Saturday, 14 March 2015

Kim Peek - A Man with Exceptional Memory

Kim Peek (November 11, 1951 – December 23, 2009) has been called a "mega-savant" for his ability to memorize to the word up to 12,000 books, including the Bible and the Book of Mormon. He could read two pages in about 10 seconds – the right page with his right eye and the left simultaneously with his left eye.

Kim Peek was the inspiration for screen writer Barry Morrow’s 1988 Oscar-winning movie "Rain Man". Mr. Morrow had earlier been involved in writing the story for the television movie Bill, about a mentally retarded person sensitively portrayed by Mickey Rooney. 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 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.

Peek was born in Salt Lake CityUtah with macrocephaly  damage to the cerebellum, and agenesis of the corpus callosum, a condition in which the bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain is missing; in Peek's case, secondary connectors such as the anterior commissure were also missing. There is speculation that his neurons made unusual connections due to the absence of a corpus callosum, which resulted in an increased memory capacity. According to Peek's father, Fran (Francis) Peek, Kim was able to memorize things from the age of 16–20 months. He read books, memorized them, and then placed them upside down on the shelf to show that he had finished reading them, a practice he maintained all his life. He could speed through a book in about an hour and remember almost everything he had read, memorizing vast amounts of information in subjects ranging from history and literature, geography and numbers to sports, music and dates.

Peek died of a heart attack at his home on December 19, 2009, aged 58.

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