Divergent Minds – Mind Field S2 (Ep 7)

Divergent Minds – Mind Field S2 (Ep 7)

August 31, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


[ambient music playing] [Michael]Derek, have you
ever watched
Mind Field on YouTube? No, but I would like
to watch it, Michael. [Michael] Okay. SoMind Field
has a theme song that I’d love
for you to listen to to see if you can play it
for me on the piano. I would like to listen to it,
Michael. All right.
Just load this up here. [theme music playing] [playing piano] Oh, hello. This is a tray of brains. Cow brains. Here is a sagittal slice
I prepared earlier. Now, imagine that
this is my brain. Just looking at it,
it would be impossible to know what part does what or that different parts
did different things at all. But if you change
specific parts of your brain, you can often affect
specific functions. So if this was my brain… that would be pretty bad. I would almost certainly have just become
cortically bind. Of course, scientists can’t go
cutting and poking and stabbing people’s brains to see how it affects
their behavior, but they can study the behavior
and abilities of people whose brains are different
from neurotypical brains.For instance, in rare cases,people whose eyes
function normally
but who are blind due to damage
to their visual cortex
may experience
the neurological phenomenon
of blindsightwhich allows them
to sense and respond
to objects they cannot see.Due to a brain injury,
this patient
is consciously blind
on his right side.
But while he sees nothing
in his right field of vision,
he’s able to sense
the presence and motion
of an object he cannot see.[man]You’re moving it
up and down.
I am aware of a motion,but that motion has no shape,no color, no depth,
no form, no contrast.
[Michael]Blindsight is possiblebecause besides
the visual cortex
which is associated
with conscious vision,
there are other brain areasthat get information
from the eyes unconsciously.
We have learned about this
unconscious vision we all have
because of blindsight.The study of divergent mindshas revolutionized
our understanding of the brain in ways that would not have been
possible otherwise. People who differ from the norm expose elements
of all our minds that we didn’t even know
were there. [ambient music playing] [upbeat music playing] [Michael]One very special
divergent mind
is that of Derek Paravicini.Let’s go.
We’re gonna count a hundred -to find the hotel, okay?
-Okay. Yeah. [both] One, two, three… [Michael]Derek is both
blind and autistic.
He’s also a musical savant…Now for the live music
you were promised. [Michael]…meaning despite
severe cognitive
and social impairments,his musical ability
is far greater
than what would be
considered normal.
And tonight, he’s performing
at the release party
for his latest album.[playing “Flight
of the Bumblebees”]Derek possesses
an incredible gift.
He’s performed
all over the world
and has become
a symbol of success
for other autistic individuals.Later, we’ll take a deeper look
into Derek’s unique mind.
Thank you. [upbeat music playing] [Michael]One hundred
and fifty years ago,
scientists still didn’t know if different parts of the brain
did different things. It was only by studying people
with atypical mindsthat we discovered that
there are different modules
in the brain that have
different functions.
The first major discoveryshowing that the brain had
these specialized modules
was made by a doctor
named Paul Broca in the 1800s. Broca had heard of a patient
who had no problem understanding language, but who struggled
to produce language. The only thing the patient
could say was the sound “tan,” over and over. He would say tan, tan, tan, tan, tan, tan, tan,
tan, tan, tan, tan, tan. When the patient died, Broca performed
an autopsy on him and found that
the patient’s brain had damage to a specific partof its left hemisphere.Broca concluded
that this brain region,
now called Broca’s Area,must be important
for producing speech but not
for understanding speech. This language deficit
called Broca’s Aphasia still affects hundreds
of thousands of people who get strokes
in the left side of their brain. A patient with Broca’s Aphasia
can talk, but struggles
to get the words out. [woman] So what’s your name? Scott. Oh, no. -Sarah Scott.
-[woman] That’s right. And how old are you? I can’t. -[woman] Try.
-I can’t. [Michael]Another part
of the brain related to speech
is Wernicke’s Areawhich is associated
with language comprehension.
Patients who damage
this region
can speak fluentybut they are unabe
to understand languae
or use it in a meaningful wa.[woman] What were we just doing
with the iPad? Right at the moment
a darn should– a darn thing. [woman] With the iPad
that we were doing. Like here? I’d like my change for me
and change hands for me. It was happy. I would talk with Donna
sometimes. We’re all with them. Other people are working
with them, them. I’m very happy with them. These remarkable individuals
have taught us a lot about the neural basis
of language. But it can be tricky
to infer the functions of different brain areas based only
on specific patients. That’s because damage is almost
never confined to one spot and the brain
can reorganize itself after it’s been damaged. So to get a more precise picture
of how changing the brain affects behavior and function, I went to UCLA to have my brain damaged. But not permanently. I’m not gonna have
a piece of my brain removed and thrown away. Instead, I’m going to have
part of my brain tissue temporarily
and safely disrupted by a technology called transcranial
magnetic stimulation. Here I go. Usually I start by saying I’m glad to be here. I’m medium to be here. I’m a little anxious about
what’s about to happen. Today, you’re going
to be giving me a brain lesion,
temporarily. So I should cease to be able
to produce words. Right. That actually just sounds
very frightening. I like to be in control,
especially of myself. Should I be worried? [Michael]Transcranial
magnetic stimulation,
or TMS for short,applies a strong magnetic pulseto one part of the brainsuch as Broca’s Area.This briefly disrupts
electric function
in the part of the brain
that is stimulated.
It’s like causing
temporary brain damage.
But as soon as
the pulse is over,
functioning
goes back to normal.
While it’s not guaranteed
that TMS
will affect
my ability to speak,
Dr. Iacoboni
has successfully stimulated
Broca’s Aphasia
on other test subjects.
Transcranial
magnetic stimulation, to see what happens when such… -[clicking]
-[indistinct speech] …tradition
of studying individuals. [Michael]Now it was time
to have my speech disrupted.
But to stimulate
my Broca’s Area,
first, we had to find itusing an MRI scan of my brain.Hopefully, we’ll be able to find
Broca’s Area and shut me up. [John] So it’s gonna feel
a little bit like somebody tapping
on your scalp, and you might feel some superficial
muscle stimulation. -Uh-hmm.
-[John] So this will probably be
a little bit uncomfortable. It might be
a lot uncomfortable. If it becomes too much, just say the word stop,
and we will stop. Okay. I’m just gonna pull out the first chapter
ofPride and Prejudiceby Jane Austen and I’ll just
start reading, and you guys will start
stimulating my Broca’s Area. “‘My dear Mr. Bennet,’
said his lady to him one day, “‘Have you heard that
Netherfield Park -“‘is let at last?’
-[clicking] “Mr. Bennet replied
that he had not. “‘But it is,’
returned she, “‘for Mrs. Long
has just been here “‘and she told me
all about it.” “Mr. Bennet made no answer. “‘Do you not want to know
who has taken it?’ “cried his wife impatiently. “‘You want to tell me and I have
no objection to hearing it.’ This was invitation enough.”We tried a couple of times,but my Broca’s Area seemed
to be playing hard to get.
So we repositioned
the machine.
New trajectory. Enter. Okay, great. “‘You and the girls may go, ‘or you may send them
by themselves, ‘which perhaps
will be better still, ‘for as you are as handsome
as any of them, ‘Mr. Bingley may like you
the best of the party. ‘When a woman
has five grown-up…'”After several more attempts,we were still unsuccessful
at finding my Broca’s Area
and disrupting my speech.“…married, its solace
was visiting and news.” I beat it. Yeah, no. You cannot stop her from being heard.While neuromapping
allows us to locate
the many different areas
of the brain,
the brain is one of the most
complex organs in our body
and not all brains respond
to TMS in the same way.
TMS didn’t work on me
this time,
but different test subjects
produce different results.
Is find out what….
[indistinct] Okay, that’s probably good
for now. [Michael]TMS is currently
being evaluated
to treat depressionand certain types
of brain damage.
One day, it may even be usedto reduce the effects
of traumatic brain injury.
[upbeat music playing] [Michael]I traveled to London
to meet someone
who was using
his divergent mind
in an extraordinary way.Derek, it’s Michael. -Oh, hello, Michael.
-Nice to meet you. I’m Derek. How are you? Would you like
to come in, Michael? I’m fantastic.
I would love to come in. Yes. It’s an honor.I wanted to find out what Derek
could teach us about all brains.
So Derek, I’m doing a show
calledMind Fieldabout psychology. Do you know psychology? I do know psychology. Your brain
is different than mine. Would you agree? I would agree, Michael. -It’s different
than my brain, yes.
-Yes.It became evident
very quickly
that this was going to be
an atypical interview.
I’m sure you hear
all the time about how spectacular
your abilities are. Were you told that
even at a young age when you first started
to interact with a piano? I was told at a young age when I first started
to interact with a piano… [Michael]Derek has echolalia,a condition which causes him
to repeat back words
spoken to him.It’s his way
of trying to understand
the spoken word.You can learn music
just by listening to it. I can learn music
by listening to it, Michael. [Michael]
But while Derek may find
spoken language challenging,he has no problem communicating
through music.
[playing jazz]There are about seven million
autistic savants worldwide
with some level
of savant skills,
but Derek is what’s known
as a prodigious savant…
which means that his musical
skills are so outstanding
that they would be
considered spectacular
even for highly trained
neurotypical musicians.
There are probably fewer than
a hundred prodigious savants
in the whole world.[Alan]Derek Paravicini
has a musicality
that I think any performer
would envy.
What sort of music
do you really love, Derek? Uh, maybe
pop music or… -Okay.
-Jazz, Derek? A bit of jazz, yeah. [Michael]
Since he was five years old,
Derek has been mentored
by Adam Ockelford.
Through the door.
Well done, Derek.[Michael]
Adam is a music psychologist,
author, and professorat the University
of Roehampton.
That’s your right hand,
now do your left hand. Go on.Derek was born very premature.Twenty-six weeks,which thirty-eight
years ago was very,
very premature. And they didn’t
have any equipment in the hospital for him. So they rushed him
into the nearest hospitalthat had an incubator,
and Derek
wasn’t thought able
to survive, and yet he did.
He’s such a fighter.Because of the circumstances
of his birth and the impact of blindness
and learning difficulties, his brain developed
in a particular kind of way.As a little boy, he was
very fascinated by sound,
not being able to see.And his nanny gave him
this little electric organ
and that was like
a eureka moment for him
and the beginnings
of his music processing ability. So things like language,
things like perhaps understanding
how people feel, these things are very
difficult for Derek. And yet his music
is way above average. Derek’s got
an amazingly quick ear, haven’t you, Derek? -I have, yes.
-If I go like… or… or… He can process
an amazing… -[Michael] It’s like automatic.
-Yeah. [Michael]
That’s impressive, Derek. Thank you, Michael. Yeah, no, the response
to pitch that you make, Derek, is incredibly fast. We’ve measured the time
between playing even a big chord,
say like this one. And Derek can listen and react to an eight-note chord
within about 0.4 of a second. -Wow.
-Derek’s sense of pitch
is very unusual. -It’s also known as perfect.
-It is. It is perfect.Something like 40% of babiesborn premature
who lose their sight
have perfect pitch
as opposed to
about one in ten thousand
in the neurotypical population.
So you can see thatthe impact of not being
able to see
has a massive effect on
the way the brain develops. And how does autism
play into this? Well, autism
is an added factor.Autism starts at very early
in life, we know that.
And in Derek’s case,
of course,
when he came out
of the incubator.
And what autism tends
to do is to give childrenthis immense focus
on the sheer quality of things,
whether it’s a sound or a–or a color or a scent.That’s the quality
that we all have as babies,
that we experience the world
in this sheer perception.
Now most babies very quickly
come out of that by 12, 18 months. They’re starting
to categorize things just to make sense of the amount
of information that’s coming in. So you’re born,
and your body is, like, consuming all
of this sense data raw. -Yeah.
-[Michael] And then
it learns that’s crazy.We don’t need to process
every little detail.
We only need to understand
what’s important
or relevant,
and that’s enough.
[Adam]It’s called
categorical perception,
and that is a much more
efficient way
of processing information,
and of course that’s why
the brain does it.But autistic children,
they hang on to those
absolute qualities
for longer.
For people like Derek,
and since he’s not only
got those fantastically
vivid absolute memories, he’s also learned
the rules of music but it’s built on this–
on this foundation of perceptual vividness that
we can only grasp at. [Michael]While most people
would find it impossible
to identify all
of the individual notes
in a 10- or 20-note chord,Derek is able to do
this with ease,
which means
he can decipher more notes
than he can play at once
with two hands.
So we could do that.
If I… Actually, I have–
I have hands. -We could combine.
-Yes, yes, yeah. So– right, so if you play those
two notes with that hand. -[Michael] Yup.
-And those two with that hand. And we’ll count for it, okay?
One, two, three, four. -There you are.
-[Michael] What was
all the fiddling? [Adam] Well, the fiddling
was to make it– because he couldn’t reach them
all at the same time. -[Michael] Right.
-[Adam] So his–
he was splitting them up. [Michael] He’s just playing–
but they were all– they were all in there.
He just couldn’t all play
them at once.But as amazing
as his musical ear is,
Derek’s cognitive abilities
are less than rudimentary.
[Adam] Derek, should we do
some more chords? [Derek] We’ll do some
more chords, Adam. -So can you play this for me?
-[Derek] Yes, Adam. Ready? Good. And do you know how many
notes there are, Derek? -[Derek] I’m not sure.
-[Adam] Have a guess. How many do you think? -Is it one?
-[Adam] Yeah,
a bit more than one. -So there’s one.
-One, two, three, four, five, six. -[Adam]
Six, weren’t there? Right.
-[Derek] There’s six, Adam. [Adam] Good.
Now try this one then, Derek. Ready and… [Derek] Is it one note, Adam? [Adam] No, there are five.
One, two, three, four, five. [Derek]
One, two, three, four, five. It is one, two, three,
four, five, Adam. [Michael]Tell me more
about how limited
Derek’s everyday abilities are. Derek finds
almost everything that you or I do without
thinking really difficult.So self-care,
things like getting dressed,
getting washed in the morning
are tricky for him.
So all those things
that we take for granted,
he finds really difficult.-[Cynthia] Derek?
-[Derek] Yes? [Cynthia] We’ll have
to clean your mouth. [Derek] Could you clean
my mouth now, Cynthia? [Cynthia] Yes.
Can you come to the sink? [Derek] I can come
to the sink.[Adam] And in fact,
38 years on, we’re saying
“Well, does it really
matter if Derek “can’t put his socks
on himself? You know,
there are other things in life.” And– and yet when
he touches the piano, everything’s reversed. So things that we would find
inconceivably difficult, Derek does it as easy
as breathing. And if you ask him,
“Derek, how’d you do that?” he has no idea, any more than you
or I understand how we breathe
or how we speak or… -Yeah.
-It’s purely intuitive. [playing ragtime] [Michael]In addition
to entertaining people
with his remarkable abilities,Derek offers valuable insightto scientists
who study the mind.
What do you think Derek
is helping us learn about this thing
in our head? I think what
Derek’s example tells us is the almost infinite
capacity of the human brain to not only survive but thrive in incredibly
difficult circumstances. And Derek’s potential really was no different
from anyone else’s. There’s no one in his family
who were particularly musical. So in a sense, you could say
that we all have Derek’s potential
when we’re born. But fortunately, of course,
we don’t have his disadvantages and what gave Derek
his massive advantage is at the cost
of his disadvantages. [upbeat music playing] Autism still
isn’t well understood.One of the many theories
for the cause
of autistic people’s heightened
sensory awareness
is that it’s at least partially
due to an abnormality
in the brain’s left hemisphere,permitting a vast amount
of sensory details
to enter
the brain’s awareness.
Neurotypical brains may receive
all the same sensory details
but block them from awareness.In fact, some psychologists
have even proposed that all of us
have savant skills lying dormant in our brains. And they may be on to something, because in extraordinarily
rare cases, people can actually acquire
savant skills. A very small number of people
have what is called Acquired Savant Syndrome. These are people who suffered
some sort of brain damage as adults and their brain damage actually unlocked skills
and abilities that weren’t there before.Jason Padgett
is one such acquired savant.
After a brain injury
left him with damage
to his visual cortex,Jason started seeing precise
geometric patterns
in everything around him,which led to an intuitive
perception of math
and physics
that he never had before.
How did you get
a brain injury? So I was at a karaoke bar,
and as we left, these two guys
that were in there singing attacked me from behind. They smashed me
in the back of the head. Well, I just heard
this deep thud, saw a little
puff of white light, which I later found out
was my brain bouncing on the inside
of my skull. I didn’t know where I was,
how I got there, why I was being attacked. [Michael] So now you
have Akinetopsia, meaning you see
the world now in frames. -What does that mean?
-In discreet picture frames. When I say discreetly,
I mean seeing one picture and another picture.
So imagine like anybodywatching TV right now,
they can hit pause
and pause again and see
the picture frame
by frame by frame.It’s just like that,
but in real time.
It also makes everything look
slightly pixelated. So boundaries of objects
don’t look curved like smooth curves anymore. They look like
they have these tiny little straight line edges. Are you seeing me
that way right now? Yes. So like,
if you’re not moving, it’s more like a picture
on a picture on a picture, so it’s not nearly
as profound, but when something moves
like this, then it’s much more profound. So after the injury, you have all these
perceptual changes. What makes you decide
that you need
to start drawing? So at the time,
I had no way to describe what I was seeing
in any terms except for to draw it.I started trying
to define things
with triangles
and straight lines.
Geometry is– to me
is the one thing everything has, even nothing.
Empty space is geometry. It just seemed obvious. I mean, the universe
is math for me.[Michael] Are these
thoughts that you would’ve
had before the injury?
No, not at all.
Never even contemplated this type of stuff and now
I can’t stop thinking about it and I wound up going
to the mall. So I’m sitting there
eating this sandwich and I’m drawing,
and this guy next to me, he says he’s a physicist.
And he goes, “It looks like you’re doing
some sort of math there.” And I started telling him,
you know, my ideas. And he says “It sounds to me
like you’re trying to describe space, time, and limits.” And things that
I didn’t understand
what he was talking about. He goes, “But you’re doing it
in layman terms “and I’ve never heard anybody
try to do that before.” It turns out
it was integrals. What I was doing
was integrals and calculus. You’re now pursuing
an education in math? -[Jason] Yes.
-So would you say that you’re still the same person who existed
before the injury, or did you become
a different individual? I feel like I’ve
had two different lives. Before the injury, I didn’t have
any background in math. I didn’t even have algebra. I didn’t even know
that you could graph a line.All I did was party
and chase girls.
It was a very shallow,
you know,
almost blissfully
ignorant life.
Do you think
that these abilities were always in your brain and got somehow
unlocked by the injury, or did the injury
give you something new? I 100% believe that
we all have this in us. You know, people think
that I got hit in the head and just magically
got good at mathbut a lot of it
is your brain gets damaged
and you’re forced to see
the world differently,
and by seeing the world
differently, it makes you think
differently. [Michael]We can learn
so much from divergent minds,
whether it would be someone
like Jason
who developed
his divergent mind
from an accident
as an adult…
Hello, Ashleigh. [Ashleigh] Hello, Derek. [Derek] How are you? [Michael]
…or someone like Derek,
whose divergence camefrom complications
at birth.
[Adam]One of Derek’s
great strengths is working
with other disabled people
and disabled children.They love him.Beautiful, Ashleigh.
Well done.Derek is a hero,particularly amongst
the learning disabled.For anyone with severe
learning difficulties,
to have a public life,to travel
all over the world,
to meet hundreds of people,to have acclaim
from millions of people
on the internet is–he’s unique
in that perspective. He’s a trailblazer,
but we should never forget that he’s part of a population
that’s much bigger and tends to be hidden away
from society. [upbeat music playing] Derek raises
important questions about the diversity of minds. Autistic minds
like all divergent minds are not alien;
they’re human minds and they provide windows
into how we all think, feel, and behave. A complete brain science
should be able to account for all kinds
of minds and brains. As long as some minds
remain a mystery, so too will all minds. And as always,
thanks for watching. [theme music playing] [Adam] Improv!
Here we go. [theme music playing] [humming]