DIY cortical hacking
Wired: The Key to Genius.
A few interesting ideas in there, though I'd put a quotation mark after
that title... part of the secret to genius seems to be about overriding
or bypassing the usual specialization that occurs in areas of the brain.
formulated a provocative hypothesis to explain the fact that as some
[frontotemporal dementia] patients get worse, they also get better. He posited that the
dementia does not create artistic powers in these patients, it uncovers
them. The disorder switches off inhibitory signals from the left
temporal lobes, enabling suppressed talents in the right hemisphere to
ability of the brain to heal itself and compensate for loss of function
is called neuroplasticity. But the brain's ability to redraw its own
cortical maps on the fly is not limited to routing around damage.
Germany, a young man named Rüdiger Gamm, who is not autistic and did
poorly at math in school, has trained himself to divide prime numbers
to the 60th decimal point, calculate fifth roots, and raise numbers to
the ninth power in his head - skills previously thought to be the lofty
province of math geniuses and savants like the calculating twins.
typically use short-term memory to solve math problems, but PET scans
show that Gamm has recruited areas of his long-term episodic memory -
the neurological archive of his life story - to perform his lightning
calculations. Brian Butterworth of the Institute for Cognitive
Neuroscience in London compares what Gamm is doing to the way
"computers extend the capacity of RAM by using swap space on the hard
drive to create a larger 'virtual memory.'"
decade ago, this kind of DIY cortical hacking would have been strictly
Philip K. Dick territory, but neuroscientists are discovering that the
processing centers in our heads swap resources all the time.
most people listen to a piece of music, they track melody with the
right hemisphere and rhythm with the left. But among professional
musicians, both are tracked with the left, which handles behaviors that
have become routine. MRI scans show that skilled violinists have
enlarged areas of tissue in the left planum temporale, an auditory
crossroads that serves both music and language.
maintains a personal shrine to creative intelligence over his desk in
Greenwich Village. There, his friends smile from a collection of
photographs: the chemists Roald Hoffman and Linus Pauling, the
virologist D. Carleton Gajdusek, the playwright Jonathan Miller, the
neuroscientist Vernon Mountcastle, and a 19-year-old wunderkind, Nick
Younes, whom Sacks calls Big Nick.
people are very unlike savants," he explains. "They're people of great
all-around g. One feels it strongly in the size of someone's universe,
its depth and spaciousness, in their intellectual agility, and in the
power of generalizing, which seems to cross all the particular
Related earlier post of mine: "Latent inhibition and creativity".