It’s estimated that there are no more than 50 savants alive today. Even more rare, less than a dozen of those are accidental savants — otherwise known as “sudden geniuses.” If you’re not familiar, ‘sudden genius’ is the result of an extremely rare case of head trauma which leaves the victim with a prodigious gift — in music or painting or even mathematics.
One of the most mind-bending instances of sudden genius in recent history is that of Derek Amato, who suffered a major concussion after diving into the shallow end of a pool in 2006, while trying to catch a football. A twist of fate that, at first, seemed to trigger only misfortune.
“The first week was weird,” Amato explains. “When I woke up, I realized I had been sleeping for five days, and all of a sudden my hands were extremely fidgety and nervous, almost like tapping nervous. I recognized that right away, and I was seeing these blocks and squares going in motion. It was all out of whack…I was seeing squares, they were black and white.”
Amato would soon come to realize that the black and white squares floating across his vision were now permanent. That’s because his brain injury had resulted in synesthesia — a condition in which “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body.”
In other words: Derek could now see sound. But that’s not the most amazing thing about his injury. Not only did he survive and develop this very rare form of synesthesia, but Amato was also gifted with the immediate and spontaneous ability to play the piano. And… play it really well.
“Think of being overloaded with millions of notations. Little musical marks, if you can just imagine being overloaded with those 24 hours a day,” he says. “I just try and dictate what my mind’s eye sees, the black and white squares that I see. My fingers kind of gradually go towards playing what I see. I’ll play for an hour or two and kind of let my brain go, and just play what I see.”
Prior to the accident, Amato had absolutely no musical training or ability. When he woke up, he had the ability to play music with the proficiency of a trained professional. Not normal in the least.