Excerpt: 'Embracing the Wide Sky'

Every brain is amazing. Researchers know this after many years of studying the minds of highly gifted people, as well as those of housewives, cab drivers, and many others from all walks of life. As a result, today, we have a far richer, more sophisticated understanding of human ability and potential than ever before. Anyone with the passion and dedication necessary to master a field or subject can succeed in it. Genius, in all its forms, is not due to any mere quirk of the brain; it is the result of far more chaotic, dynamic, and essentially human qualities such as perseverance, imagination, intuition, and even love. Such an understanding of the human mind enriches, rather than detracts from, the popular appreciation of the accomplishments of highly successful individuals.

This book is about the mind -- its nature and abilities. It combines some of the latest neuroscientific research with my personal reflections and detailed descriptions of my abilities and experiences. My primary intention in writing it is to show that differently functioning minds such as mine (or Gates's or Kasparov's) are not so strange, in fact, and that anyone can learn from them. Along the way, I hope to clear up many misconceptions about the nature of savant abilities and what it means to be intelligent or gifted.

Chapter 1 looks at the fascinating complexity of the human brain and surveys some of the latest research findings from the field of neuroscience. Here I tackle head on some of the most common misconceptions concerning the brain, such as the idea that it does not change after birth or that the computer is a good analogy for how our brains work. I also assess several claims about savants and give evidence that indicates that savant brains are not so different from anyone else's.

Chapter 2 is a study of intelligence that questions whether IQ is an accurate indicator of intelligent behavior and looks at alternative ways of thinking about intelligence. I also examine the nature of genius and whether it is the result of innate talent, practice, or both.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 include detailed descriptions of my own abilities in memory, language, and number sense respectively -- areas where my autism helps me to excel. These chapters represent the most comprehensive personal account of savant ability ever written. Rather than encourage readers to merely gawk at the abilities of savants such as myself, I show that anyone can learn from them how to better understand and use his own mind.

Drawing again from my own personal experiences (as well as those of other autistic individuals), chapter 6 explores creativity and the possibility that some neurological conditions predispose individuals to extraordinary forms of creative thought and perception. I describe little-known forms of creativity, such as the phenomenon of languages created spontaneously by some children, and refute the myth that autistic savants are incapable of genuine creativity, using examples from my own and others' work.

In chapter 7, I examine what the latest scientific research tells us about the complexity and limitations of our perceptions. I also explore how biological differences can cause different people to see the world in very different ways. Sections on the puzzle of optical illusions and the psychology of art demonstrate the malleability and subjectivity of our minds' eyes.

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