Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Christmas, Gifts, and the Gifted.

I was originally going to post some photos from a recent celebration the School of Psychology had, but I stumbled upon an article that I thought was far more interesting. Nature’s website reports that Kim Peek passed away yesterday, 23 December, 2009. Kim had some amazing abilities, like being able to read two pages of a book at once - the left page with his left eye and the right page with his right eye.

Not only could Kim read two pages at once, but he could do it in about 10 seconds, and could read even if the book was upside down. As if that’s not enough, Kim retained about 98% of the information he read, and could recall any bit of information from any of the 9000 books that he had ever read!

Brain scans performed in the 1980’s showed that Kim was missing a corpus collosum - the membrane that connects the two halves of the brain. (If you’re interested in pictures of the brain scan, check out this article.)

These skills didn’t necessarily make Kim’s life easier. In fact, Kim was quite disabled and, when he was only a few years old, his parents were encouraged (but didn’t) admit him to a mental hospital and forget he existed. His motor and social skills were poor, and his father had to care for him 24 hours a day.

In the movie Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman played a character based on Kim Peek. Not only did the writer win an Oscar for this movie which he later gave to Kim, but the movie seemed to help Kim’s social skills. Kim himself said that he couldn’t look people in the eye until he met Dustin Hoffman.

Below, I have embedded part one of a five part documentary on Kim Peek that I encourage everyone to watch. As inspiring as Kim’s abilities were, to me Kim’s father, Fran, is also hugely inspiring. Fran showed amazing patience with his son, and his love and care for Kim is obvious in the documentary.

At the risk of finishing on a sad note, Fran’s Christmas will likely be a lonely one this year. But thanks to Fran’s love and constant nurturing of his son, the world got to meet Kim Peek and witness some of the brain’s amazing abilities. Thank you Fran for sharing your and Kim’s lives with the world - it was truly a gift.

Regardless of whether or not you celebrate Christmas, everyone from the UQ Psyc Blog would like to wish our readers a fun, relaxing and safe break!

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