Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A New Angle on the Mystery of Mind



Darold Treffert is a psychiatrist who studies the unexplained creative powers of children with savant-syndrome.  Kids who suffer from autism sometimes possess extraordinary mental abilities. There is also something Treffert calls “sudden savant syndrome”—a phenomenon that really challenges our picture of the human mind. We each may have a “guardian angel” in the form of latent genius that awaits the right stimulus to bring it forth.

Writes Treffert: “In sudden savant syndrome, an ordinary person with no such prior interest or ability and no precipitating injury or other CNS incident has an unanticipated, spontaneous epiphanylike moment where the rules and intricacies of music, art or mathematics, for example, are experienced and revealed, producing almost instantaneous giftedness and ability in the affected area of skill sets. Because there is no underlying disability such as that which occurs in congenital or acquired savant syndromes, technically sudden savant syndrome would be better termed sudden genius.”

This on the face of it is a complete mystery.  The stories of these sudden acquisitions of genius are astonishing. One category of unexplained creativity involves head injuries.  Derek Amato dove into a pool and cracked his  head on a concrete abutment; but after recovering in the hospital discovered he could play the piano and was inspired to make it the center of his life.  We also know that when some people have near-death experiences, and their brains go flat from sudden oxygen deprivation, they too have transformative experiences.  If these cases challenge our intuition of what is possible, suddenly being transformed into a genius without any apparent cause is even more challenging to mainstream science.

We’re confronted with a paradox.  Interference with normal brain function entails functional losses as one would predict. But these injuries also produce unexplained expansions of mental capacity, which materialist neuroscience would never entertain.   No less challenging is the sudden savant syndrome where nothing happens to the brain.

The expansions of mind can be explained, however, if we assume that the brain canalizes or transmits—but does not create--our mental life.  In that case, reduction of brain function may entail an expansion of mental function, as a narrow canal that breaks open the space for an onrushing flood.

Treffert’s new book, Islands of Genius, suggests yet a new angle on the mystery of mind. In the author’s latest study, we find accounts of perfectly normal human beings—genetically intact and free of any head traumas—who suddenly acquire high order knowledge and creative abilities, usually in mathematics and one of the arts.   

These spontaneous uprushes of genius in ordinary persons or among those whose brains have in some way been damaged contradict the mainstream view of the brain as the cause and substance of our higher mental functions.  The more credible picture is that our mental life transcends the physical apparatus (i.e., brains) of our conscious lives. 

It is as though we are immersed in and permeated by a sea of mind, not detectable by the senses, but given the right conditions, we may be flooded with creative force-- at a moment’s notice.  Normal consciousness serves our need to survive on earth, but there are transcendent pressures from above, poised to break into our mental space. In short, in addition to our everyday minds, we are rooted in a greater mind.   

There is plenty of evidence to justify—and clarify—this claim. The process—the dance between our contracted and our expansive minds—is never-ending.  It’s part of the human adventure.  One moment we’re cringing like mice in the mud, the next we want to fly with the angels. It’s our dual nature, being creatures of body and soul. We can’t help it; we’re deeply mixed up.  In tune with our small minds we step timorously through life; if we awaken to our roots in the greater mind, the way forward will appear irresistible.

Happy New Year fellow travelers on Earth

4 comments:

Sha'Tara said...

Quote: "The expansions of mind can be explained, however, if we assume that the brain canalizes or transmits—but does not create--our mental life. In that case, reduction of brain function may entail an expansion of mental function, as a narrow canal that breaks open the space for an onrushing flood."

Exactly what I was thinking while reading through. That's where the answers are found.

Elizabeth said...

Fascinating.

No less interesting, and undermining the standard materialist notions of our brains as the source of consciousness and special abilities are the cases of "brainless" geniuses, like the one(s) described by Dr. John Lorber.

Happy New Year!

Miguel Roig said...

Michael, as I am getting ready to teach a course titled "Altered States of Consciousness and Parapsychological Events" (originally designed by Rex Stanford), this post was particularly relevant to me. You write: "But these injuries also produce unexplained expansions of mental capacity, which materialist neuroscience would never entertain. No less challenging is the sudden savant syndrome where nothing happens to the brain". There is actually some literature on this, and while the exact brain mechanisms have yet to be fully elucidated, the evidence points to connections in the left froto-temporal area as being involved in the acquired savant syndrome (see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20075011). In fact, it turns out that savant-like abilities can be triggered by transcranial magnetic stimulation and this review gives some examples, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2677578/. Other studies, (listed to the right of the latter article) suggest that in some cases of brain deterioration that occurs in dementia patients, artistic abilities can suddenly emerge: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9781516/, no doubt due to the 'freeing' of the right hemisphere from the reigns of 'the tyrannical' left hemisphere. :)

Michael Grosso said...

Very helpful comment, Miguel, and best wishes to you--sounds like a terrific course you're giving--hope your students appreciate it.

MG

Older Blog Entries