In rare cases, traumatic head injuries give rise to remarkable creative talents in victims. There are several examples of the same. There is the case of a person who asked his friend to toss him the football while he was standing above the shallow end of the swimming pool. When he tried to catch the ball, he splashed through the water and his head slammed into the pool’s concrete floor. The doctors diagnosed a severe concussion. He suffered severe hearing loss in one ear, memory loss and headaches. A few days later when he visited his friend he spotted a piano in his house, and began to play. He had never played a piano before, nor had he the slightest inclination to, and yet his fingers seemed to find the keys by instinct. How was this possible? When he consulted Dr. Darold Treffert, an expert on savant syndrome, now retired from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, he diagnosed him with acquired savant syndrome, a condition in which individuals who are typically mentally impaired demonstrate remarkable skills.
“In the 90 or so known cases, ordinary people who had suffered brain trauma suddenly developed what seemed like almost superhuman new abilities: artistic brilliance, mathematical mastery, photographic memory. Dr Treffert believes that our brains come with a wide array of ‘factory installed’ software—latent abilities that exist but that we sometimes don’t have access to. The exact nature of an acquired savant’s emergent abilities depends on the exact location of the injury. That explains the wide variation in both the range of abilities found in different individuals and their manifestations.” However, some of them also have negative symptoms such as developing symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder such as, washing hands twenty times in an hour.
In another case, a head injury resulted in uncommon mathematical abilities, whereby he was seen sketching geometrical drawings, called fractals, being highly sophisticated visual representations of complex mathematical relationships. Dr. Bruce Miller who co-directs Memory and Aging Centre at San Francisco, treats elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, had identified nearly thirteen patients who displayed unexpected talents, which included painting, as their neurological degeneration continued. He argues that “in the brains of dementia patients and some autistic savants, the lack of inhibition in areas associated with creativity led to keen artistic expression and an almost compulsive urge to create.” Neuroscientist and savant experts feel that unravelling the phenomenon of acquired savantism could one day enable all of us to explore our hidden talents, writes Adam Piore. (Reader’s Digest, December 2022)
We may get the Theosophical perspective on how head injuries can give rise to remarkable creative talents by referring to The Friendly Philosopher (p. 183) which mentions the case of a person who suffered brain injury and as a result he forgot his name. But after the brain injury he was able to play billiards, which he had not played before in his life. But neither forgetting his name, nor being able to play billiard changes the fact that he was the same man or the same person. At the level of the brain, one door was closed while another opened. Though he had not played billiards in that life, he must have done that in a previous life, and the brain injury made it possible to access that memory. Since the game of billiards is not very old, his previous life when he learnt billiards, also must be very recent. The point being made is that we have a large store of capacities, abilities, aptitudes and knowledge, of which only those find expression which are in line with the Karma brought by the Ego. Therefore, when old Karma or old karmic causes have been exhausted, new Karma begins to operate, and then we see in that person, expression of new tastes, capacities and new desires. Here, there is no brain injury, but only new karmic causes operating. All that we are able to do in a given life is because we have either done it in this life or in some other life. No one can do anything which has not been related to one’s experience in this life or in the past life. This is one of the meanings of the saying of Solomon, “There is nothing new under the sun.” In Letters That Have Helped Me (pp. 152-54) Mr. Judge observes that whether it is capacity, talent, aptitude or knowledge, we can express it in any given life provided its memory is brought back by the Ego and by the instrument, i.e., cells of the body. When we are able to learn something or do something, it implies remembering something we had once learnt, and that in turn depends upon whether or not the cells or atoms of the body also carry the impressions of those experiences, besides the Ego.
This article appeared in the JULY 2023 issue of The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: https://www.ultindia.org/current_issues.html]