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Beautiful Minds

Premieres Dec 20 at 9:00 pm

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- Series explores the psychology and science of Savant syndrome -

A 'Savant' is what neuroscientists call a 'knowing one'. There are around 100 recognised Savants with genius-like talents worldwide. This month, Discovery Science's three-part series BEAUTIFUL MINDS highlights these super-talented Savants through intimate encounters with the Savants and one-on-one interviews with world renowned scientists. 

In the field of brain research there is no subject more intriguing than the Savant - an individual with mental, behavioural or even physical disability who possesses acute powers of observation, mathematical aptitude or artistic talent. BEAUTIFUL MINDS introduces several Savants who have both bewildered and beguiled those around them. The series provides an enthralling look into the psychology and neuroscience of the Savants' mysterious world. Where does this tremendous knowledge origin from? How can our normal brains attain an unlimited memory bank or the creativity of someone like Einstein or the ability to read animal thoughts?

For all brain researchers, Savants offer a fascinating window into the brain. BEAUTIFUL MINDS features leading brain researchers such as Professor Gerhard Roth of University Bremen in Germany and Dr Darold Treffert of Wisconsin Medical Society, who have spent years researching on the Savant Syndrome and answering the eternal question: Is there a Savant in all of us?

A three-part series, BEAUTIFUL MINDS takes us on a journey across three outstanding research fields. Memory Masters delves into how the human memory works; The Einstein Effect focuses on creativity and the process of striking upon a thought for the first time; and A Little Matter of Gender tackles the differences between the male and the female brain.

BEAUTIFUL MINDS episode descriptions:

Memory Masters
Orlando Serrell from Virginia was ten when he was struck by a baseball during a game. He lost consciousness for a while, but when he woke up again, everything seemed to be normal. Only a year later did Orlando notice that he could remember every single detail of every single day of his life since his accident. Every date, every day of the week, what he had for lunch and of what colour his sister's socks were or what programme was on TV.

Kim Peek from Salt Lake City is the real "Rainman". He doesn't read books - he scans them. Kim records any data like a hard drive: melodies, names, historic dates, the calendar, the complete TV programme listings, every area code of every place in the USA, and the road map of every state. But Kim pays a price for his mysterious abilities: as a child he was said to be strongly mentally disabled - until he could recite his first encyclopedia at four years old. Now in his fifties, the Savant still can't live on his own.

Howard Potter attracted attention when he was a child because he could calculate the exact number of peas on his plate just by a glance. However, he is still dependent on his mother's help in daily life and has been for over 40 years. Howard extracts square roots as easily as how others count the fingers of their hands; he loves prime numbers and the endless reservoir of soccer results.

The Einstein Effect
When he was a child, Matt Savage was diagnosed as autistic but at the age of six, Matt Savage learnt to play piano nearly overnight. By seven, he began composing jazz and in the same year, he released his first CD with his own composition. A day before his 13th birthday, Matt performed a gig at New York's most famous jazz club, Birdland, where famous jazzplayers lsuch as Chick Corea proclaimed him to be the "musical talent of the century".

The abilities of Stephen Wiltshire are tremendous. The Savant, diagnosed as an autistic child at the age of three, flew in a helicopter over Rome for BEAUTIFUL MINDS and after that he was able to draw a five meter long aerial panoramic picture of the Eternal City - from memory. As a drawing Savant, Stephen was even able to remember the exact number of windows of important buildings.

Brain researcher Professor Michael Fitzgerald from Dublin draws upon the theory that there is an interrelation between extraordinary creativity and disconnections in the autistic brains. At the University of Sydney, Professor Allan Snyder carries out an experiment where he tries to disable parts of the brain to get more creativity out of them.

A Little Matter of Gender
One of the greatest experts in autism research in the world, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of the University of Cambridge argues that there are serious differences between the male and the female brain; in extreme cases, this male brain configuration leads to higher instances of autism and other malfunctions, thus producing more Savants.

As a little girl, Temple Grandin didn't speak at all. Unlike normal people, she feels at home in the language of animals, who - like her - think in pictures and not in words. Today Dr. Temple Grandin is the most important woman in the steak-and-burger-obsessed USA. She designed more than half of all cattle breeding farms of the biggest meat producing nation in the world because she knows the fears of cows, pigs and sheep by heart. But the thoughts and minds of average people will always remain a mystery to her.

Christopher Taylor won't be able to find the way to the pub in the village he has been living in for 20 years, but he is able to read newspapers in almost 25 different languages. Scientists think that an overdose of the male sex hormone testosterone in the time when the embryo evolves is responsible for extreme forms of the male brain that promotes both wondrous abilities and social deficiencies.