[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[mob] [Fwd: [IP] Savant for a Day]

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [IP] Savant for a Day
Date: Sun, 22 Jun 2003 09:10:04 -0400
From: Dave Farber <[email protected]>
To: ip <[email protected]>

Savant for a Day

June 22, 2003

In a concrete basement at the University of Sydney, I sat
in a chair waiting to have my brain altered by an
electromagnetic pulse. My forehead was connected, by a
series of electrodes, to a machine that looked something
like an old-fashioned beauty-salon hair dryer and was
sunnily described to me as a ''Danish-made transcranial
magnetic stimulator.'' This was not just any old
Danish-made transcranial magnetic stimulator, however; this
was the Medtronic Mag Pro, and it was being operated by
Allan Snyder, one of the world's most remarkable scientists
of human cognition.

Nonetheless, the anticipation of electricity being beamed
into my frontal lobes (and the consent form I had just
signed) made me a bit nervous. Snyder found that amusing.
''Oh, relax now!'' he said in the thick local accent he has
acquired since moving here from America. ''I've done it on
myself a hundred times. This is Australia. Legally, it's
far more difficult to damage people in Australia than it is
in the United States.''

''Damage?'' I groaned.

''You're not going to be damaged,'' he said. ''You're going
to be enhanced.''

The Medtronic was originally developed as a tool for brain
surgery: by stimulating or slowing down specific regions of
the brain, it allowed doctors to monitor the effects of
surgery in real time. But it also produced, they noted,
strange and unexpected effects on patients' mental
functions: one minute they would lose the ability to speak,
another minute they would speak easily but would make odd
linguistic errors and so on. A number of researchers
started to look into the possibilities, but one in
particular intrigued Snyder: that people undergoing
transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, could suddenly
exhibit savant intelligence -- those isolated pockets of
geniuslike mental ability that most often appear in
autistic people.

Snyder is an impish presence, the very opposite of a
venerable professor, let alone an internationally acclaimed
scientist. There is a whiff of Woody Allen about him. Did I
really want him, I couldn't help thinking, rewiring my hard
drive? ''We're not changing your brain physically,'' he
assured me. ''You'll only experience differences in your
thought processes while you're actually on the machine.''
His assistant made a few final adjustments to the
electrodes, and then, as everyone stood back, Snyder
flicked the switch.

A series of electromagnetic pulses were being directed into
my frontal lobes, but I felt nothing. Snyder instructed me
to draw something. ''What would you like to draw?'' he said
merrily. ''A cat? You like drawing cats? Cats it is.''

I've seen a million cats in my life, so when I close my
eyes, I have no trouble picturing them. But what does a cat
really look like, and how do you put it down on paper? I
gave it a try but came up with some sort of stick figure,
perhaps an insect.

While I drew, Snyder continued his lecture. ''You could
call this a creativity-amplifying machine. It's a way of
altering our states of mind without taking drugs like
mescaline. You can make people see the raw data of the
world as it is. As it is actually represented in the
unconscious mind of all of us.''



Archives at: http://www.interesting-people.org/archives/interesting-people/