KNOWING WHAT WAS NEVER LEARNED
A rather unusual conversation was had in my workplace recently. Given that my colleagues are all aware of my proclivity for the paranormal, unusual conversations are somewhat par for the course where I work!
The subject matter of this conversation was perhaps a little odd, but was not actually about anything paranormal in nature..not at its surface content anyway..However, it triggered a "light bulb moment" for me, and I started to mentally join the dots between a few elements.
As one of the main reasons for my writing this blog is to share my thoughts, and whatever factual information I can gather around topics that make me curious, there was of course not going to be any exception made with this topic!
The conversation began with a colleague relating a story about something unusual which had happened to a friend's child. The child in question, who had apparently been quite ordinary and not of remarkable intelligence, suffered a head injury in an accident and was in a comatose state. When he awoke, he suddenly found himself in possession of genius-level mathematical skills. Having read of such phenomena before, I contributed a few stories I had heard of: people who awoke from comas caused by brain injuries who were suddenly able to speak foreign languages, and people who had suffered similar traumas who found themselves in possession of talents they had never previously possessed.
The conversation prompted a question in my mind- how could this sort of thing happen? and what if there were something more to the story, another possibility to consider?
Firstly though, it's best I tell you a little about the two syndromes associated with such conditions.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE SYNDROME
Foreign Language Syndrome, sometimes called xenoglossy or polyglot aphasia, can occur when someone becomes unconscious, and possibly comatose, due to a head injury. Due to the attempts made by the brain to heal itself, a sort of "rerouting" process takes place which affects the areas of the brain responsible for language functions.
Upon awakening again, the person discovers that not only do they seem to be unable to speak their primary language properly, but that they can now speak another language- perhaps one they had partly learned previously but had never been fluent in.
Whilst there is no strong scientific support for the absolute existence of this extremely rare neurological phenomena, some interesting cases have been reported in both mainstream media and science blogs, such as 21-year-old Australian university student Ben McMahon, who was involved in a head-on car crash. Upon waking in hospital, his first words to the nurse were in Mandarin, a language he had studied in high school but was not fluent in. He has since regained his ability to speak English, but his Mandarin became so fluent after the accident he now hosts a Chinese T.V. show.
Or the 2010 case of an unnamed Croatian teenager, who woke from a one-day coma and had completely forgotten her native dialect, but instead could speak fluent German, a language which she had just begun studying but wasn't yet fluent in. It was reported that the language switch was so extreme in this case that a translator was required in order for the girl to communicate with her family.
"ACQUIRED SAVANT" SYNDROME
True Savants are rare indeed- there are estimated to be less than 100 of them in the world. Whilst savants are developmentally disabled, they demonstrate exceptional genius, usually in one particular area- mathematics for instance, or perhaps music, or art.
The best-known Savant is Kim Peek, who was the inspiration for the film "Rain Man", and was the living definition of a walking encyclopedia. Peek had remarkable memory capabilities that spanned topics such as musical, historic, and political facts, and old baseball scores. He was also capable of providing driving routes between almost any two cities in the world, and could make amazing calendar calculations, being able to calculate what day of the week it was on any given date over hundreds of years.
Peek was a Natural Savant, meaning his ability was present from birth, but amongst Savants there are a much rarer sub-classification, those who are "Acquired Savants", and discovered that they had previously undiscovered talents after a brain injury sustained either through illness, a blow to the head, or a stroke.
Some cases of acquired savantism include that of Orlando Serrell, 50, who was knocked unconscious by a blow to the head from a baseball at age 10.
After the injury, despite not having had any great intellectual capabilities beforehand, Serrell could now perform complex mathematical equations, and had much greater memory capabilities than he had had before. Serrell's greatest talent lies in calendar calculation- if asked what day of the week it was on any date since his accident 40 years ago, he can reply stating not only the day of the week, but also the weather on that day (apparently he has never been wrong in that), what he wore, and what he ate. He is capable of instantaneously calculating the day of the week for dates well before his accident too, and insists he doesn't memorise them, because (in his words) "I have better things to do with my day than sit around and study a calendar".
Tommy McHugh was an Englishman who, while getting ready for work one day, felt a sharp pain in his head. Blood began running from his ears, nose, and eyes, and he collapsed. He was lucky to survive, as he had had two aneurysms. When he returned home from hospital, and although he'd had no previous interest in the arts, McHugh found himself under a strange compulsion to create.
It began with poetry, and then drawings that seemed to flow out of him without any thought or effort. He found his true outlet when he began painting, which he did compulsively for up to 18 hours a day, every day. McHugh even opened an art gallery, both to help support himself and as an outlet for his strange compulsion.
Alonso Clemons was seemingly drawn to sculpture from an early age- at two years old he would sculpt and mould Play-Doh for hours on end. When he was three, Clemons sustained a serious head injury due to a fall, which left him unable to speak, or to dress himself, for years. Doctors determined his IQ to be at around 40. Yet when he was handed a piece of clay, Clemons would come alive.
He can look at any animal for just a few moments, and then using only his hands can create a very detailed, anatomically correct 3D replica of the animal. While he sculpts, Clemons will use only his mental images for reference, and these images are so accurate he can even sculpt in the dark. Clemons has now made quite a name for himself in the Art community, and his bronze statues can sell for thousands of dollars.
If you'd like to know more about the amazing stories of savants and acquired savants, I highly recommend this absolutely brilliant documentary, which tells many of their stories.
QUESTIONS..I HAVE A FEW..
One of the most important things in the field of research into putative paranormal phenomena is to ask questions, such as "how" and "what if", and my research into this subject left me with a few of those. The whole concept of this particular phenomenon- people somehow knowing what they couldn't know as they had never learned it, really got me curious, and my thoughts all led to one concept, although that concept has held different names in varying hypotheses throughout the years.
H.H. Price coined the term "psychic ether", and Carl Jung used the term "collective unconscious". Rupert Sheldrake speaks of "morphic fields"..but all of these hypotheses have a similar fundamental- that all memories and knowledge, from all who have come before us, are stored energetically, non-locally to our minds, and can be accessed if we are capable of "tuning into" their frequencies.
According to such hypotheses, we have access to innumerable memories, and thus a vast reservoir of ancestral knowledge, which we could potentially draw from..but it's finding our way to it which is a challenge.
Something else which came to mind for me immediately when I began looking into this phenomenon was a visual analogy that those of more recent generations would perhaps not be familiar with. Those who grew up in the 70's or earlier may be familiar with the concept though. The mental picture was that of an old-fashioned television.
Often these were encased in a wooden cabinet, and often they had what were called "rabbit-ear" antennae. When reception was poor and the picture was blurry or sketchy, frustrated viewers would often resort to "percussive maintenance"- a good hard tap on the side of the cabinet would do the trick, and the picture would become clear again.
Where I think the analogy works, with both xenoglossy and Acquired Savant syndrome, is with the correlation of two elements- head injury, and subsequent development of talents not previously possessed before that injury. In the case of experients of both syndromes, could that blow to the head, or other brain injury, have been the equivalent of "percussive maintenance"?
One decent "tap" to the casing of a unit designed to absorb, translate, and utilise energy and information (the human brain) could perhaps open that unit to frequencies, and thus stored information, which it had little or no previous access to. Has that brain injury, the commonality in all of the cases, served in a sort of "tuning" capacity, allowing these individuals to access a frequency they could not have otherwise tuned in to?
In the documentary I provided a link to, a researcher who has been studying such phenomena for decades mentions that perhaps each of us has hidden talents, and that in tech terms these could be put down to us all having different "chips"- some are "hard-coded" for language, some for numbers, some for historic facts, some for music, or art..perhaps some of us have chips that are hard-coded for a few different areas..
But what if the information on those chips comes from elsewhere- somewhere in the "ether", or the collective unconscious? Language, numbers, history, art, music..these have all been studied by man for millennia, and thus a great deal of knowledge exists, beyond that which can be found in books- knowledge gained from the experiences of every individual who has ever immersed themselves in any of those fields.
If there is a psychic ether, a collective unconscious, that information would be found there. Perhaps in the case of the individuals who have been diagnosed with these extremely rare conditions, the information they find themselves in possession of comes not from within, but from without..
Feel free to share your thoughts on what you think might be going on in comments- I'd love to hear them!