Realizing Your Inner Savant
by Tim Brunson, PhD
One thing that I have learned from theoretical physicists is that we filter an unlimited universe in order to create our perception of reality. This restricts our concept of self, which is very obviously a product of more than just our genetics and the accidental circumstances to which we are born. It seems that since our birth environmental influences began shaping our bodies and minds into what we mistakenly understand as our self-identity. However, if those learned filters are questioned, just maybe we can discover that we are much, much more than we ever imagined. Indeed, within each of us there are endless possibilities. Once we realize this perhaps we can start writing our own story rather than having it done for us.
While this may sound like a bunch of New Age/Human Potential/Over-the-Top mumbo-jumbo, I assure you that my conclusions are not derived from the bevy of feel-good idealists who regularly populate the self-help circuit. Rather as an academician, clinician, and scientist my skepticism frequently leads me to question popular myths and trends. While attempting to keep an open mind and remain vigilant for the next theorist who starts claiming that the world is not flat, I am constantly seeking proof, validation, and relevant citations. In many cases this has led me to publicly deride widely accepted, yet frivolous assumptions frequently used as the basis of accredited institutions and peer-reviewed articles. In short, while giving any logically presented idea the benefit of doubt, I demand adequate references – understanding fully that today's Law will most likely be yesterday's Myth. Therefore, before I could accept the quantum idea of endless possibilities and potentials, I needed to process it through my normal gauntlet of skepticism. At this point it appears that the endless possibilities theory of the quantum physicists is an extremely sound concept.
Feel-good speakers frequently claim that "no matter what you think you are, you are more than that." Again, is this another idealist myth? Or, is there possibly some truth to this statement? For example, since recorded time there have been stories about people who can suddenly perform amazing mental or physical feats. Interestingly enough, these are usually not dedicated, well-trained athletes or the recipients of top-flight, Ivy League graduate degrees. Consider the policeman, who ran from a firestorm and beat all Olympic sprinting records; the mountain climber, who tossed a one ton granite slab off his chest, a school teacher, who miraculously recovered from terminal cancer, etc. Of course, just about everyone has heard stories about low IQ individuals, who cannot perform the basic functions of living without assistance and yet can memorize 20,000 books and recite them word for word, state the major events that occurred on any date for the past 200 years, or draw a cityscape from memory after only flying over it once for 45 minutes. Clearly, these examples of the talents of seemingly ordinary people must indicate that each and every one of us possesses skills and abilities that are just waiting to be accessed.
I am not alone in my beliefs. In 1955, Darold Treffert, MD, a Wisconsin psychiatrist was introduced to his first savant patient. Since that time he has become one of the world's leading authorities on the Savant Syndrome. One of his most interesting conclusions was his concept of the "Accidental Savant," in which he declares that it is possible for individuals who have encountered an illness or head trauma to start realizing mental talents, which they previously thought impossible. So there appears to be a scientifically established fact that once a brain is damaged through genetics, birth, illness, or trauma its natural tendency is to reorganize – which is an occurrence that just may unleash dormant potentials. Possibly we all have dormant powers just waiting to be released.
I know most readers -- despite my mention of well-documented exceptional performers – will feel that my claims are hogwash or that they do not apply to them. However, I would instantly dispute that contention. Edward Taub, PhD, a behavioral neuroscientist who developed innovative stroke recovery protocols called Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy, insists that our brains have a tremendous number of what he calls "spare tires." These are under or unused neurons that are located in every neural substrate. When challenged by events such as stroke, illness, or trauma, the natural tendency of the brain to reorganize happens naturally. (Again, this lends credence to Treffert's "Accidental Savant" idea.)
Professor Taub is in agreement with many of other innovative researchers. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD, PhD, of the Harvard Medical School, has performed numerous experiments in which subjects are deprived of normal functioning – such as enforced blindness for five or more days. Through these experiments he noticed how the brain has shifted the traditional roles of various substrates. He has been able to explain why Braille readers can process touch by using their occipital lobes, which are normally associated with sight. Like those who are sightless from birth, after only a few days of enforced blindness study subjects began using their brain's sight centers to process touch. University of Sydney professor Allan Snyder, PhD, has noticed similar brain reorganization tendencies by using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to inhibit brain functions and thereby cause the brain to enhance function.
If beliefs, values, and NLP Meta-Programs limit the processing of our perceptions – and hence or sense of reality – and we have a proven ability to reorganize, of what else are we capable? If we take away a person's programmed belief of helplessness, could we open the door for furthering their self-actualization? And, what does this say about our potential to affect their health and happiness? The late Milton H. Erickson, MD, the renown psychiatrist and hypnotherapy innovator, constantly showed his patients how a slight reframing was all that was needed to change an internal state. I have seen this happen countless times when my clinical students get their clients to associate negative memories with time and space considerations that were previously attributed to positive ones. The exercise is extremely simplistic while being amazingly profound.
I always say that transformation is a matter of choice. Yes, there are those who will insist that change will only occur provided that someone else provides a pill or performs a radical procedure. However, it still comes down to personal choice in just about every situation. If a person does not like their reality, all that they need to do is alter their filters. By realizing that beliefs and values are externally programmed, one may become empowered with the option to discard or replace them as appropriate. Of course, there are some who would argue one should never be devoid of "reality" – whatever that is. Although I maintain that a reasonable ecology check would always be in order – such as would this change cause harm to oneself or others – still this leaves a wide range of options that could very well enhance a person's quality of life. There is even a distinct possibility that within each and every one of us resides the potential for much, much more.
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