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Pure Genius
Kirt's Cogitations™ #205

Pure Genius

A well-known hallmark of the majority of people who fall into the "genius" category is the possession of an incredibly good, usually photographic (eidetic), memory. Chess master Bobby Fischer, for instance, is said to have thousands of chess board configurations memorized. Mathematician John von Neumann supposedly had total recall. Add Sir Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla, and painter Claude Monet to the list. Such a propensity for instantaneous recall of data is the envy of most. There was even a short-lived television show a few years ago about a guy that seemed to know everything (I cannot remember the name of it, but then I am no genius).

Not all people with a remarkable aptitude for recalling information are as well-known. Take Mr. Kim Peek, for example. Kim knows all the zip codes in the U.S., along with all the television station call signs servicing those areas. He can provide detailed driving directions between any two major cities ala Yahoo Maps. He can also identify and discuss in depth the details of hundreds of classical musical compositions, and can play many of them on the piano – without the sheet music of course.

Kim’s varied interests allow him to demonstrate the capacity to memorize quite a large variety of topics. His love for reading has resulted in the memorization of more than 9,000 books, ranging in topics from Shakespearean plays to The Hunt for Red October (2" thick). If you think you have a pretty good command of sports statistics watch out, Kim will put you to shame. The same goes for movies, the space program, geography, the Bible, and American history, to name just a few. Need to know the day of the week your birthday falls on? Ask Kim. If you are playing Trivial Pursuit, you definitely want him on your team.

Kim has even grabbed the attention of Hollywood screenwriters and producers, and has indeed has an entire movie made about him. Jealous? Don’t be. Kim has the distinction of having been the motivation behind Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 1984 film, "Rain Man."

Alas, the man referred to affectionately as "Kim-puter" is no genius. Kim is what is termed a savant (better-off than the more severe form, idiot savant, where its victim can barely function). MRI scans show that his brain is missing the corpus callosum, a large mass of nerve tissue that normally connects the two sides of the brain. Kim walks with a crooked gait and cannot even button his shirt by himself. Eating can be a challenge, as can be most everyday chores. Researchers have theories to attempt to explain his prodigious memory and instant recall ability, but no one really knows the cause. Fortunately for Kim, possibly because of the huge amount of attention he has commanded in his 55 years, he has progressed greatly to where he can meaningfully engage audiences in conversation and displays a keen sense of humor.

So, while I would certainly like to have a memory like Kim’s, all things considered, I am satisfied with having to look up most things I need to know on the Web, but being able to faithfully remember my wife’s and kids’ birthdays and knowing how to tie my shoes. With both of my kids in or graduated from college, it will not be for too much longer that I will be able to use the familiar parental admonishment, "I have forgotten more than you have even learned in you life so far."
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