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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Divergent Minds - Mind Field S2 (Ep 7)

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[ambient music playing]

[Michael] Derek, have you ever watched Mind Field

on YouTube?

No, but I would like to watch it, Michael.

[Michael] Okay.

So Mind Field has a theme song

that I'd love for you to listen to

to see if you can play it for me on the piano.

I would like to listen to it, Michael.

All right. Just load this up here.

[theme music playing]

[playing piano]

Oh, hello.

This is a tray of brains.

Cow brains.

Here is a sagittal slice I prepared earlier.

Now, imagine that this is my brain.

Just looking at it, it would be impossible to know

what part does what

or that different parts did different things at all.

But if you change specific parts of your brain,

you can often affect specific functions.

So if this was my brain...

that would be pretty bad.

I would almost certainly

have just become cortically bind.

Of course, scientists can't go cutting and poking

and stabbing people's brains

to see how it affects their behavior,

but they can study the behavior and abilities of people

whose brains are different from neurotypical brains.

For instance, in rare cases,

people whose eyes function normally

but who are blind due to damage to their visual cortex

may experience the neurological phenomenon

of blindsight

which allows them to sense and respond

to objects they cannot see.

Due to a brain injury, this patient

is consciously blind on his right side.

But while he sees nothing in his right field of vision,

he's able to sense the presence and motion

of an object he cannot see.

[man] You're moving it up and down.

I am aware of a motion,

but that motion has no shape,

no color, no depth, no form, no contrast.

[Michael] Blindsight is possible

because besides the visual cortex

which is associated with conscious vision,

there are other brain areas

that get information from the eyes unconsciously.

We have learned about this unconscious vision we all have

because of blindsight.

The study of divergent minds

has revolutionized our understanding of the brain

in ways that would not have been possible otherwise.

People who differ from the norm

expose elements of all our minds

that we didn't even know were there.

[ambient music playing]

[upbeat music playing]

[Michael] One very special divergent mind

is that of Derek Paravicini.

Let's go. We're gonna count a hundred

-to find the hotel, okay? -Okay. Yeah.

[both] One,



[Michael] Derek is both blind and autistic.

He's also a musical savant...

Now for the live music you were promised.

[Michael] ...meaning despite severe cognitive

and social impairments,

his musical ability is far greater

than what would be considered normal.

And tonight, he's performing at the release party

for his latest album.

[playing "Flight of the Bumblebees"]

Derek possesses an incredible gift.

He's performed all over the world

and has become a symbol of success

for other autistic individuals.

Later, we'll take a deeper look into Derek's unique mind.

Thank you.

[upbeat music playing]

[Michael] One hundred and fifty years ago,

scientists still didn't know

if different parts of the brain did different things.

It was only by studying people with atypical minds

that we discovered that there are different modules

in the brain that have different functions.

The first major discovery

showing that the brain had these specialized modules

was made by a doctor named Paul Broca in the 1800s.

Broca had heard of a patient who had no problem

understanding language,

but who struggled to produce language.

The only thing the patient could say

was the sound "tan,"

over and over.

He would say tan,

tan, tan, tan, tan, tan, tan, tan, tan, tan, tan, tan.

When the patient died,

Broca performed an autopsy on him

and found that the patient's brain

had damage to a specific part

of its left hemisphere.

Broca concluded that this brain region,

now called Broca's Area,

must be important for producing speech

but not for understanding speech.

This language deficit called Broca's Aphasia

still affects hundreds of thousands of people

who get strokes in the left side of their brain.

A patient with Broca's Aphasia can talk,

but struggles to get the words out.

[woman] So what's your name?


Oh, no.

-Sarah Scott. -[woman] That's right.

And how old are you?

I can't.

-[woman] Try. -I can't.

[Michael] Another part of the brain related to speech

is Wernicke's Area

which is associated with language comprehension.

Patients who damage this region

can speak fluenty

but they are unabe to understand languae

or use it in a meaningful wa.

[woman] What were we just doing with the iPad?

Right at the moment a darn should-- a darn thing.

[woman] With the iPad that we were doing.

Like here?

I'd like my change for me and change hands for me.

It was happy.

I would talk with Donna sometimes.

We're all with them.

Other people are working with them, them.

I'm very happy with them.

These remarkable individuals have taught us a lot

about the neural basis of language.

But it can be tricky to infer the functions

of different brain areas

based only on specific patients.

That's because damage is almost never confined to one spot

and the brain can reorganize itself

after it's been damaged.

So to get a more precise picture of how changing the brain

affects behavior and function,

I went to UCLA

to have my brain damaged.

But not permanently.

I'm not gonna have a piece of my brain

removed and thrown away.

Instead, I'm going to have part of my brain tissue

temporarily and safely disrupted

by a technology called

transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Here I go.

Usually I start

by saying I'm glad to be here.

I'm medium to be here.

I'm a little anxious about what's about to happen.

Today, you're going to be giving me

a brain lesion, temporarily.

So I should cease to be able to produce words.


That actually just sounds very frightening.

I like to be in control, especially of myself.

Should I be worried?

[Michael] Transcranial magnetic stimulation,

or TMS for short,

applies a strong magnetic pulse

to one part of the brain

such as Broca's Area.

This briefly disrupts electric function

in the part of the brain that is stimulated.

It's like causing temporary brain damage.

But as soon as the pulse is over,

functioning goes back to normal.

While it's not guaranteed that TMS

will affect my ability to speak,

Dr. Iacoboni has successfully stimulated

Broca's Aphasia on other test subjects.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation,

to see what happens when such...

-[clicking] -[indistinct speech]

...tradition of studying individuals.

[Michael] Now it was time to have my speech disrupted.

But to stimulate my Broca's Area,

first, we had to find it

using an MRI scan of my brain.

Hopefully, we'll be able to find Broca's Area

and shut me up.

[John] So it's gonna feel a little bit like

somebody tapping on your scalp,

and you might feel

some superficial muscle stimulation.

-Uh-hmm. -[John] So this will

probably be a little bit uncomfortable.

It might be a lot uncomfortable.

If it becomes too much,

just say the word stop, and we will stop.


I'm just gonna pull out

the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

and I'll just start reading,

and you guys will start stimulating my Broca's Area.

"'My dear Mr. Bennet,' said his lady to him one day,

"'Have you heard that Netherfield Park

-"'is let at last?' -[clicking]

"Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.

"'But it is,' returned she,

"'for Mrs. Long has just been here

"'and she told me all about it."

"Mr. Bennet made no answer.

"'Do you not want to know who has taken it?'

"cried his wife impatiently.

"'You want to tell me and I have no objection to hearing it.'

This was invitation enough."

We tried a couple of times,

but my Broca's Area seemed to be playing hard to get.

So we repositioned the machine.

New trajectory.


Okay, great.

"'You and the girls may go,

'or you may send them by themselves,

'which perhaps will be better still,

'for as you are as handsome as any of them,

'Mr. Bingley may like you the best of the party.

'When a woman has five grown-up...'"

After several more attempts,

we were still unsuccessful at finding my Broca's Area

and disrupting my speech.

"...married, its solace was visiting and news."

I beat it.

Yeah, no. You cannot stop

her from being heard.

While neuromapping allows us to locate

the many different areas of the brain,

the brain is one of the most complex organs in our body

and not all brains respond to TMS in the same way.

TMS didn't work on me this time,

but different test subjects produce different results.

Is find out what.... [indistinct]

Okay, that's probably good for now.

[Michael] TMS is currently being evaluated

to treat depression

and certain types of brain damage.

One day, it may even be used

to reduce the effects of traumatic brain injury.

[upbeat music playing]

[Michael] I traveled to London to meet someone

who was using his divergent mind

in an extraordinary way.

Derek, it's Michael.

-Oh, hello, Michael. -Nice to meet you.

I'm Derek. How are you?

Would you like to come in, Michael?

I'm fantastic. I would love to come in.

Yes. It's an honor.

I wanted to find out what Derek could teach us about all brains.

So Derek, I'm doing a show called Mind Field

about psychology.

Do you know psychology?

I do know psychology.

Your brain is different than mine.

Would you agree?

I would agree, Michael.

-It's different than my brain, yes. -Yes.

It became evident very quickly

that this was going to be an atypical interview.

I'm sure you hear all the time

about how spectacular your abilities are.

Were you told that even at a young age

when you first started to interact with a piano?

I was told at a young age

when I first started to interact with a piano...

[Michael] Derek has echolalia,

a condition which causes him to repeat back words

spoken to him.

It's his way of trying to understand

the spoken word.

You can learn music just by listening to it.

I can learn music by listening to it, Michael.

[Michael] But while Derek may find

spoken language challenging,

he has no problem communicating through music.

[playing jazz]

There are about seven million autistic savants worldwide

with some level of savant skills,

but Derek is what's known as a prodigious savant...

which means that his musical skills are so outstanding

that they would be considered spectacular

even for highly trained neurotypical musicians.

There are probably fewer than a hundred prodigious savants

in the whole world.

[Alan] Derek Paravicini has a musicality

that I think any performer would envy.

What sort of music do you really love, Derek?

Uh, maybe pop music or...

-Okay. -Jazz, Derek?

A bit of jazz, yeah.

[Michael] Since he was five years old,

Derek has been mentored by Adam Ockelford.

Through the door. Well done, Derek.

[Michael] Adam is a music psychologist,

author, and professor

at the University of Roehampton.

That's your right hand, now do your left hand.

Go on.

Derek was born very premature.

Twenty-six weeks,

which thirty-eight years ago was very, very premature.

And they didn't have any equipment

in the hospital for him.

So they rushed him into the nearest hospital

that had an incubator, and Derek

wasn't thought able to survive, and yet he did.

He's such a fighter.

Because of the circumstances of his birth

and the impact of blindness and learning difficulties,

his brain developed in a particular kind of way.

As a little boy, he was very fascinated by sound,

not being able to see.

And his nanny gave him this little electric organ

and that was like a eureka moment for him

and the beginnings of his music

processing ability.

So things like language, things like

perhaps understanding how people feel,

these things are very difficult for Derek.

And yet his music is way above average.

Derek's got an amazingly quick ear,

haven't you, Derek?

-I have, yes. -If I go like...



He can process an amazing...

-[Michael] It's like automatic. -Yeah.

[Michael] That's impressive, Derek.

Thank you, Michael.

Yeah, no, the response to pitch that you make, Derek,

is incredibly fast.

We've measured the time between playing

even a big chord, say like this one.

And Derek can listen and react

to an eight-note chord within about 0.4 of a second.

-Wow. -Derek's sense of pitch is very unusual.

-It's also known as perfect. -It is. It is perfect.

Something like 40% of babies

born premature who lose their sight

have perfect pitch as opposed to

about one in ten thousand in the neurotypical population.

So you can see that

the impact of not being able to see

has a massive effect on the way the brain develops.

And how does autism play into this?

Well, autism is an added factor.

Autism starts at very early in life, we know that.

And in Derek's case, of course,

when he came out of the incubator.

And what autism tends to do is to give children

this immense focus on the sheer quality of things,

whether it's a sound or a--

or a color or a scent.

That's the quality that we all have as babies,

that we experience the world in this sheer perception.

Now most babies very quickly come out of that

by 12, 18 months.

They're starting to categorize things

just to make sense of the amount of information that's coming in.

So you're born, and your body is, like,

consuming all of this sense data raw.

-Yeah. -[Michael] And then it learns that's crazy.

We don't need to process every little detail.

We only need to understand what's important

or relevant, and that's enough.

[Adam] It's called categorical perception,

and that is a much more efficient way

of processing information, and of course

that's why the brain does it.

But autistic children, they hang on to those

absolute qualities for longer.

For people like Derek, and since he's not only

got those fantastically vivid absolute memories,

he's also learned the rules of music

but it's built on this-- on this foundation of perceptual

vividness that we can only grasp at.

[Michael] While most people would find it impossible

to identify all of the individual notes

in a 10- or 20-note chord,

Derek is able to do this with ease,

which means he can decipher more notes

than he can play at once with two hands.

So we could do that. If I...

Actually, I have-- I have hands.

-We could combine. -Yes, yes, yeah.

So-- right, so if you play those two notes with that hand.

-[Michael] Yup. -And those two with that hand.

And we'll count for it, okay? One, two, three, four.

-There you are. -[Michael] What was all the fiddling?

[Adam] Well, the fiddling was to make it--

because he couldn't reach them all at the same time.

-[Michael] Right. -[Adam] So his-- he was splitting them up.

[Michael] He's just playing-- but they were all--

they were all in there. He just couldn't all play them at once.

But as amazing as his musical ear is,

Derek's cognitive abilities are less than rudimentary.

[Adam] Derek, should we do some more chords?

[Derek] We'll do some more chords, Adam.

-So can you play this for me? -[Derek] Yes, Adam.


Good. And do you know how many notes there are, Derek?

-[Derek] I'm not sure. -[Adam] Have a guess.

How many do you think?

-Is it one? -[Adam] Yeah, a bit more than one.

-So there's one. -One, two, three,

four, five, six.

-[Adam] Six, weren't there? Right. -[Derek] There's six, Adam.

[Adam] Good. Now try this one then, Derek.

Ready and...

[Derek] Is it one note, Adam?

[Adam] No, there are five. One, two, three, four, five.

[Derek] One, two, three, four, five.

It is one, two, three, four, five, Adam.

[Michael] Tell me more about how limited

Derek's everyday abilities are.

Derek finds almost everything

that you or I do without thinking really difficult.

So self-care, things like getting dressed,

getting washed in the morning are tricky for him.

So all those things that we take for granted,

he finds really difficult.

-[Cynthia] Derek? -[Derek] Yes?

[Cynthia] We'll have to clean your mouth.

[Derek] Could you clean my mouth now, Cynthia?

[Cynthia] Yes. Can you come to the sink?

[Derek] I can come to the sink.

[Adam] And in fact, 38 years on, we're saying

"Well, does it really matter if Derek

"can't put his socks on himself?

You know, there are other things in life."

And-- and yet when he touches the piano,

everything's reversed.

So things that we would find inconceivably difficult,

Derek does it as easy as breathing.

And if you ask him, "Derek, how'd you do that?"

he has no idea,

any more than you or I understand

how we breathe or how we speak or...

-Yeah. -It's purely intuitive.

[playing ragtime]

[Michael] In addition to entertaining people

with his remarkable abilities,

Derek offers valuable insight

to scientists who study the mind.

What do you think Derek is helping us learn

about this thing in our head?

I think what Derek's example tells us

is the almost infinite capacity of the human brain

to not only survive

but thrive in incredibly difficult circumstances.

And Derek's potential

really was no different from anyone else's.

There's no one in his family who were particularly musical.

So in a sense, you could say that we all have

Derek's potential when we're born.

But fortunately, of course, we don't have his disadvantages

and what gave Derek his massive advantage

is at the cost of his disadvantages.

[upbeat music playing]

Autism still isn't well understood.

One of the many theories for the cause

of autistic people's heightened sensory awareness

is that it's at least partially due to an abnormality

in the brain's left hemisphere,

permitting a vast amount of sensory details

to enter the brain's awareness.

Neurotypical brains may receive all the same sensory details

but block them from awareness.

In fact, some psychologists have even proposed

that all of us have savant skills

lying dormant in our brains.

And they may be on to something,

because in extraordinarily rare cases,

people can actually acquire savant skills.

A very small number of people have what is called

Acquired Savant Syndrome.

These are people who suffered some sort of brain damage

as adults and their brain damage

actually unlocked skills and abilities

that weren't there before.

Jason Padgett is one such acquired savant.

After a brain injury left him with damage

to his visual cortex,

Jason started seeing precise geometric patterns

in everything around him,

which led to an intuitive perception of math

and physics that he never had before.

How did you get a brain injury?

So I was at a karaoke bar, and as we left,

these two guys that were in there singing

attacked me from behind.

They smashed me in the back of the head.

Well, I just heard this deep thud,

saw a little puff of white light,

which I later found out was my brain

bouncing on the inside of my skull.

I didn't know where I was, how I got there,

why I was being attacked.

[Michael] So now you have Akinetopsia,

meaning you see the world now in frames.

-What does that mean? -In discreet picture frames.

When I say discreetly, I mean seeing one picture

and another picture. So imagine like anybody

watching TV right now, they can hit pause

and pause again and see the picture frame

by frame by frame.

It's just like that, but in real time.

It also makes everything look slightly pixelated.

So boundaries of objects don't look curved

like smooth curves anymore.

They look like they have these tiny

little straight line edges.

Are you seeing me that way right now?

Yes. So like, if you're not moving,

it's more like a picture on a picture on a picture,

so it's not nearly as profound,

but when something moves like this,

then it's much more profound.

So after the injury,

you have all these perceptual changes.

What makes you decide that you need to start drawing?

So at the time, I had no way to describe

what I was seeing in any terms

except for to draw it.

I started trying to define things

with triangles and straight lines.

Geometry is-- to me is the one thing everything has,

even nothing. Empty space is geometry.

It just seemed obvious.

I mean, the universe is math for me.

[Michael] Are these thoughts that you would've had before the injury?

No, not at all. Never even contemplated

this type of stuff and now I can't stop thinking about it

and I wound up going to the mall.

So I'm sitting there eating this sandwich

and I'm drawing, and this guy next to me,

he says he's a physicist. And he goes,

"It looks like you're doing some sort of math there."

And I started telling him, you know, my ideas.

And he says "It sounds to me like you're trying to describe

space, time, and limits."

And things that I didn't understand what he was talking about.

He goes, "But you're doing it in layman terms

"and I've never heard anybody try to do that before."

It turns out it was integrals.

What I was doing was integrals and calculus.

You're now pursuing an education in math?

-[Jason] Yes. -So would you say that

you're still the same person

who existed before the injury,

or did you become a different individual?

I feel like I've had two different lives.

Before the injury, I didn't have any background in math.

I didn't even have algebra.

I didn't even know that you could graph a line.

All I did was party and chase girls.

It was a very shallow, you know,

almost blissfully ignorant life.

Do you think that these abilities

were always in your brain

and got somehow unlocked by the injury,

or did the injury give you something new?

I 100% believe that we all have this in us.

You know, people think that I got hit in the head

and just magically got good at math

but a lot of it is your brain gets damaged

and you're forced to see the world differently,

and by seeing the world differently,

it makes you think differently.

[Michael] We can learn so much from divergent minds,

whether it would be someone like Jason

who developed his divergent mind

from an accident as an adult...

Hello, Ashleigh.

[Ashleigh] Hello, Derek.

[Derek] How are you?

[Michael] ...or someone like Derek,

whose divergence came

from complications at birth.

[Adam] One of Derek's great strengths is working

with other disabled people and disabled children.

They love him.

Beautiful, Ashleigh. Well done.

Derek is a hero,

particularly amongst the learning disabled.

For anyone with severe learning difficulties,

to have a public life,

to travel all over the world,

to meet hundreds of people,

to have acclaim from millions of people

on the internet is--

he's unique in that perspective.

He's a trailblazer, but we should never forget

that he's part of a population that's much bigger

and tends to be hidden away from society.

[upbeat music playing]

Derek raises important questions

about the diversity of minds.

Autistic minds like all divergent minds

are not alien; they're human minds

and they provide windows into how we all think,

feel, and behave.

A complete brain science should be able to account

for all kinds of minds and brains.

As long as some minds remain a mystery,

so too will all minds.

And as always, thanks for watching.

[theme music playing]

[Adam] Improv! Here we go.

[theme music playing]


The Description of Divergent Minds - Mind Field S2 (Ep 7)