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NASA studies 'Rain Man' inspiration

Jung

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http://www.cnn.com/2004/TECH/science/11/08/rain.main.brain.ap/index.html

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (AP) -- NASA scientists are studying the man who was the basis for Dustin Hoffman's character in the 1988 film "Rain Man," hoping that technology used to study the effects of space travel on the brain will help explain his mental capabilities.

Last week, researchers had autistic savant Kim Peek undergo a series of tests including computerized tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, the results of which will be melded to create a three-dimensional look at his brain structure.

The researchers want to compare a series of MRI images taken in 1988 by Dr. Dan Christensen, Peek's neuropsychiatrist at the University of Utah, to see what has since changed within his brain.

Not only are Peek's brain and his abilities unique, noted Richard D. Boyle, director of the California center performing the scans, but he seems to be getting smarter in his specialty areas as he ages.

The 53-year-old Peek is called a "mega-savant" because he is a genius in about 15 different subjects, from history and literature and geography to numbers, sports, music and dates. But he also is severely limited in other ways, like not being able to find the silverware drawer at home or dressing himself.

"The goal is to measure what happens in Kim's brain when he expresses things and when he thinks about them," said his father, Fran.


Another more in depth story: http://users.lk.net/~stepanov/mnemo/kimpeeke.html (It's pretty long, so I'm only posting an excerpt.)

Fran Peek describes his son this way: "Kim is not behaviorally autistic. He has a warm, loving personality. He truly cares for people and enjoys sharing his unique skills and knowledge capacity. Known as 'Kimputer' to many, his knowledge-library includes World and American History, People and Leaders, Geography (roads and highways in U.S. and Canada), Professional Sports (baseball, basketball, football, Kentucky Derby winners etc), the Space Program, Movies and movie themes, Actors and Actresses, the Bible, Mormon Church Doctrine and History, Calendar Calculations (including a person's day of birth, present year~s birthday, and the year and the date the person will turn 65 years old so he or she can retire), Literature/Authors, Shakespeare, Telephone Area Codes, major Zip Codes, all TV stations and their markets. He can identify most classical music compositions and tell the date the music was written and the composer's birth date and place of birth and death. Kim has read (and can recall) some 7600 books. He also keeps current on world, U.S. and most local events by reading newspapers, magazines and by listening to the media. He reads constantly. He can also describe the highways that go to a person's small town, the county, area code and zip code, television stations available in the town, who the person's pay their telephone bill to, and describe any historical events that may have occurred in their area. His expertise includes at least 14 subject areas."
I never knew that "Rain Man" was based on a true story. Today's the first time I've heard of Kim Peek, and I'm sure it's the first time many others have as well. The fact that he's getting smarter as he ages is quite interesting, don't you think?