Stocks and News
Home | Week in Review Process | Terms of Use | About UsContact Us
   Articles Go Fund Me All-Species List Hot Spots Go Fund Me
Week in Review   |  Bar Chat    |  Hot Spots    |   Dr. Bortrum    |   Wall St. History
Stock and News: Hot Spots
  Search Our Archives: 
 

 

Dr. Bortrum

 

AddThis Feed Button

http://www.gofundme.com/s3h2w8

 

   

10/10/2002

Damaged but Wonderful Brains

Lang Lang - if you ever see that name on a concert bill and can
get a ticket, do so immediately! Last week the first of our Friday
afternoon series of New York Philharmonic concerts featured
Rachmaninoff''s Second Piano Concerto with Lang Lang at the
piano. Lang Lang was born in Shen Yang, China only 20 years
ago. This young man gave a performance that can only be
described as awesome, brilliant, dramatic, touching, magnificent.
There aren''t enough adjectives to do him justice. I''ve never seen
an audience respond so enthusiastically, rising as one to
cheer his performance. Lang Lang started piano lessons at three
and by age five he already was starting to win awards. More
recently, he was the first recipient of the Leonard Bernstein
Award for distinguished musical talent.

Lorin Maazel, the conductor and the Philharmonic''s new music
director, is no slouch either. His sense of perfect pitch and a
photographic memory were apparent when he was four. When
he was only seven, he conducted the NBC Symphony at the
behest of none other than Toscanini! I was surprised to read in
the program notes that he, my wife-to-be and I all attended the
University of Pittsburgh in the 1946-1950 period and that he
played violin in the Pittsburgh Symphony. My wife was an
usher and I had season tickets, so we must have seen him
perform there over 50 years ago. He later became music director
of the Pittsburgh, as well as several other major orchestras of the
world. With Maazel at the helm of the Philharmonic, the loss of
Kurt Masur is a bit easier to take.

As gifted as these two musicians are, their accomplishments pale
when compared to those of Leslie Lemke. You may have seen
him, as I did, on a 1983 "60 Minutes" segment with Morley
Safer. An article in the June issue of Scientific American,
followed by a visit to the Wisconsin Medical Society Web site,
refreshed my memory of this program. The article is titled
"Islands of Genius", by Darold Treffert and Gregory Wallace. It
seems that Dustin Hoffman also was watching "60 Minutes" that
night and was moved to tears by Lemke. Last week, I also saw
Hoffman being interviewed on TV. He was discussing his
Academy Award-winning role in the movie "Rain Man". Dr.
Treffert, a psychiatrist at the St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac,
Wisconsin, was a consultant for that movie.

What was about Lemke that so moved Hoffman? Who could not
be moved? Lemke started life unwanted, given up for adoption
at birth in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Complications due to his
premature delivery mandated surgery for removal of his eyes just
a few months after birth. Not only was he blind and gravely ill
but he was also brain damaged. Entrusted to the care of a nurse-
governess named May Lemke, who was 52 and already had
raised 5 children, Leslie couldn''t have found a better home. He
loved music and May would put his fingers over hers as she
played the piano. Leslie learned to sing and play the songs that
May sang to him. He also picked up pop songs listening to the
radio. You might not think this too remarkable for a blind
person; witness Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. But could they
repeat verbatim a whole day''s conversations with everyone with
whom they spoke that day? Leslie had a prodigious memory.

Fast forward to Leslie at 14. With no exposure to classical
music, he happened to hear a Tchaikovsky piano concerto, the
theme song of a TV movie. May found him playing the concerto
from beginning to end after hearing the piece just once! It turned
out he could play anything he heard, just once, and play it
flawlessly - without a music lesson in his life! May Lemke
thought this "God''s gift" should be shared and she had Leslie
give concerts at county fairs and the like. In 1980, he gave a
concert in Fond du Lac and a local TV station made tapes, which
were played for Dr. Treffert. Did I mention that Leslie was not
only blind and mentally disabled, with a verbal IQ of only 58,
but also had cerebral palsy?

Treffert identified Leslie as having savant syndrome, which
Treffert terms as islands of genius in an otherwise severely
handicapped individual. A reporter latched onto the story and
soon Lemke appeared on Oprah, Donahue, Walter Cronkite''s
evening news and "60 Minutes". After watching the latter show
Hoffman thought to himself that he really wanted to play a
savant. His chance came when he was offered a role in "Rain
Man". Actually, he was slated for Tom Cruise''s role of the
brother but Hoffman insisted on the Raymond Babbitt role as an
autistic savant.

Treffert gives high marks to the movie for its realistic treatment
of the autistic savant and to Hoffman for the time and effort he
spent researching and interacting with savants. I was struck by
two of Hoffman''s remarks on the TV interview last week. One
was to the effect that savants don''t have a filter. That is, they
take in this huge amount of information, store it undigested in
their memory and don''t forget it. Hence, their prodigious feats of
memory, a characteristic of all savants. Typically, however, they
don''t comprehend or interpret the ideas and meaning behind what
they memorize.

Hoffman also gave another example of the difference between a
normal individual and one of the savants who served as a model
for Hoffman''s character. Suppose we are tallying votes by
making strokes on a blackboard. If we look at 1, 2, 3, or 4
strokes we don''t have to count them but recognize immediately
that there are 1, 2, 3 or 4 strokes. At some point though, say 9 or
so strokes, we have to count out the number of strokes. Hoffman
said that the savant would not have to count out even a hundred
strokes (actually, I think he said two hundred) but would know
the number immediately!

In case you''re not familiar with the movie or with savant
syndrome, consider Kim Peek, the initial role model for
Raymond Babbitt. Peek is not autistic, as about half of savants
are, but as the script for the movie was developed, it was decided
to make the Babbitt character both autistic and a savant. Peek
has read and memorized some 7,600 books. Even before he was
two years old, he would memorize every book read to him - just
once! Having memorized it, he didn''t want the book read to him
again, unlike the children or grandchildren I''ve known. He
would turn the book upside down and, 50 years later, still puts a
finished book upside down on the shelf. Why read something
you know by heart?

Savants may have the ability to quickly multiply, divide, even
get square roots of very long numbers in their head. Peek likes
to add up the numbers in a phone book. Another savant trait is
the calendar syndrome. The calendar savant can tell you the day
of your birth if you tell him the date, what day of the week it will
be when you reach 65 or how many seconds you''ve lived. All
this within about a minute or less. One blind savant even set her
internal clock by listening to "the time lady" on the telephone.
Later, she could tell you the correct time to the second without
ever having had access to a watch!

I''ve written about savants before. So what''s new? Research
continues to support the prevailing view that damage to the left
brain is a key factor. The right brain is more associated with
what is known as "habit" memory, while the left brain is more
associated with logical thinking and language development. The
savant''s memory is great but there''s not much thinking going on.
A savant might be able to memorize a whole book backwards
and forwards but without any comprehension of the meaning of
the book. The fact that some normal people have suddenly
become savants after left brain damage has reinforced the belief
that left brain damage is key. Brain scans of various sorts of the
blood flow in the brains of savants are also showing signs of
decreased blood flow in the left brain.

Experiments are now going on that might make me a bit hesitant
if I were a subject. Researchers in Australia took 17 volunteers
and applied some sort of magnetic stimulation to certain areas of
the left brain. The idea was to mimic damage to the left brain
and see whether some savant characteristics emerge. Just two
individuals showed temporary savant-like powers such as
calendar calculating while others in the group showed other new
skills that lasted a few hours. Such experiments might shed
some light on the answer to the question of whether a normal
individual can develop the savant''s ability to access the depths of
his or her memory but still retain the ability to reason and use
that information.

Lemke, incidentally, has now given concerts all over the world,
composes his own music and plays with a degree of energy and
enthusiasm not generally shown by savants, who typically tend
to be more mechanical in their playing. With his music, he has
become more outgoing and Treffert says he even has shown
signs of an emerging sense of humor. The number of known
"prodigious savants" like Lemke has been less than 100 in the
past century.

Even though Lang Lang and Maazel are not savants, I marvel
that they both pulled off the Rachmaninoff concerto without
music. Maazel must still have his photographic memory - he
also needed no music to conduct Night on Bald Mountain and
Sibelius'' Second Symphony. I''ve had piano lessons and I can''t
even memorize Chopsticks!

Allen F. Bortrum



AddThis Feed Button

 

-10/10/2002-      
Web Epoch NJ Web Design  |  (c) Copyright 2016 StocksandNews.com, LLC.

Dr. Bortrum

10/10/2002

Damaged but Wonderful Brains

Lang Lang - if you ever see that name on a concert bill and can
get a ticket, do so immediately! Last week the first of our Friday
afternoon series of New York Philharmonic concerts featured
Rachmaninoff''s Second Piano Concerto with Lang Lang at the
piano. Lang Lang was born in Shen Yang, China only 20 years
ago. This young man gave a performance that can only be
described as awesome, brilliant, dramatic, touching, magnificent.
There aren''t enough adjectives to do him justice. I''ve never seen
an audience respond so enthusiastically, rising as one to
cheer his performance. Lang Lang started piano lessons at three
and by age five he already was starting to win awards. More
recently, he was the first recipient of the Leonard Bernstein
Award for distinguished musical talent.

Lorin Maazel, the conductor and the Philharmonic''s new music
director, is no slouch either. His sense of perfect pitch and a
photographic memory were apparent when he was four. When
he was only seven, he conducted the NBC Symphony at the
behest of none other than Toscanini! I was surprised to read in
the program notes that he, my wife-to-be and I all attended the
University of Pittsburgh in the 1946-1950 period and that he
played violin in the Pittsburgh Symphony. My wife was an
usher and I had season tickets, so we must have seen him
perform there over 50 years ago. He later became music director
of the Pittsburgh, as well as several other major orchestras of the
world. With Maazel at the helm of the Philharmonic, the loss of
Kurt Masur is a bit easier to take.

As gifted as these two musicians are, their accomplishments pale
when compared to those of Leslie Lemke. You may have seen
him, as I did, on a 1983 "60 Minutes" segment with Morley
Safer. An article in the June issue of Scientific American,
followed by a visit to the Wisconsin Medical Society Web site,
refreshed my memory of this program. The article is titled
"Islands of Genius", by Darold Treffert and Gregory Wallace. It
seems that Dustin Hoffman also was watching "60 Minutes" that
night and was moved to tears by Lemke. Last week, I also saw
Hoffman being interviewed on TV. He was discussing his
Academy Award-winning role in the movie "Rain Man". Dr.
Treffert, a psychiatrist at the St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac,
Wisconsin, was a consultant for that movie.

What was about Lemke that so moved Hoffman? Who could not
be moved? Lemke started life unwanted, given up for adoption
at birth in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Complications due to his
premature delivery mandated surgery for removal of his eyes just
a few months after birth. Not only was he blind and gravely ill
but he was also brain damaged. Entrusted to the care of a nurse-
governess named May Lemke, who was 52 and already had
raised 5 children, Leslie couldn''t have found a better home. He
loved music and May would put his fingers over hers as she
played the piano. Leslie learned to sing and play the songs that
May sang to him. He also picked up pop songs listening to the
radio. You might not think this too remarkable for a blind
person; witness Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. But could they
repeat verbatim a whole day''s conversations with everyone with
whom they spoke that day? Leslie had a prodigious memory.

Fast forward to Leslie at 14. With no exposure to classical
music, he happened to hear a Tchaikovsky piano concerto, the
theme song of a TV movie. May found him playing the concerto
from beginning to end after hearing the piece just once! It turned
out he could play anything he heard, just once, and play it
flawlessly - without a music lesson in his life! May Lemke
thought this "God''s gift" should be shared and she had Leslie
give concerts at county fairs and the like. In 1980, he gave a
concert in Fond du Lac and a local TV station made tapes, which
were played for Dr. Treffert. Did I mention that Leslie was not
only blind and mentally disabled, with a verbal IQ of only 58,
but also had cerebral palsy?

Treffert identified Leslie as having savant syndrome, which
Treffert terms as islands of genius in an otherwise severely
handicapped individual. A reporter latched onto the story and
soon Lemke appeared on Oprah, Donahue, Walter Cronkite''s
evening news and "60 Minutes". After watching the latter show
Hoffman thought to himself that he really wanted to play a
savant. His chance came when he was offered a role in "Rain
Man". Actually, he was slated for Tom Cruise''s role of the
brother but Hoffman insisted on the Raymond Babbitt role as an
autistic savant.

Treffert gives high marks to the movie for its realistic treatment
of the autistic savant and to Hoffman for the time and effort he
spent researching and interacting with savants. I was struck by
two of Hoffman''s remarks on the TV interview last week. One
was to the effect that savants don''t have a filter. That is, they
take in this huge amount of information, store it undigested in
their memory and don''t forget it. Hence, their prodigious feats of
memory, a characteristic of all savants. Typically, however, they
don''t comprehend or interpret the ideas and meaning behind what
they memorize.

Hoffman also gave another example of the difference between a
normal individual and one of the savants who served as a model
for Hoffman''s character. Suppose we are tallying votes by
making strokes on a blackboard. If we look at 1, 2, 3, or 4
strokes we don''t have to count them but recognize immediately
that there are 1, 2, 3 or 4 strokes. At some point though, say 9 or
so strokes, we have to count out the number of strokes. Hoffman
said that the savant would not have to count out even a hundred
strokes (actually, I think he said two hundred) but would know
the number immediately!

In case you''re not familiar with the movie or with savant
syndrome, consider Kim Peek, the initial role model for
Raymond Babbitt. Peek is not autistic, as about half of savants
are, but as the script for the movie was developed, it was decided
to make the Babbitt character both autistic and a savant. Peek
has read and memorized some 7,600 books. Even before he was
two years old, he would memorize every book read to him - just
once! Having memorized it, he didn''t want the book read to him
again, unlike the children or grandchildren I''ve known. He
would turn the book upside down and, 50 years later, still puts a
finished book upside down on the shelf. Why read something
you know by heart?

Savants may have the ability to quickly multiply, divide, even
get square roots of very long numbers in their head. Peek likes
to add up the numbers in a phone book. Another savant trait is
the calendar syndrome. The calendar savant can tell you the day
of your birth if you tell him the date, what day of the week it will
be when you reach 65 or how many seconds you''ve lived. All
this within about a minute or less. One blind savant even set her
internal clock by listening to "the time lady" on the telephone.
Later, she could tell you the correct time to the second without
ever having had access to a watch!

I''ve written about savants before. So what''s new? Research
continues to support the prevailing view that damage to the left
brain is a key factor. The right brain is more associated with
what is known as "habit" memory, while the left brain is more
associated with logical thinking and language development. The
savant''s memory is great but there''s not much thinking going on.
A savant might be able to memorize a whole book backwards
and forwards but without any comprehension of the meaning of
the book. The fact that some normal people have suddenly
become savants after left brain damage has reinforced the belief
that left brain damage is key. Brain scans of various sorts of the
blood flow in the brains of savants are also showing signs of
decreased blood flow in the left brain.

Experiments are now going on that might make me a bit hesitant
if I were a subject. Researchers in Australia took 17 volunteers
and applied some sort of magnetic stimulation to certain areas of
the left brain. The idea was to mimic damage to the left brain
and see whether some savant characteristics emerge. Just two
individuals showed temporary savant-like powers such as
calendar calculating while others in the group showed other new
skills that lasted a few hours. Such experiments might shed
some light on the answer to the question of whether a normal
individual can develop the savant''s ability to access the depths of
his or her memory but still retain the ability to reason and use
that information.

Lemke, incidentally, has now given concerts all over the world,
composes his own music and plays with a degree of energy and
enthusiasm not generally shown by savants, who typically tend
to be more mechanical in their playing. With his music, he has
become more outgoing and Treffert says he even has shown
signs of an emerging sense of humor. The number of known
"prodigious savants" like Lemke has been less than 100 in the
past century.

Even though Lang Lang and Maazel are not savants, I marvel
that they both pulled off the Rachmaninoff concerto without
music. Maazel must still have his photographic memory - he
also needed no music to conduct Night on Bald Mountain and
Sibelius'' Second Symphony. I''ve had piano lessons and I can''t
even memorize Chopsticks!

Allen F. Bortrum