Monday, March 22, 2010

The Mind's Eye of a Perfectly Imperfect Savant

I've been studying, for about six years now, about gifted visual-spatial learners. I've become fascinated with how the brain works, and over the years I've come to realize that we just might be holding back our ability to learn in a more efficient way. Visual spatial learners are able to learn more efficiently, but surprisingly do not do well in a classroom setting. Classroom learning actually hampers their abilities and as a result the classroom becomes a restrictive environment.

Careful. I've got a soap box on this one.

Visual-spatial learners think in pictures, not words. They are able to learn new concepts in great leaps, and can't stand drill and practice. They have a picture in their brain, sometimes it is a movie, sometimes not, and this picture is their understanding of how the world works. When they learn something new, it changes their entire picture of the world, and links things together in most unusual ways. Speaking to these children is pretty interesting, because they seem as though they are jumping from one topic to another randomly, but they can instantly follow the link in their heads from each subject so that it's not random at all.

Enter Daniel Tammet. He could possibly be the posterboy for perfectly imperfect, because it is through his imperfections that he shines. He was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was young, and it is believed that one of his seizures brought about the amazing things his brain can do. He also has Asperger's Syndrome. There are a few reasons why he is so amazing.

First and foremost, he is unique among savants because of his ability to articulate how his mind works. As a result, he has been studied by Scientists in an effort to understand the brain's capabilities.
Second, he is a visual-spatial learner on steroids. He talks about seeing numbers, and the numbers he sees are moving things, with texture and color. He sees numbers as though they were landscapes. Amazing. I'd love to get a glimpse of how his brain pictures things.
Lastly, he now holds the record for being able to recite the digits of Pi to 22,514 places, or digits. It took him five hours and he was able to learn it in a week. He does the same with languages.

What would have happened if this visual-spatial savant had never had epilepsy? Or never had Asperger's, which may be the reason he is able to concentrate so well? Or what if he just kept his abilities to himself? What Scientist are finding is that while Daniel is able to do these extraordinary things so quickly, it is not out of bounds for non-savants to do these things as well, albeit at a lesser extent. Scientists have also found that because he thinks in pictures, he doesn't have to THINK about how to do these math problems. They are just in his picture and he finds them. Wow.

Here is Daniel Tammet on Letterman.

A longer, more interesting story about him is on the Science Channel.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Little Bragging

Just a little. Because mom's are allowed.

Number one son (NOS) went to get his license this month. We have an insider at the DMV, the mom of one of my son's friends, which is always nice. She lets us know the good times to come and such. We followed her advice and she was right, as we only had to wait a few minutes instead of hours.

Anyway, when NOS went to get his driver's permit, he took the written test and failed it. The woman who helped him fill out his paperwork was named Esther, a grandmotherly type, and a really nice lady. Not someone you'd expect at the DMV. When NOS failed, she told him not to worry and to come back tomorrow. The next day, we went again, and again we got Esther. This time NOS got a 100, and she took the time to really talk to him (as an adult should really talk to a young man about the responsibilities of driving.) Timothy took it to heart. And he liked Esther and the fact that she took the time to discuss that with him. Every now and then, he'd see his friend's mom and say, "Tell Esther hello for me!"

Fast forward 9 months (he was in no hurry to get his license, believe it or not!) and we are standing at the DMV. Who do we get, but Esther. Out of 8 people working, we got her. She immediately recognized Timothy and told him she was so glad to see him. She processed his paperwork, then said, "Hold on, I have a verse I want to give you before you leave." She wrote down on a piece of paper Prov. 29:17, and she told him that whenever she thinks of him, she thinks of that verse, because she has heard that he is a person of strong character and doesn't get swayed by friends into bad situations.

In the end she shook our hands and told us she's happy to have met us. I walked in being a bit proud of my son getting his license, but walked out proud of him for much different reasons. And all of that at the DMV. Really. What a wonderful day at the DMV!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Beginnings

Wow. What a difference a week makes! One day its cold, windy and rainy with bare trees and brown ground cover, and the next day the its warm, the trees are covered with buds and blooms, and there's a nice little tinge of green coming out in the yards. Well, except my yard. I have nice little yellow flowers covering my yard. It would be nice, if they weren't weeds.

Taking a break from blogger has been good for me. I'm not sure how much I'll be writing in the near future, but it has given me time to ponder, take things in, and enjoy life going on around me again. There's something to be said about contentment, and being happy where we are in life. We are so blessed to have been able to find a house, and find jobs in an economy such as ours. We both found jobs. And we found good jobs. In my case, there was an actual hiring freeze, but I was hired anyway. God is SO good to take care of us that way.

To be honest, I've been in a really down place this past year. Not mad at can I be when He's been so good to us in so many ways? Really, just mad at other Christians. More specifically, Christians who put on a public face of Christianity yet behave in such unChristian behaviors. I've been surrounded by Christians almost exclusively for the past 10 years, and I have to say that the side of Christians I've seen has not been good. Competitive, dog-eat-dog, ambitious mentalities that fostered behaviors that wouldn't fly in a business community let alone a Christian one was something that was a regularity. I could see it working on the Apprentice, but not many other places. There were a few bright spots and genuine people, and I worked hard to foster those friendships, but overall it was not good for me personally to work with people like that, I think because it was so unexpected. I've said it before and I'll say it again, sometimes the world teaches Christians a few lessons in how to behave. It should be the other way around, but there it is. I know we're all human and have our faults, but this was a different level of ministry and those expectations were and are appropriate. I know some of you who read this blog think I'm speaking of particular people. I'm not. Though they fall into the category I speak of, they were just part of a larger group of people who functioned in this way, and saw it as normal.

That said, that is behind me now. God is restoring me and the perspectives I have on others. I used to enjoy encouraging others. I'm beginning to get that back again.

I miss our actual work, and the relationships that were made while overseas. It was a life-changing experience on so many levels. Our kids are better for it. Tim and I are better for it. And now we're taking it to the communities and jobs where we live and work. We are working on being the right example to those around us. We still have good, genuine Christians around us, and I think God prepared them for us, knowing we would have this year of frustration. We are still in ministry, just not in a foreign land. We minister to those around us, and we encourage our fellow laborers and help them with their burdens, just as we are meant to. In the end, that's where the rubber meets the road, isn't it? Here's to our new road, and new beginnings.