Scientists who study idiot-savants, people who are autistic but geniuses in one particular area, think that brain damage in one part of the brain causes other parts to become much more developed than normal. Can a stroke affect the brain the same way?
Tommy McHugh suffered a stroke three years ago. Before then, he had no interest in art, but now he spends most of his time drawing, sculpting and writing poetry. After the stroke, Tommy says, “I didn’t know much about who I was and what I was. My brain wasn’t telling me I was hungry, I was talking in relentless rhymes. Everything was a rhyme?I started writing poetry in rhymes about what I was experiencing. The personalities I was living with at the time were revolving like a chamber in a gun.”
It was the artist personality that finally won out. Tommy says, “I’d spend 10 hours doing a mural on a wall thinking it was only 10 seconds?I just?finish [one work of art], move away and then go and maybe make a clay head. I finish that and go and play with a bit of stone, come back and do another picture, sit down and write a poem, get up and make a butterfly out of birds’ feathers.”
Before his stroke, he was a prisoner with a long history of violence and heroin addiction. He says, “I like what I’m being, what I am. I’m happy being the Tommy I am now, not the Tommy people remember. Whatever happened inside my brain I find it absolutely fantastic.”
Artist Marion Kalmus says, “He’ll make things out of anything. If you sit him in a room he’ll be making something out of a paper cup while you are talking to him.”
Neurophysiologist Mark Lythgoe says, “Perhaps, whatever was keeping his artistic talents hidden or dormant has been damaged just enough to allow them to pour through. Somewhere, it seems, a floodgate has been opened. We are still a long way from understanding the brain bases of the artistic drive, but we hope that by studying rare and intriguing cases like Tommy’s, we might get a glimpse of what could be going on.”
There are wonders in the past too, that are just now being discovered: Graham Phillips’s research uncovers the secret legacy of an ancient noble family over generations and a trail of clues hidden in the English countryside that lead to a mysterious grotto, a forgotten attic, and the lost chalice known as the holy grail.
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