Sunday, January 1, 2017

Kim Peek

Kim Peek’s special abilities started early, around the age of a year and a half. He could read both pages of an open book at once, one page with one eye and the other with the other eye. This style of reading continued until his dead in 2009. His reading comprehension was impressive. He would retain 98 percent of the information he read. Since he spent most of his days in the library with his dad, he quickly made it through thousands of books, encyclopedia and maps. He could read a thick book in an hour and remember just about anything in it. Because he could quickly absorb loads of information and recall it when necessary, his condition made him a living encyclopedia and a walking GPS. He could provide driving directions between almost any two cities in the world. He could also do calendar calculations (“which day was June 15, 1632?”) and remember old baseball scores and a vast amount of musical, historical and political facts. His memory abilities were astounding.

Unlike many individuals with savant syndrome, Kim Peek was not afflicted with autistic spectrum disorder. Though he was strongly introverted, he did not have difficulties with social understanding and communication. The main cause of his remarkable abilities seems to have been the lack of connections between his brain's two hemispheres. An MRI scan revealed an absence of the corpus callosum, the anterior commissure and the hippocampal commissure, the parts of the neurological system that transfer information between hemispheres. In some sense Kim was a natural born split-brain patient…

Since Kim Peek didn't have a corpus callosum or a hippocampal commissure, his brain would have had to develop the abilities to process language in both hemispheres. This, of course, gave him a major advantage in terms of speed-reading and information retention. You might think the same would apply to other hemisphere-specific abilities, such as visual imagery and math, which are primarily left-hemisphere based. However, Kim Peek was unable to "reason his way through" mathematical problems. Despite his brilliant mind, his IQ was 87, significantly below normal. It was also difficult for him to follow directions of certain kinds.

There are several respects in which Kim Peek was not like Gazzaniga and Sperry's split-brain patients. He did not exhibit any symptoms of truly split personality or conflicting desires deriving from separate hemispheres. How did he avoid this split in information integration when information could not cross over the three main connections between the hemispheres?

We know that the brain can also transfer information indirectly through subcortical areas. Normally, it is a relatively small amount of information that is transferred that way. But Kim Peek may have developed additional subcortical connections for information transfer.

Peek's ability to retain large amounts of information may have had something to do with another condition he was afflicted with called macrocephaly. This brain abnormality consists in an excessively large head and a correspondingly huge brain. Kim's head was so heavy that it took several years before he could hold it up on his own.

As a baby the real rain man was diagnosed with mental retardation and the physicians told his parents that he never would be able to read or talk. They recommended sending their little boy to a mental institution and geting on with their lives. Despite the recommendation, Kim’s parents chose to raise him at home. They quickly realized that their little boy with the oversized head had a remarkable brain. Due to his parets' efforts, Kim had the oppotunity to develop his amazing talents. A large head does not equal intelligence or ability to retain information. But it does provide more storage space for someone who is able to process the content of 10,000 books, which was the number of books Peek had read by the time of the his death in 2009.

The new results come from a metaanalysis of the brain imaging data from seven individuals with agenesis of the corpus callosum, using a mathematical tool known as "connectomic analysis." The metaanalysis revealed that while little information got transferred among hemispheres in the patients, there was greater communication between local areas of the brain. This increased local connectivity may explain both the tendency to be obsessed with details and the increased intellectual abilities of people like Kim Peek. Though decreased holistic brain interaction is likely to negatively influence how we understand contextual cues, the increased local connectivity could lead to more thorough and faster processing of factual information, which in turn could increase memory abilities…

While surgical severing of callosal and other commissures normally results in a disconnection syndrome, patients with callosotomy in childhood and individuals born without a corpus callosum do not suffer these consequences, suggesting that the plasticity of the brain in the fetus and small child allows for information transfer that is relevant to agency and action via alternative neural pathways.



  1. As a result of that interest, and ability, in 1984 Mr. Morrow was invited to attend a Communications Committee meeting of the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) in Arlington, Texas. Kim’s father, Fran, was Chairman of that committee. Kim met Mr. Morrow there and, according to Fran’s book The Real Rain Man, they spent several hours together.

    Kim astonished Mr. Morrow by correcting the ZIP codes on membership lists they perused, being familiar with almost every author and book in the library, quoting an unending amount of sports trivia, relating complex driving instructions to most anywhere and giving Mr. Morrow “my date of birth and day of the week I was born, the day of the week this year, and day of the week and year I would turn 65 so I could think about retiring.” They also discussed events of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. Mr. Morrow decided to write a script inspired by Kim Peek’s abilities and it was that script — Rain Man — that eventually evolved into that splendid movie, making ‘savant’ a household term.

    In the course of his preparation for playing the part of Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman met with Kim Peek and his father in February, 1987. Fran Peek describes that “special day with Dustin” at length in his book about Kim and chronicles in some detail Kim’s encyclopedic memory feats as shared with Mr. Hoffman including facts about British Monarchs, the Bible, baseball, horse racing, dates, times, places, composers, melodies, movies, geography, space program, authors and literature. Dustin Hoffman’s parting remark to Kim, according to his father was: “I may be the star, but you are the heavens.” When Dustin Hoffman accepted his Oscar in March, 1989 he opened his response with: “My special thanks to Kim Peek for making Rain Man a reality.”

    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.”…(continued)

  2. (continued)Kim Peek was born on November 11, 1951. He had an enlarged head, with an encephalocele, according to his doctors. An MRI shows, again according to his doctors, an absent corpus callosum — the connecting tissue between the left and right hemispheres; no anterior commissure and damage to the cerebellum. Only a thin layer of skull covers the area of the previous encephalocele.

    With respect to early development, Kim’s father indicates that at age 16-20 months Kim was able to memorize every book that was read to him. His parents moved Kim’s finger along each sentence being read. Kim would memorize a book after a single reading and having read that particular book he would put it aside, upside down, so that no one would attempt to read it to him again. Even today, all reading materials are placed by Kim upside down or put backwards on a shelf.

    At age 3 Kim asked his parents what the word “confidential” meant. He was kiddingly told to look it up in the dictionary and he did just that. He somehow knew how to use the alphabetical order to locate the word and then proceeded to read, phonetically, the word’s definition (Since that time Kim has read, and can recall, some 7600 books). Kim did not walk until age 4. At that time he was also obsessed with numbers and arithmetic, reading telephone directories and adding columns of telephone numbers. He enjoyed totaling the numbers on automobile license plates as well. Since 1969 ,Kim has worked at a day workshop for adults with disabilities. Without the aid of calculators or adding machines, he has prepared information from work sheets for payroll checks. He takes extended leaves from his work now so he and his father can spend all the time that they do together as emissaries for people with disabilities in community settings across the nation.