FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, March 04, 2005

NASA Studies the Original "Rain Man"

Kim Peek, an autistic savant, was the inspiration for the 1988 movie Rain Man; Dustin Hoffman, in fact, spent time with Peek to prepare for his role in the film. Peek is what is known as a "mega-savant," displaying extraordinary capabilities in multiple categories, yet unable to perform most basic everyday tasks. Now, NASA scientists are studying Peek to learn how his brain works... and how the human mind in general memorizes and processes information.

Peek has genius-level capabilities in 15 different subjects (must savants have mastery of only two or three), including sports, music, geography, literature and -- the skill made famous by the movie -- numbers. Indeed, the 53-year-old appears to be increasing his mastery of these subjects over time. His musical skills alone have been compared to those of Mozart.

The NASA researchers will compare recent MRI images of Peek's brain with those made in 1988 to measure neural activity as well as any changes over time. What they learn could have enormous impact on everything from understanding cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, to gaining clearer insight into how people think and learn.

Source: Future Now, BoredGuru.com