What Idiot Savants Can Tell Us

PureInsight | June 4, 2001

What is an "Idiot Savant?"

Sometimes nature offers insight into a particular subject by presenting a baffling enigma or contradictory example. Intelligence's contradictory enigma is the "idiot savant."

The main character in the Oscar-award-winning movie "Rain Man" was a man who did not dare to go to the bathroom alone and could not make a simple decision like what to wear or what food to eat. He often appeared to be dumb and knew nothing about social manners, sentiments and love. Yet, though he looked like an idiot, he was actually a genius at mathematics. He instantly pointed out the exact number of hundreds of matches that fell on the floor, and he was able to "count cards" at a casino.
The word "idiot" usually refers to a simpleton, in contrast to the word 'savant' in French, which means 'learned one.' Idiot savants are a group of humans that are incapable of learning, writing or reading, yet they have unlimited access to specific, accurate knowledge in the fields of mathematics, music, and other precise areas.

Now the irony of the idiot savants is that this group of individuals does not acquire knowledge by learning as the average human does. They mysteriously 'know' explicit, exact, correct information. Idiot savants are illiterate. They have never been trained. In fact, they are untrainable. Yet, they have access to a particular field of knowledge where they appear to be infallible. When asked a question within their area of expertise, 99% of the time, the idiot savants will answer correctly. Outside their area of specialty, they are idiots. They cannot perform the most basic functions of life without help and are generally institutionalized.

One may wonder: 'How do idiot savants know certain information or possess certain skills?' By whatever means they obtain this information, they undermine current definitions about intelligence. Does their knowledge show that a source of intelligence exists? Is it possible to tap into this source and not know of its existence?

What Types of Idiot Savants Exist?

All types of savants have occurred throughout human history. The most common are the calendar, mathematics and music savants, but there are other savants unique to our modern era. Savants can be found in a wide range of areas.
Calendar savants have the ability to reveal the day of the week and the date of any holiday, such as Easter, whether it be in the past or the future. For example, if one asked a savant what date and day of the week Easter will fall on in the year 2045, the savant will instantly give a correct answer. Manually determining the date and day that Easter will fall on in a particular year would normally entail a complex calculation.

Mathematical idiot savants have the ability to calculate numbers rapidly in their head. These human calculators can add, subtract, divide, and multiple mentally, and remember large sequences of numbers. There was an 11 year-old that had the ability to remember virtually endless series of numbers, such as the railroad time schedules or the financial section of a newspaper. There was an institutional child who taught himself at the age of six to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.

It must be stressed that these individuals typically are not interested in discovering new problems or in solving venerable old ones, or even in observing how other people have solved them. Idiots savants do not seek to use mathematics to help themselves in other areas of daily life or tackle scientific puzzles.
Music idiot savants cover a wide range of musical skills. There is a blind idiot savant that had the ability to replay complex music compositions after hearing them only once. Another music savant could sight read a piece of music once and then play it over and over again without knowing the tone, tempo, nor turning the pages to finish the composition.
Other idiot savants are able to build scale models of any object after they view it just once. Still, others can quote the census of 5,000 cities in the USA along with the number of hotels in each city and the number of rooms in each hotel. These are just a few examples of idiot savants.

What do Idiot Savants Reveal to Us?

The idiot savant is one of the most baffling problems modern science has encountered, for he defies common sense. Psychologists believe that we learn a particular skill or we develop a potential talent for music, mathematics, etc., through education. No one would accept the fact that a talent is perfected without any formal or informal training or education. This is just the case, however, with idiot savants.
One of the common explanations to cover up this contradiction is that these people have brains that developed abnormally. This attitude basically implies that these people are not normal, or that their brain did not develop normally. The majority of people treat these special abilities like experimental data that can be omitted. With this mentality, they can still continue to believe that the brain is the source of intelligence and that wisdom is the result of chemical and physiological reactions inside our brain cells, plus the accumulation of experience.

In fact, there are not many scientists who genuinely have the interest to study the brains of these people because the brain of a genius like Einstein is more attractive. On the other hand, even if the development of an idiot savant's brain is abnormal, this still cannot answer questions that probe a little deeper. For example, is the process of instant memory of music the same as the ordinary memory process? Where on earth do people store the memory? How do they recall the memory? Why do the music savants have a special connection with music? What is the nature of music itself? Why don't music savants need to know tone or tempo? Why isn't the calendar savant necessarily a genius in all fields of mathematics? Why do they have a special connection with time and the calendar? Is the brain of mathematic savants simply a fast calculator? Why don't they need techniques or methods to arrive at answers to complex questions? Why do they get the answers when they don't even have an interest in solving the puzzles?

In fact, tone, tempo, methods of calculation, and the setting of calendars are all common people's knowledge. Knowledge is just one manifestation of wisdom, the manifestation after the work of the brain. There are many people who do not have knowledge of music composition or terminologies, yet they can perform wonderful music. In addition, when most people hum a song, they don't memorize it in the way of tones and tempos yet they can master the rhythm. These phenomena tell us that the inner connotation of music is profound and the understanding of music by people goes beyond the brain. There is a saying in China that "the genuinely great music can make people lose the mundane feelings." But this is not merely a metaphor.

The existence of idiot savants clearly indicates that intelligence is non-local and not bound to the brain. In addition, music, numbers, and time themselves have profound connotations and unique forms of existence in the universe. Recognition and understanding of them does not necessarily go through the brain. In another words, the knowledge that people get from the thinking of the brain is just the most common way to express wisdom. The knowledge is the expression, but not the nature or the source of the wisdom.

Hearts, Knowledge and Information

When modern psychologists define people's wisdom by simple tests or the size of their IQ, this is actually a thorough confinement of people's thinking and their brain. When people believe that their rich and colorful thinking is just the combined result of chemical reactions in their brain cells, how can they explain that some people can suddenly recall the past after they had lost their memory for quite a long time? Conventional theories indeed suffocate the rich inner world of people's souls. They are a stigma and an insult to people's own spirituality.

People in ancient times genuinely valued the soul and spirituality. They had a deep understanding of the human body, life and the universe. Therefore, in Chinese culture, there are terms like "heart wisdom", "heart sensation", "spirit sensation (inspiration)", "heart-to-heart matching", "the flower of heart blossom", "heart like a monkey, mind like a horse", etc.. Modern people tend to think that brain thinking is rational, while the description of heart and feeling is emotional. In fact, this is not always true. Modern people are rarely to have a moment of peace in their heart, i.e. because their hearts are like monkeys jumping around and their minds are running around like horses. In other words, it is hard for their inner true selves to come out. Therefore, it is hard to have wisdom that comes from their heart and soul. Under this circumstance, various post-nattily acquired notions dominate their brains most of the time. The thought of brain can only be genuinely rational and wise when people's hearts are peaceful, pure and clear.

The mastering and emphasis of knowledge tends to create scholars and skillful people, while the elevation and opening of people's hearts and souls would make them saints and wise men. In the past, people paid great attention to spirituality, so there were many great saints, wise men, and prophets who knew the heaven and earth, the past and the future. While, later generations came to focus on using the brain, and thereby sealed off their spirituality. So there came to be numerous scholars, specialists and technicians. They consume their whole lives to master knowledge in a specific field.

Today is the dawn of the "Information Age," when people give up their brains as well, and even their knowledge is replaced by the computer. The ability to do mathematics is replaced by the calculator and the ability to spell is replaced by a computer function called "spell check." Even without using computers, people's brains are overloaded with complex and miscellaneous information. What is "information?" It probably refers to something that people are not confident to call "knowledge." The interest rates at a bank, stock market statistics, and the news can all be called information. Once people have a scholarly-flavored term like "information," they can easily turn away from the judgement of what is right and wrong, true or false. People also know that it is getting harder and harder to get real valuable information. The so-called "Information Age" is actually the time when people's hearts and souls are lost deeper in the maze. People are trapped further and further in the surface material dimension, where they are simply tied up by their busy lives and the complex information world.

The Path Towards What is Correct

The real path lies in people's hearts and souls, their spirituality. The phenomenon of the idiot savant also breaks the rigid frame of people's understanding of intelligence and wisdom. Idiot savants are actually gifted, not just in an ordinary sense. They do not have ordinary thinking, knowledge or abilities, and yet in big contrast, they manifest their special talents. At the same time, geniuses, prodigies and masters of common sense manifest their talents in their supreme human abilities and thinking. Both types are gifted and both tell people that the source of wisdom lies beyond this dimension that the naked eye can see.

Why did Chinese people regard people's getting wiser as their "apertures being opened?" Brains also have their different structures in different dimensions. The different parts of the brain can be locked or opened. That is why some people are idiots and some are gifted. It is just that simple. Modern science also says that over 70% of a person's brain is not used.

So what is the source of wisdom, intelligence and thinking? Falun Dafa's teachings delineate: "So what functions does the human brain have? As I see it, in the form of this physical dimension, the human brain is only a processing factory. The actual message is sent forth by the Primordial Spirit. What is transmitted, however, is not language, but a message of the universe that represents a certain meaning. Upon receiving such a command, our brains will process this into our present language or other such forms of expression; we express it through hand gesturing, eye contact, and complete movement. The brain has only this effect. The actual commands and thoughts come from one's Primordial Spirit. People usually believe that they are the direct and independent functions of the brain. In fact, the Primordial Spirit is sometimes in the heart, so some people can indeed feel their hearts thinking" ("Mindwill" in 'Zhuan Falun' by Li Hongzhi).

When truth is revealed, it answers all the questions.


"Idiot Savant" by Dr. Lee E. Warren, B.A., D.D.

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