1. Photographic Memory
We have all heard of people with so called “photographic memories”. Usually we use it when referring to someone who has an above average ability to recall information about the past or about their surroundings. True photographic memory of the kind exhibited by Stephen Wiltshire is truly a rare but amazing gift. Mr. Wiltshire is an autistic savant and those that know him call him “the living camera”. When he was 11 years old he drew a perfect representation of the aerial view of London after a single helicopter ride, down to the correct number of windows on the major buildings of the city. This is perhaps one of the coolest feats of the human brain I have ever seen.
2. Tertiary Neurosyphilis
Tertiary neurosyphilis, is the most interesting form of syphilis from a cultural point of view. Just before the onset of paralysis, the sufferer is beset with delusions of grandeur, a sense of understanding everything, a sense that he is on the verge of some monumental discovery which will forever change the course of history, as well as a sense that some divine electricity is coursing through his veins.
Since in this preliminary stage of tertiary syphilis, powers of expression are not impaired, a syphilitic who is also an artist may well produce a work of art that reflects this state of mind or, rather, this state of brain. Bob Summers felt that “King of Tetch” was just this kind of work. Wilhelm Reich felt that he had unlocked the secrets of the universe with the discovery of orgone energy, something that could now be accumulated in his orgone boxes, which would make power stations unnecessary. Hayden feels that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was composed under these circumstances, after syphilis had destroyed Beethoven’s hearing and was in the process of destroying his brain as well. “Seid umschlungen Millionen!” The grandiosity of Schiller’s poem is matched by the grandiosity of Beethoven’s musical score, which, at least in terms of the Ode to Joy chorus, is based on a moronic melody (melody was never Beethoven’s strong suit anyway), as the film Dearly Beloved makes clear. The brain of the syphilitic approaching general paralysis of the insane is like the light bulb that grows brighter just before it burns out completely. The syphilitic experiences, in Hayden’s words,
“episodes of creative euphoria, electrified, joyous energy when grandiosity led to a new vision. The heightened perception, dazzling insights, and almost mystical knowledge experienced during this time were expressed while precision of form of expression was still possible. At the end of the 19th century, it was believed that, in rare instances, syphilis could produce genius.”
Synesthesia can occur between nearly any two senses or perceptual modes. While nearly every possible combination of experiences is logically possible, several types are more common than others.
Grapheme – color synesthesia
How someone with synesthesia might perceive (not ‘see’) certain letters and numbers.How someone with synesthesia might perceive (not “see”) certain letters and numbers.
In one of the most common forms of synesthesia, grapheme – color synesthesia, individual letters of the alphabet and numbers (collectively referred to as graphemes), are “shaded” or “tinged” with a color. While no two synesthetes will report the same colors for all letters and numbers, studies of large numbers of synesthetes find that there are some commonalities across letters (e.g., A is likely to be red).
Music – color synesthesia
In music – color synesthesia, individuals experience colors in response to tones or other aspects of musical stimuli (e.g., timbre or key). Like grapheme – color synesthesia, there is rarely agreement amongst synesthetes that a given tone will be a certain color, but individuals are internally consistent. Tested months later, synesthetes will report the same experiences as they had previously reported.
Color changes in response to pitch may involve more than just the hue of the color. Lightness (the amount of black in a color; red with black may appear brown), saturation (the intensity of the color; candy red is highly saturated, while pink is almost unsaturated), and hue may all be affected to varying degrees. Additionally, music ? color synesthetes, unlike grapheme – color synesthetes, often report that the colors move, or stream into and out of their field of view.
4. Savantism without major autistic impairments.
Daniel Paul Tammet is a British autistic savant gifted with a facility for mathematics problems, sequence memory, and natural language learning. He was born with congenital childhood epilepsy.
Experiencing numbers as colors or sensations is a well-documented form of synesthesia, but Tammet is unique in how specific and detailed his mental imagery of numbers is. He claims that in his mind each number, up to 10,000, has its own unique shape and feel, and he can “sense” whether a number is prime or composite and “see” results of calculations as landscapes in his mind. He has described his visual image of 289 as particularly ugly, 333 as particularly attractive, and pi as beautiful.
Tammet holds the European record for memorizing and recounting pi to 22,514 digits in just over five hours. This sponsored charity challenge was held in aid of the National Society for Epilepsy (NSE) on “Pi Day,” 14 March 2004 at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, UK. The NSE was chosen to benefit from this event because of Daniel’s experience with epilepsy as a young child. Professor Allan Snyder at the Australian National University said of Tammet: “Savants can’t usually tell us how they do what they do. It just comes to them. Daniel can. He describes what he sees in his head. That’s why he’s exciting. He could be the ‘Rosetta Stone.’”
5. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
People with temporal lobe epilepsy experience the world in a drastically different way from the average person. The first researcher to note and catalog the abnormal experiences associated with TLE was neurologist Norman Geschwind, who noted a constellation of symptoms, including hypergraphia, hyperreligiosity, fainting spells, mutism and pedantism, often collectively ascribed to a condition known as Geschwind syndrome. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran explored the neural basis of the hyperreligiosity seen in TLE using galvanic skin response, which measures emotional arousal, to determine whether the hyperreligiosity seen in TLE was due to an overall enhanced emotional response, or if the enhancement was specfic to religious stimuli.
6. Congenital Insensitivity to Pain (CIPA)
Congenital insensitivity to pain (or congenital analgia) is a rare condition where a child cannot feel (and has never felt) physical pain. Cognition and sensation is otherwise normal, for instance they can still feel discriminative touch (though not always temperature), and there is no detectable physical abnormality.These children often suffer oral cavity damage (such as having bitten off the tip of their tongue) or fractures to bones. Unnoticed infections, and corneal damage due to foreign objects in the eye are also seen.
7. Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome (PSAS)
Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome results in a spontaneous and persistent genital arousal, with or without orgasm or genital engorgement, unrelated to any feelings of sexual desire. It was first documented by Dr. Sandra Leiblum in 2001, only recently characterized as a distinct syndrome in medical literature. In particular, it is not related to hypersexuality, sometimes known as nymphomania or satyriasis. In addition to being very rare the condition is also frequently unreported by sufferers who may consider it shameful or embarrassing.
Physical arousal caused by this syndrome can be very intense and persist for extended periods, days or weeks at a time. Orgasm can sometimes provide temporary relief, but within hours the symptoms return. The symptoms can be debilitating, preventing concentration on mundane tasks. Some situations, such as riding in an automobile or train, vibrations from mobile phones, and even going to the toilet can aggravate the syndrome unbearably.
Hypergraphia is an overwhelming urge to write. It is not itself a disorder, but can be associated with temporal lobe changes in epilepsy and mania. Several different regions of the brain govern the act of writing. The physical movement of the hand is controlled by the cerebral cortex which comprises part of the outer layer of the brain. The drive to write, on the other hand, is controlled by the limbic system, a ring-shaped cluster of cells deeply buried in the cortex which governs emotion, affiliated instincts and inspiration and is said to regulate the human being’s need for communication. Words and ideas are cognized and understood by the temporal lobes behind the ears, and these temporal lobes are connected to the limbic system. Ideas are organized and edited in the frontal lobe of the brain. Temporal lobe lesions cause temporal lobe epilepsy, however it is also known to run in families. Hypergraphia is not a frequent manifestation of temporal lobe epilepsy.
As of current, hypergraphia is understood to be triggered by changes in brainwave activity in the temporal lobe.