[ambient music playing]
[Michael] Derek, have you ever watched Mind Field
No, but I would like to watch it, Michael.
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]
This is a tray of 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
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.
[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.
[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
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?
-Sarah Scott. -[woman] That's right.
And how old are you?
-[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.
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.
"'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
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.
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.
Derek was born very premature.
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
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.
[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,
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.
[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...
[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]