We recently examined Einstein’s math abilities and Mozart’s perfect pitch and discovered that, though these capacities appear natural, they are largely acquired.
How do we explain the talents of savants like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man? Researchers have found that savants all share one characteristic: being highly obsessive about their chosen topic.
One real-life pair of twins can immediately tell you the week-day associated with any date. These twins are obsessed with dates. The first thing they ask anyone is their birthday. They memorized all possible yearly calendars. They constantly think about dates.
The twins explained their algorithm for figuring out dates to researchers who then trained a grad student. After 16 sessions he could do it as fast as them.
Further studies have confirmed that nearly all savant abilities can be explained by the acquisition of skills through obsessive internal practice.
In his thought-provoking and entertaining book Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, Joshua Foer tells how he started as a “normal guy” and, in 12 months, learned to rapidly memorize the order of two shuffled decks of playing cards, becoming the world memory champion.
We all can develop remarkable abilities too; just get obsessed with something. Jay-Z was not born a rap savant, he just got obsessed with bustin’ rhymes.