NASA to study Rain Man's mind
From The Scotsman:
NASA to study 'Rain Man' to explain why he is becoming cleverer
THE man whose autistic brilliance inspired the film Rain Man is to undergo scientific tests using space-exploration technology to investigate suspicions he is getting yet cleverer.
Researchers at the US space agency NASA said yesterday they hope technology designed to study the effects of space travel will explain the astounding mental capacity of Kim Peek. Mr Peek, an autistic savant, has agreed to undergo a series of tests that may unlock the secrets of his condition.
His life story was the basis for Rain Man, the 1988 film that won Dustin Hoffman an Academy Award for his role Raymond Babbitt, the character based on Mr Peek.
The team, at Salt Lake City, Utah, will use technology including computerised tomography and magnetic resonance imaging.
The results from these tests will create a three-dimensional picture of Mr Peek's brain structure.
The researchers want to compare a series of MRI images taken in 1988 by Dr Dan Christensen, Mr Peek's neuropsychiatrist at the University of Utah, to see what has since changed within his brain.
Mr Peek, 53, is called a "mega-savant" because he is a genius in about 15 subjects, from history and literature to numbers, sports, music and dates.
Not only are Mr Peek's brain and his abilities unique, according to Richard Boyle, the director of the centre performing the scans, but all evidence points to the fact that he is getting cleverer in his speciality areas.
However, he is severely limited in other ways. Simple tasks such as finding the cutlery drawer at home can bewilder him, and he has difficulties dressing himself.
Mr Peek's father, Fran, said yesterday: "The goal is to measure what happens in Kim's brain when he expresses things and when he thinks about them."
When Kim Peek was born, doctors found a water blister on the right side of his skull. Later tests showed his brain hemispheres were not separated as is usual but formed a single, large "data storage" area.
According to his father, this physiological condition is thought likely to be the reason why Mr Peek has been able to memorise more than 9,000 books. But he has lagged in other areas and his motor skills have developed more slowly than those of his peers.
Mr Peek spends afternoons at the Salt Lake City Public Library poring over books, even memorising telephone directories.