TV Show Alert!!
A while back I saw this awesome show on the Discovery Channel called “Real Superhumans and the Quest for the Future Fantastic” (Click link for listings). It chronicles several individuals with astonishing abilities that no one can really explain and tries to delve into the science of how the brains of these exceptional people work.
For me it was also a great opportunity to reflect on what does it mean to be “different” in one’s abilities? Do conditions like autism offer us yet another way – in this case, one that’s particularly difficult to comprehend – of expressing all the diverse abilities and characteristics of what it means to be human? What do the rare abilities that a number of autistic people have tell us about ourselves and our future? Are many of these rare gifts – mentioned in the show or not – somehow a glimpse into our genetic future?
(Note: I am NOT referring to anything remotely like Rain Man. If anyone equates all autistic people with Rain Man, I will come through your Ethernet cable and smack you.)
The people in this show range from a blind man (literally born without eyes) who can create the most amazing and realistic-looking paintings, to a woman who is a rare synesthete (a person whose senses overlap in their brain such that they can do things like taste music or see certain colors when they hear words) – in her case, the only known person who has three overlapping senses.
I was really intrigued by the man who I at first thought was the token, autistic “human calculator”, but they performed various tests on him and concluded that there was no way he could be autistic. Watching him, I could buy that. He just had a mind-blowing talent for understanding how numbers form and combine.
How his and the other’s abilities came to be remains a mystery, but it is a dang fascinating show. How can a person have an ability that is so infinitely beyond ‘average’? And an even deeper question the show makes you ponder, if we could engineer our children to have these gifts, would we and should we?
It’s actually on Discovery HD Theater over the next few days. So if you have an HDTV and that channel on your cable/satellite, go watch it. (See listings here) Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be on regular Discovery Channel right now. But it does appear in their schedule periodically and is absolutely worth watching.
Bonus goodness – Go read Daniel Tammet’s Born on a Blue Day. It may be the best personal account I’ve read of how an autistic person thinks and understands the world. His abilities are astonishing (he’s the subject of the show “Brainman” which I think is also on the Discovery Channel from time to time), but to me his ability to explain how he sees the world and how he can do what he does is even more profound. Just being able to read the words of an autistic person who can so articulately explain how he understands the world around him is totally worth your time.