Kim Peek, whose savant abilities amazed both scientists and the public and inspired the film Rain Man, has died aged 58.
Peek’s ability to remember facts, figures and indeed anything he encountered made him perhaps the most famous savant in the world. He was born with a rare brain defect and his parents were advised to put him in an institution and, later, to have him lobotomised (Salt Lake Tribune, Daily Telegraph).
But they decided against these options and his remarkable abilities led him to fame and he travelled the world discussing his remarkable talents. His abilities also fascinated researchers.
Neuroscientists who conducted tests discovered that he had no corpus callosum, the membrane that separates the two hemispheres of the brain and filters information. This meant that Peek’s brain was effectively the equivalent of a giant databank, giving him his photographic memory. He was also the only savant known to science who could read two pages of a book simultaneously – one with each eye, regardless of whether it was upside down or sideways on. His ability to retain 98 per cent of the information he absorbed led to his designation “mega-savant”’.
“He had a depth and breadth of knowledge and a memory that was just unbelievable," says Daniel Christensen, of the University of Utah’s Neuropsychiatric Institute (Salt Lake Tribune, NPR). “No one knows to this day why, exactly why, people can do things like Kim could do.”
According to his father, Peek suffered a heart attack on Saturday.
“His legacy can be summed up in one word: inspiration,” says Darold Treffert, a psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin (Guardian).