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Unformatted text preview: feless, two-dimensional, tadpole-like sketches
drawn by most normal eight- and nine-year olds—or even a
very good one by Leonardo da Vinci. (See Figure 3.)
So we have another paradox. How can this retarded child
produce a drawing that is so incredibly beautiful? The answer,
I maintain, is the principle of isolation.
In Nadia, perhaps many or even most of her brain modules
are damaged because of her autism, but there is a spared island of cortical tissue in the right parietal. So her brain spontaneously allocates all her attentional resources to the one module that’s still functioning, her right parietal. The right parietal
is the part of the brain concerned with our sense of artistic
proportion. We know this because when it’s damaged in an
adult, artistic sense is lost. Stroke patients with right parietal
damage produce drawings that are often excessively detailed
but lack the vital essence of the picture they are trying to de182 the artful brain (a) (b) (c) Figure 3. (a) A drawing of a horse by Nadia, the autistic savant,
when she was five years old. (b) A horse drawn by Leonardo da Vinci.
(c) A horse drawn by a normal eight-year-old. Notice Nadia’s drawing
is vastly superior to that of the normal eight-year-old and almost as
good as (or perhaps better than!) Leonardo’s horse. (a) and (c)
reprinted from Nadia, by Lorna Selfe, with permission from
Academic Press (New York). pict. They have lost their sense of artistic proportion. Nadia,
since everything else is damaged in her brain, spontaneously
allocates all her attention to the right parietal—so she has a
hyperfunctioning art module in her brain which is responsible
for her beautiful renderings of horses and roosters. What most
of us “normals” have to learn to do through years of training—
ignoring irrelevant variables—she does effortlessly. Consistent
with this idea, Nadia lost her artistic sense once she grew up
and improved her language skills.
Another example is equally striking. Steve Miller, of the University of California, has studied patients who start developing
rapidly progressing dementia in middle age, a form of dementia
183 the internet and the university called fronto-temporal dementia. This affects the frontal and
temporal lobes but spares the parietal lobe. Some of these patients suddenly start producing the most amazingly beautiful
paintings and drawings, even though they had no artistic talent
before the onset of their dementia. Again, the isolation principle is at work. With all other modules in the brain not working,
the patient develops a hyperfunctioning right parietal. There
are even reports from Alan Snyder in Australia that it is possible to unleash such hidden talents by temporarily paralyzing
parts of the brain in normal volunteers. If his findings are confirmed, it will truly be a brave new world.
That brings me to another question: why do humans even
bother creating and viewing art?8 I’ve already hinted at some
possible answers, but let me spell th...
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- Summer '09