe that autistic savantism, accounting for less than 1% of the population, is one of the most fascinating and rare cognitive conditions. The genetic or acquired abnormalities of the brain are believed to give autistic savants the ability to accomplish super human mental feats. It is believed that by studying these abnormalities we may be able to find the key for unlocking the mysteries of the brain. Furthermore, psychologists believe that we will never truly understand memory and cognition until we understand the autistic savant.
Many autistic savants have developmental disorders and have difficulty interacting socially or performing rudimentary physical tasks. Yet, somehow and someway they are able to play classical music flawlessly without training from memory, read two pages of a book simultaneous in under 6 seconds, and speak 11 languages and recite Pi to 22,514 decimal places. To many their abilities are unfathomable and to scientist beyond comprehension.
Modern researchers are now re-evaluating a common psychological condition between autistic savants that may hold a clue to improved mental capability called synesthesia. Synethesia is a sensation produced at a point other than or remote from the point of stimulation, as of a color from hearing a certain sound. Synesthesia is an involuntary joining in which the real information of one sense is accompanied by a perception in another sense. In addition to being involuntary, this additional perception is regarded by the synesthete as real, often outside the body, instead of imagined in the mind’s eye. It also has some other interesting features that clearly separate it from artistic fancy or purple prose. Its reality and vividness are what make synesthesia so interesting in its violation of conventional perception. Synesthesia is also fascinating because logically it should not be a product of the human brain, where the evolutionary trend has been for increasing separation of function anatomically.
Scientists and psychologist now believe that synesthesia is as prevalent as 1 in 23 persons and that it underscores all memory processes to some degree. A strong imagination and memory almost always employs some form of synesthetic imagery.
Imagination works on memory like a flame on paper, making it glow.
~Dr Hugo Heyrman
The dominant metaphor for memory retrieval is association. Remembering happens by sensory correspondences, similarities and synesthetics. Today, the term ‘synesthetics’ means also a new approach towards the development of the whole person with emphasis on perceptual awareness, psychological growth, self-actualization, nonverbal learning, and creative behavior.
The Takeaway: The more sensory experiences and associations you incorporate into your memories, the more likely you are to remember them.