The Superhuman Mind

Free the genius in your brain

Posted Aug 25, 2015

The Penguin Group, used with permission
Source: The Penguin Group, used with permission

Orlando Serrell was a perfectly ordinary kid, leading a perfectly ordinary existence for the first ten years of his life. Then in January 1979 a ball smashed into the left side of his head while he was playing baseball with friends. After suffering from a headache for weeks, he suddenly realized that he had the ability to perform calendar calculations about days following his accident. For example, if you say January 15, 2004, he will immediately say “Thursday.”

This condition which the accident sparked in Orlando is known as savant syndrome, a phenomenon in which people show extraordinary abilities in a narrow range of capabilities, typically in memory, music, art, calendar calculation, mathematics, or spatial skills. There are many other cases of people who become savants by accident.

What exactly happens when people become superhuman after an accident? Why does it only happen in some cases of brain injury? Do these cases show that we all have the potential to become superhuman savants? 

In our newly released book The Superhuman Mind: Free the Genius in Your Brain, we answer these and numerous other related questions. We explain how it is possible to acquire extraordinary cognitive skills after brain injury and disease and why not everyone who hurt their head becomes a genius. We also argue that that these kinds of cases suggest that we all have the potential to remarkably improve our cognitive abilities. 

It is, of course, unwise to bang your head against a wall and hope you do it the right way and become a savant as a result. But there are other shortcuts to develop extraordinary skills without engaging in any kind of wild and risky behaviors. One of the things we explain in the book is how to learn to become a synesthete, or at least reap the benefits of synesthesia. Synesthesia is an extraordinary condition in which different perceptual or cognitive inputs are combined in highly unusual ways. For example, some people hear music as colored or feel the pain of others. Synesthesia can help improve memory and increase your creativity. While full-blown synesthesia is hard to acquire by learning, the cognitive benefits of the condition can be relatively easily acquired and can be used to improve your cognitive abilities in rather simple ways.

Using synesthesia to become smarter is only one of many techniques that we discuss in the book. We also explain how to use mnemonics to improve memory, how to learn new things and hit upon solutions to problems while you are asleep and how to make up for a weakening of the senses, and we provide information about the newest technology in brain enhancement.

Berit Brogaard and Kristian Marlow are the authors of The Superhuman Mind: Free the Genius in Your Brain, Hudson St. Press, An Imprint of Penguin Random House, August, 2015. Available on Amazon, BAM, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.