The main reason I chose How Smart Can We Get would be it is our intelligence that sets us apart from any other being on this planet. Humans have a unique brain. It allows us to solve problems in ways that are still surprising us to this day. Every time that humanity has been faced with a problem supposed to be too great for us to conquer, a brain has concocted an answer to save us. There are several reasons the human brain is such a marvel. The ones the documentary touched on that I found particularly interesting are the brain’s ability to change itself, the differences in people with Savant Syndrome, and why we choke under pressure.
In the first part of the documentary it becomes apparent that Albert Einstein’s brain looks different. One of the more striking differences is there is a knob in his right primary motor cortex. This knob is a result of an enlarged gyrus that controls his left hand. It turns out that many musicians who have had lessons from childhood onward have this very same knot. People who play stringed instruments tend to have this knot on the left side, while people who play the piano tend to have the knot on the right side of their brains. This demonstrates the brain’s remarkable ability to change itself to fit the demands being placed upon it by the environment.
There also happens to be a man who can calculate what day of the week any given date will fall on. He has a condition called Savant Syndrome. People who have Savant syndrome have abilities that far exceed what would normally be considered average. Some are born with these abilities and some acquire them after sustaining neurological damage. One woman whose language centers began to deteriorate started to paint beautiful pictures, even though she didn’t have any artistic talent before. Another example would be a man who hit his head at the bottom of a pool woke up a week later with an insatiable need to play the piano. One thing all of these brains seem to have in common is when one part of the brain is no longer available, either due to voluntary processes or injury, another part’s processing ability increases. When these people are placed in an fMRI scanner and they perform their ability, the areas of the brain responsible light up and other areas seem to shut down. Normal brains light up symmetrically when faced with a problem. In Savants, only the parts they need on one side of the brain light up.
Sian Beilock is now a researcher, but before she got to Chicago she was a goalie with Olympic sized dreams. She even had a national coach come and watch her play. She was so close, before she chocked. She performed worse than she had in years. It became her mission to find out why, which led her to the University of Chicago. She is researching why some people choke under pressure when others don’t. As it turns out, choking has to do with communications between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. In some people when they feel stressed the...