Remembering Kim Peek: The Uncanny Human Computer

The New York Times has a fascinating obituary on Kim Peek, the autistic man who was Dustin Hoffman's inspiration for Rain Man's character Raymond Babbitt. Some of his powers were absolutely uncanny:

• He could read two facing pages simultaneously, one with each eye. • With that ability, he read 12,000 books and remembered every one of the pages. • He knew so many plays and music pieces with absolute precision that he would be able to tell if an instrument was a note off in a philharmonic orchestra. • He could remember every day in the calendar, area codes, ZIP codes, maps, countless classical compositions, a zillion trivia bits across dozens of fields in human knowledge and the arts, and give GPS-like directions for any city of the US.

And yet, with all these powers, Peek - who died a few days ago - wasn't able to understand poetry or conceptualise ideas. It was all about the memory and his extraordinary processing abilities.

However, the most important thing is that this man, who was born with these superpowers but also with grave problems, was able to go through life, cultivate his skills, work on his disabilities, partially solving his problems to interact socially, and finally emerged as someone passionate about what he liked, and loved by many.

Head to the NYT to read the complete obituary. [NYT]

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