Savant syndrome is a rare condition in which extraordinarily capabilities accompany a massive memory creating an endowment of talent that is seemingly superhuman. The syndrome is often accompanied by disabilities in cognitive functions, motor skills and social dexterity. In a study of 538 institutionalized populations, researchers in Finland found a prevalence rate of 1.4 per 1000. Savant syndrome is the result of a left-brain dysfunction compensated by right brain expansion. This is often the result of prenatal influences that impair the slower developing left hemisphere and is most common in males. High levels of circulating testosterone can shift authority to the right. According to Norman Geschwind, a pioneer of Behavioral Neurology, males outnumber females by 6:1.
Contrary to popular beliefs proliferated by box office hits like Rain Man and I Am Sam, not all persons with savant syndrome are autistic. Fifty percent of Savants are diagnosed with another classification of developmental disability, or mental dysfunction. There are three types of savants.
According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, the most common savants have Splinter Skills. These are talents stemming from an obsession with memorization of information like historical facts or bus schedules.
Talented savants are those with highly tailored areas of expertise like music or art.
The most rare are Prodigious savants— genius level individuals, whose skills would be considered extraordinary even by non-impaired standards. The most seen skills are music, art, calendar calculating, mathematics, mechanical or spatial skills, although other more rare talents requiring mastery of minute detail have been seen. There are fewer than 100 Prodigious savants recorded in the scientific literature.
Here are 5 Savants with startling superhuman capabilities:
1. Kim Peek: Inspiration for Rain Man.
Kim Peek is sort of the poster child of savants. In fact, Kim was the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman’s character in the award winning movie, Rain Man.
Kim was born with severe brain damage, struggles with motor skills, and produces a below average IQ. Yet when it comes to his mental capabilities, Kim would make Professor Xavier self conscious.
Kim is a sort of human encyclopedia, having read about 12,000 books in his lifetime. However, what’s really astonishing is the way that he reads and retains information. Kim reads two pages at once—using his left eye for one page and his right eye for the other—taking only 3 seconds to do so, while somehow retaining and memorizing just about every word. After 12,000 some books, you can imagine the informational goldmine that is Kim’s brain.
Kim also has a strange talent for identifying dates. If you give Kim a random date, (e.g. July 23rd, 1998), he can immediately tell you which day of the week it falls on.
2. Daniel Tammet Is The Boy With The Incredible Brain.
Daniel was first discovered for memorizing Pi to 22,514 decimal places. He claims to see numbers as visual images in his mind, being able to sort them by color, shape and texture.
What’s really impressive though is Daniel’s ability to learn languages in a matter of days. Not surprisingly, he’s fluent in 11 of them. Daniel was once challenged in a Channel Five documentary to learn Icelandic—an infamously impossible language—in a mere seven days. Watch as, after only seven days of study, Daniel does an on air interview entirely in Icelandic:
3. Stephen Wiltshire Can Memorize Cityscapes In A Single Glance.
Stephen Wiltshire has the ultimate photographic memory. Coupled with his talent for drawing, Stephen can precisely draw an entire cityscape after seeing it only once, accurate down to the number of windows on each skyscraper.
Watch as Stephen draws a 33 ft long panorama of Tokyo after a quick flight over the city in a helicopter:
4. Orlando Serrell Is The Weatherman That’s Never Wrong
The most interesting thing about Orlando Serrell’s abilities is the way in which he acquired them. Unlike most savants, Orlando isn’t autistic. Rather, his unique skill came to him after being struck by a baseball on the left side of his head when he was ten years old. Ever since that day, Orlando is able to calculate the precise day of the week, for any date you provide following the year of 1979. Even stranger than this, Orlando can also recall the exact weather conditions of any date provided to him passed the year of 1979.
One of the reasons Orlando is so valuable, is that some believe his incredible calculation talents could be replicated by targeted stimulation.
5. Ellen Boudreaux Is A Human That Uses Sonar
Ellen Boudreaux—a savant who is both blind and autistic—has been graced with one of the world’s keenest musical ears. She has what is known as perfect music recall and can play back any musical piece, no matter how complex, perfectly after listening to it only once.
Ellen has also mastered the art of sonar. Like a bat, Ellen uses high-pitched chirping noises to navigate perfectly without running into anything.
Last but not least, Ellen has a perfect perception of time. Despite never having seen a clock, or having had the concept of passing time explained to her, she could tell you the exact time down to the minute, at any point on any given day.