Welcome to this month's Science in Fiction feature! Science in Fiction is a meme I created to showcase the wonderful aspects of science in Young Adult fiction novels. For more information and previous feature, check out the "Science in Fiction" tag!
This month, I'm featuring Gifted by H.A. Swain!
I actually read/reviewed Gifted back in April, but in the past month, I have not read a single book dealing with science or mathematics, specifically! So I thought I'd go back and feature one that I really wanted to feature in May, but chose a different one.
Gifted is a story set in a world where ability like singing, or doing complex mathematics can be surgically induced in a person. Buy an Acquired Savant Ability (ASA) and you'll have the surgery, and in the next short few weeks, you'll be a prodigy. Interesting, no?
Today, I'm going to take about savant skills!
A savant is defined as "a person who knows a lot about a particular subject", or "a person who does not have normal intelligence but who has very unusual mental abilities that other people do not have" (see Merriam-Webster's dictionary). Savant skills aren't new to the medical field - scientists have long known about savant skills, mostly in people with autism.
Savant syndrome is a condition in which a person with a mental disability has abilities that are beyond normal in scope. This syndrome has been seen in people with autism, or brain injuries. Savant syndrome is quite rare.
A scientific paper by Treffert notes that as many as one in ten autistic persons have exceptional abilities (Treffert 2009). The first documented case of savant syndrome was in 1783, when a boy showed proficiency in mathematics and counting, but little understanding in his other studies (Treffert 2009). In 1887, ten cases were studied by a physician at the hospital that the ten children were being treated in.
Only 50% of people with savant syndrome have been noted to have autism. The other 50% had some other central nervous system (CNS) damage. An interesting fact - while the syndrome is very rare, there are six times as many males with savant syndrome as females.
No theory has been proven, on how savant syndrome is developed, or how it works in the brain. No one knows how it is "turned on", or why it seems that only people with CNS damage or diseases have savant syndrome. There are theories about how their brains are wired differently.
Most learning occurs implicitly - meaning that it needn't be explained. One writer of Scientific America argues that perhaps savants learn the skill implicitly, and because of the different wiring of the brain of the savant, the skill pops up all at once.
I don't have a ton of facts or statistics to share, about savant syndrome. But it's a hot topic of debate; what if there was a part of our brain that we could just switch on, and new abilities would kick in? Unfortunately, the statement that humans only use 10% of our brain is a complete myth - we use 100% of our brain. But what if there was some part that could be engaged or awakened further?
For savant syndrome (an autistic savant, to be precise) in pop culture, check out the movie Rain Man!
What do you think? Do you think anyone could be a savant, if something was induced in his/her brain? Would you go through with something like the ASA surgery in Gifted, to acquire an ability? What ability would you want?