Amazing Mental Feats

Ordinary people with extraordinary mental abilities. They’re out there. Over the next couple of months, we will be looking at several individuals and their special talents. If science can ever pinpoint how the brain of these individuals allows such abilities to manifest, to figure out how the seemingly impossible is achieved, I wonder if the extraordinary could be the norm for future generations?

Super-recogniser is a term that was coined by Gettysberg College psychology professor, Richard Russel, in 2009. It describes “people with extraordinary face-recognition ability”. While the average person can recall about 20% of the faces they see, super-recognisers can recall 95%. One such person is Andy Pope, a Birmingham police officer. He has identified more than 1,000 suspects over a 5-year period and can recall faces that he’s only glimpsed once, sometimes from many years ago. To put this into perspective, his colleagues would have difficulty identifying a 10th of what he is able to do. Some have not made any identification calls at all. One chief superintendent said that Andy’s feat was “unbelievable” and that “in 20 years, I’ve only identified about 30 people”. Andy is special, but not unique. Scotland Yard alone claims that 140 of their officers possess this talent. London’s Metropolitan police refuse to disclose the numbers of the super-recognisers amongst their ranks, but they are there. One professor of psychology and neuroscience was quoted by Business Insider magazine (Aug 24/17) that super-recognition was down to “genetic good luck”.

Daniel Tammet is known as “Brainman”. A high-functioning, autistic savant, Daniel displays exceptional abilities in maths and language. He first became known when he recited Pi to 22,514 decimal places. He speaks 11 languages, including Icelandic, which was the result of a challenge issued by a television documentary team. The challenge was to learn a new language (they chose Icelandic) in one week. Challenge accepted! Seven days later, Daniel was successfully interviewed by an Icelandic tv crew…in their native tongue. Daniel explains that numbers are special to him. He has a rare form of synaesthesia which means that he sees integers up to 10,000 as each having its own colour, texture and shape. He was even able to draw his vision of pi, which looks like a rolling landscape, full of different shapes and colours. As a high-functioning person with autism, Daniel has the advantage of being able to explain what he experiences in his head and how he interprets the world. He’s written his memoirs in his award-winning book, “Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant” (2007).

Dr. James McGaugh is a neurobiologist whose speciality is memory. He initially came across Jill Price, a housewife, who was able to recall key world events on any date from when she was 12 years old, onwards. She says, “Some people call me the human calendar while others run out of the room in fear. But the one reaction I get from everyone who finds out about this “gift” is amazement”. In order to test her ability, McGaugh chose random dates from a reference book entitled “20th Century Day by Day”. He states, “Whether it was a plane crash or some election or a movie star doing an outrageous thing, she was dead on, again and again.” Since 2000, McGaugh has found over 60 people like Jill. They are neither autistic savants nor masters of mnemonic-based tricks of recall. He coined the term for this ability, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, or Hyperthymesia.

More to follow….

By Elaina Curran, HPD, DSFH, AdvDPLRT, Clinical Hypnotherapist and Past Life Regression Therapist

As published in BS35 Local Magazine - December 2019 issue


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