After 20 years of research and writing, my book, In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses (2015) Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, is available from the publisher in a very well-made paperback edition. Initially a #1 Hot New Release in Neuropsychology and Poetry/Literary Criticism on, it can also be acquired on Amazon in most countries, either in print, a Kindle edition, or both. If you are interested in consciousness, creativity, poetry, psychology, and/or the paranormal, I think you will find it an illuminating read. You can read the first chapter for free on Amazon!

A Day in the Life of a Right-Hemisphere Researcher

Yesterday, I started out composing an email to the PsyArt listserv about the intergenerational transmission of childhood trauma via epigenetic (gene/environment) interactions as well as new linguistic research that upends our notions about language functions contained in the classic areas of the frontal and temporal lobes of the left hemisphere, called Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas respectively. provided fodder with Douglas Eby's posting, "Brain Differences and Creativity." 

From here, I started researching savant syndrome and read a long article about extremely unusual savants with incredible powers of mind, including Kim Peek, the real “Rain Man,” whom Dustin Hoffman brought to life so convincingly in the film.

In Coast-to-Coast's late-night radio interview, philosopher Stephen F. Braude was talking in learned terms about mediumistic contact with the dead: is it just telepathy with the living or do verifiable "drop ins" intrude sometimes, hoping to clear up mysteries about their deaths?

All of the above came together with my ongoing research into the special abilities of the right hemisphere, once erroneously known as "the silent" hemisphere.

Let's summarize these findings:

Childhood trauma, whether in utero, at birth, or in the early years of life, physically changes the brain. We’ve long known that child abuse is intergenerational: a traumatized child can become a traumatizing adult. What I didn’t know is that brain changes can alter genes that can then be transmitted to the next generation. Both nature (genes) and nurture (parental care, especially in the first two years) play important roles. Dr. Allan Schore has been my guiding light on attachment theory. He is a rare neuropsychologist who takes the time to answer emails and sends articles, book chapters, and suggested readings to further my understanding.

Volume changes in the left hemisphere make an abused child’s brain resemble the brain of a schizophrenic. The compromised sense of self on the right will lead to dissociative tendencies when under stress and a predisposition to mental disorders, while the left-hemispheric damage provides enhanced right specialties, including creativity and the arts.

Kim Peek had no corpus callosum. The fibers that usually connect the two hemispheres were missing. This bizarre aberration made him autistic, but with incredible powers of mind. He could read two pages of a book at once, one with the left eye and the other with the right in 8-10 seconds (Hewett, 2010). He could also read a book upside down or sideways. He had the incredible facility with numbers that we saw in Rain Man. Jake Barnett is a more recent autistic math genius:

Christopher Taylor can also read upside down or sideways and is a hyperpolyglot. Although he lives in an institution for the mentally challenged, he has learned 20 languages from reading books and newspapers, as well as from real life experiences.

Daniel Tammet, a British high-functioning autistic savant, also suffered epilepsy as a child. In the aftermath of his seizures, he developed an incredible talent for calculating math and learning foreign languages. He uses his synesthetic ability to visualize individual numbers, say, 52 or 108, with a distinct form and color arising spontaneously in his brain and is emotionally connected to them. He can calculate π in his head past the range of a calculator. while visualizing his beautiful numbers.  He speaks 11 languages and has invented a language based on Finnish and Estonian. But his most incredible linguistic feat was learning Icelandic in one week, then having a conversation on a national TV station using the language. 

Language savants are rare, according to author Elham H. Ammari (2011), since the syndrome is usually caused by damage to the left hemisphere producing enhanced compensatory right-hemispheric functioning. Since language is considered primarily a left-hemispheric function, Ammari wonders what is actually going on here. I would say that damage to the left hemisphere caused a shift of both math and language to the right hemisphere, which, in combination with the right's natural imagistic ability, gave Tammet a new intuitive and visual way of calculating math and learning foreign languages. Tammet has now written a memoir: Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant.

As a language specialist myself, I know that early language learning starts in the right hemisphere in the normal population and then shifts to the left after the rules of grammar start to play a role. The special instances of learning difficult foreign languages in short order that I've mentioned above would rely on atypical right-hemispheric language skills, attained through brain damage or a genetic shift to right dominance. In Peek’s truly rare case, his hemispheres operated separately and simultaneously.

As I watched both Tammet and Peek in a video that has now been removed from online, I saw that both wrote with their right hand. However, both wore their watch on their right arm like a left-hander. Further, Tammet  gesticulated with the left, placed his poker chips with the left, and walked left foot first. Both showed very mixed dominance that can be seen as well in a characteristically strong central line between their brows. Synesthesia, which creates unusual cross-talk between  the senses, has been found to be three times higher in autistic subjects than in neurotypicals in a sample of around 300 people,  according to new research.

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