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为何有人会突然变成天才?

更新时间:2018-1-27 12:02:12 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

The mystery of why some people become sudden geniuses
为何有人会突然变成天才?

It was the summer of 1860 and Eadweard Muybridge was running low on books. This was somewhat problematic, since he was a bookseller. He handed his San Francisco shop over to his brother and set off on a stagecoach to buy supplies. Little did he know, he was about to change the world forever.

1860年夏天,埃德沃德·迈布里奇(Eadweard Muybridge)的图书库存有点不足。对他来说,这就是一个问题,因为他是书商。于是他把旧金山的书店交给他的兄弟,自己坐上一辆马车去找图书供应商补货。他不知道的是,他即将永远的改变这个世界。

He was some way into his journey, in north-eastern Texas, when the coach ran into trouble. The driver cracked his whip and the horses broke into a run, leading the coach surging down a steep mountain road. Eventually it veered off and into a tree. Muybridge was catapulted into the air and cracked his head on a boulder.

当他的旅程进行到得克萨斯东北部时,马车出了事故。驾车者的马鞭断了,马就一路狂奔,带着马车冲下一条陡峭的山路。最后,马车偏离了道路,撞上一棵树。迈布里奇被甩到空中,头撞上了一块石头。

He woke up nine days later at a hospital 150 miles (241 km) away. The accident left him with a panoply of medical problems, including double vision, bouts of seizures and no sense of smell, hearing or taste. But the most radical change was his personality.

九天后,他才在一家241公里以外的医院里苏醒过来。这次事故导致他出现了很多病症,包括复视、癫痫,失去嗅觉、听觉和味觉。但是最大的变化是性格。

Previously Muybridge had been a genial and open man, with good business sense. Afterwards he was risk-taking, eccentric and moody; he later murdered his wife’s lover. He was also, quite possibly, a genius.

此前,迈布里奇是一个和蔼、开朗的人,有精明的商业头脑。此后,他变的喜欢冒险、古怪、性情多变。后来,他还谋杀了妻子的情人。他还很有可能成了一个天才。

The question of where creative insights come from – and how to get more of them – has remained a subject of great speculation for thousands of years. According to scientists, they can be driven by anything from fatigue to boredom. The prodigies themselves have other, even less convincing ideas. Plato said that they were the result of divine madness. Or do they, as Freud believed, arise from the sublimation of sexual desires? Tchaikovsky maintained that eureka moments are born out of cool headwork and technical knowledge.

创造性的洞察力从何而来——以及如何获得更多的洞察力——是数千年来的一大谜题。科学家认为,这可能是疲劳或厌倦等很多因素的产物。一些天才也给出了解释,但是说服力比较弱。柏拉图说,天才是神性的疯狂的结果。弗洛伊德认为这是性欲的升华所致。柴可夫斯基认为顿悟时刻是冷静思考和技术知识的结晶。

But until recently, most sensible people agreed on one thing: creativity begins in the pink, wobbly mass inside our skulls. It surely goes without saying that striking the brain, impaling it, electrocuting it, shooting it, slicing bits out of it or depriving it of oxygen would lead to the swift death of any great visions possessed by its owner.

但是直到最近,大多数明智之士达成了一致的看法:创造力源自我们头盖骨里面的粉色、摇晃的物体。这里当然无需赘言:只需要一点点的重击、敲打、刺穿、电击、射击大脑,切割大脑的一小块,或者停止对大脑的供氧都会导致伟大的想法立刻消失。

As it happens, sometimes the opposite is true.

不过现实有时候恰恰相反。

After the accident, Muybridge eventually recovered enough to sail to England. There his creativity really took hold. He abandoned bookselling and became a photographer, one of the most famous in the world. He was also a prolific inventor. Before the accident, he hadn’t filed a single patent. In the following two decades, he applied for at least 10.

在事故以后,迈布里奇最终康复到能坐船去英国的程度。他的创造力在英国才真正显现。他放弃了书商的工作,成了世界最知名的摄影师之一。他还是一个多产的发明家。在事故之前,他从未注册过任何专利。在接下来的20年里,他至少申请了10项专利。

In 1877 he took a bet that allowed him to combine invention and photography. Legend has it that his friend, a wealthy railroad tycoon called Leland Stanford, was convinced that horses could fly. Or, more accurately, he was convinced that when they run, all their legs leave the ground at the same time. Muybridge said they didn’t.

1877年,他在和人打赌时把发明和摄影结合起来。传说中,他的朋友、铁路界大亨利兰·斯坦福(Leland Stanford)确信马有可能会飞,准确的说是马在奔跑时会四足同时离地。但是迈布里奇认为马不会四足同时离地。

To prove it he placed 12 cameras along a horse track and installed a tripwire that would set them off automatically as Stanford’s favourite racing horse, Occident, ran. Next he invented the inelegantly named “zoopraxiscope”, a device which allowed him to project several images in quick succession and give the impression of motion. To his amazement, the horse was briefly suspended, mid-gallop. Muybridge had filmed the first movie – and with it proven that yes, horses can fly.

为了证明这一点,他在一条赛马跑道旁架设了12台摄像机,用一根拉发线连起来。当斯坦福最喜欢的赛马"Occident"起跑时,就会自动触发摄像机拍照。然后,他又发明了"动物实验镜"(Zoopraxiscope),它可以快速连续播放多个图像,并投影出来,给人图像动起来的印象。让他震惊的是,马在奔腾时短暂的悬停在半空中。迈布里奇拍摄的是世界上第一部电影——并以此证明了马真的会飞。

The abrupt turnaround of Muybridge’s life, from ordinary bookseller to creative genius, has prompted speculation that it was a direct result of his accident. It’s possible that he had “sudden savant syndrome”, in which exceptional abilities emerge after a brain injury or disease. It’s extremely rare, with just 25 verified cases on the planet.

迈布里奇从普通的书商变成创造性天才的突兀转折使得有人猜测直接原因是他经历的那次事故。有可能他经历了"突发性学者症候群",在大脑受伤或疾病后产生了出众的能力。这种病症极为罕见,全球只有25个确诊病例。

There’s Tony Cicoria, an orthopaedic surgeon who was struck by lightning at a New York park in 1994. It went straight through his head and left him with an irresistible desire to play the piano. To begin with he was playing other people’s music, but soon he started writing down the melodies that were constantly running through his head. Today he’s a pianist and composer, as well as a practicing surgeon.

1994年,骨科医生托尼·奇科里亚(Tony Cicoria)在纽约的一个公园被雷电击中。雷电直接穿过了他的头部,给他留下了难以控制的弹钢琴的欲望。一开始他弹的是其他人的音乐,但是很快他就开始按照自己脑海中挥之不去的旋律谱曲。如今,他是一位钢琴家、作曲家,同时也是执业外科医生。

Another case is Jon Sarkin, who was transformed from a chiropractor into an artist after a stroke. The urge to draw landed almost immediately. He was having “all kinds” of therapy at the hospital – speech therapy, art therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, mental therapy – “And they stuck a crayon in my hand and said ‘want to draw?’ And I said ‘fine’,” he says.

另一个案例是琼恩·萨金(Jon Sarkin)。他之前是脊骨神经医学家,在一次中风以后变成了艺术家。他在中风后很快就产生了绘画的欲望。他在医院接受了各种各样的疗法——言语疗法、艺术疗法、物理疗法、职业疗法以及心理疗法。他说:"他们给了我一只蜡笔,问我'你想画画吗?'我就说'好。'"

His first muse was a cactus at his home in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was the fingered kind, like you might find in Western movies from the 50s. Even his earliest paintings are extremely abstract. In some versions the branches resemble swirling green snakes, while others they are red, zig-zagging staircases.

他的第一位缪斯女神是他在马萨诸塞州格洛斯特(Gloucester, Massachusetts)家里的仙人掌,就是50年代西部片里的那种手指形状的仙人掌。他最初的绘画作品非常抽象。一些版本里的仙人掌很像蜿蜒的绿蛇,而有的又像是曲折的红色楼梯。

His works have since been published in The New York Times, featured on album covers and been covered in a book by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. They regularly sell for $10,000 (£7,400).

他的作品后来还在《纽约时报》上发表,用在专辑封套上,并成为普利策奖(Pulitzer Prize)获奖作者的书的封面。他的画作通常售价是10000美元。

Most strikingly there’s Jason Padgett, who was attacked at a bar in Tacoma, Washington in 2002. Before the attack, Padgett was a college dropout who worked at a futon store. His primary passions in life were partying and chasing girls. He had no interest in maths – at school, he didn’t even get into algebra class.

最让人震惊的是杰森·帕吉特(Jason Padgett)。2002年,他在华盛顿州塔科马(Tacoma, Washington)的一家酒吧遇袭。此前,帕吉特从大学退学,在日本床垫店工作。此前他生活中的爱好就是参加聚会和追女孩。他上学时对数学没有兴趣。他连代数都没有学过。

But that night, everything changed. Initially he was taken to the hospital with a severe concussion. “I remember thinking that everything looked funky, but I thought it was just the narcotic pain shot they gave me” he says. “Then the next morning I woke up and turned on the water. It looked like little tangent lines [a straight line that touches a single point on a curve], spiralling down.”.

但是那个晚上改变了一切。一开始他因为严重的脑震荡被送进了医院。他说:"我记得所有的东西看起来都很奇怪,但是我当时以为是因为他们给我注射了麻醉剂。第二天早上,我醒过来,打开水龙头,水流看起来像是螺旋向下的正切线。"

From then onwards Padgett’s world was overlaid with geometric shapes and gridlines. He became obsessed with maths and is now renowned for his drawings of formulas such as Pi. Today he’s incredulous that he once didn’t know what a tangent was. “I do feel like two people, and I’ve had my mum and my dad say that. It’s like having two separate kids,” he says.

自此以后,帕吉特的世界就与几何图形和网格线纠缠在一起。他开始痴迷数学,现在以写圆周率这样的公式闻名世界。他无法相信自己曾经不知道正切是什么。"我感觉自己像是两个人。我父母也这么说,就像是有两个不同孩子一样,"他说。

Why does this happen? How does it work? And what does it teach us about what makes geniuses special?

为什么会发生这种现象?它的原理是怎样的?这能否解释天才是怎样产生的?

There are two leading ideas. The first is that when you’re bashed on the head, the effects are similar to a dose of LSD. Psychedelic drugs are thought to enhance creativity by increasing the levels of serotonin, the so-called “happiness hormone”, in the brain. This leads to “synaesthesia”, in which more than one region is simultaneously activated and senses which are usually separate become linked.

目前有两种主要的观点。第一是当头部受到重击时,其效果类似于一剂LSD(迷幻药)。迷幻药被认为会通过提高大脑内部的血清素水平(所谓的"快乐荷尔蒙")从而增强人的创造力。这会引发"联觉",即两个或两个以上的区域同时被刺激,原本分离的感官感觉就这样联系起来。

Many people don’t need drugs to experience this: nearly 5% of the population has some form of synaesthesia, with the most common type being “grapheme-colour”, in which words are associated with colours. For example, the actor Geoffrey Rush believes that Mondays are pale blue.

很多人不需要药物也会有这种体验:近5%的人有某种形式的联觉,最常见的一种类型是"字形-颜色联觉",即把词语和颜色联系起来。例如,演员杰弗里·拉什(Geoffrey Rush)觉得星期一是浅蓝色的。

When the brain is injured, dead and dying cells leak serotonin into the surrounding tissue. Physically, this seems to encourage new connections between brain regions, just as with LSD. Mentally, it allows the person to link the seemingly unconnected. “We’ve found permanent changes before – you can actually see connections in the brain that weren’t there before,” says Berit Brogaard, a neuroscientist who directs the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research, Florida.

当大脑受伤时,死亡的和正在死亡的细胞把血清素排出至周围的组织。从生理学角度来看,这可能会促进大脑各区域建立新的连接,这和迷幻药是一样的。在心理层面上,它会让患者把看似不相关的东西联系起来。神经科学家、佛罗里达州布若嘉德多感觉研究实验室(Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research)主管贝里特·布若嘉德(Berit Brogaard)说:"我们之前也发现过这种恒久的变化——你会真的看到大脑中建立以前不存在新连接。"

But there is an alternative. The first clue emerged in 1998, when a group of neurologists noticed that five of their patients with dementia were also artists – remarkably good ones. Specifically, they had frontotemporal dementia, which is unusual in that it only affects some parts of the brain. For example, visual creativity may be spared, while language and social skills are progressively destroyed.

但是还有另一种可能。第一条线索在1998年浮出水面。当时,一批神经学家注意到他们的五位痴呆症患者同时也是优秀的艺术家。具体来说,他们患有额颞痴呆症。这种病症的不同寻常之处在于它只影响大脑的一些部分。例如,视觉创造力可能未受影响,但是语言和社交技能逐渐消退。

One of these was “Patient 5”. At the age of 53 he had enrolled in a short course in drawing at a local park, though he previously had no interest in such things. It just so happened to coincide with the onset of his dementia; a few months later, he was having trouble speaking.

其中的5号患者在他53岁时注册了本地公园的绘画短课程,尽管此前他对绘画之类的东西没有兴趣。刚好与此同时他的痴呆症开始发病。几个月后,他就出现语言障碍。

Soon he became irritable and eccentric, developing a compulsion to search for money on the street. As his illness progressed, so did his drawing, advancing from simple still-life paintings to haunting, impressionist depictions of buildings from his childhood.

他变的易怒、古怪,并产生了在街上找钱的强迫症。随着疾病的加重,他的绘画水平也提高了,从简单的静物画,到让人难以忘怀的、印象派风格、以儿时建筑为主题的绘画。

To find out what was going on, the scientists performed 3D scans of their patients’ brains. In four out of five cases, they found lesions on the left hemisphere. Nobel Prize-winning research from the 1960s shows that the two halves of the brain specialise in different tasks; in general, the right side is home to creativity and the left is the centre of logic and language.

为了查明真相,科学家对患者的大脑进行了3D扫描。在五个病例中,有四个的大脑左半球存在损伤。20世纪60年代一项赢得诺贝尔奖的研究表明大脑的两个半球各有分工。整体而言,右边是创造力的源泉,左边是逻辑和语言的中心。

But the left side is also something of a bully. “It tends to be the dominant brain region,” says Brogaard. “It tends to suppress very marginal types of thinking - highly original, highly creative thinking, because it’s beneficial for our decision-making abilities and our ability to function in normal life.”. The theory goes that as the patients’ left hemispheres became progressively more damaged, their right hemispheres were free to flourish.

但是左脑有时候会占上风。布若嘉德说:"左脑常常是大脑的主导区域,可能会压抑非常边缘的思维模式——原创性、创造性很强的想法——因为这会有助于我们的决策能力和进行日常生活的能力。"按照该理论,这些患者在左脑逐渐受损的同时,他们的右脑开始自由驰骋。

This is backed up by several other studies, including one in which creative insight was roused in healthy volunteers by temporarily dialling down activity in the left hemisphere and increasing it in the right. “[the lead researcher] Allen Snyder’s work was replicated by another person, so that’s the theory that I think is responsible,” says Darold Treffert, a psychiatrist from the University of Wisconsin Medical School, who has been studying savant syndrome for decades.

这一观点得到了其他多个研究的支持,其中之一是激发身体健康的志愿者的创造力,方法是在短期内削弱左脑的活动,加强右脑的活动。"[研究主管]艾伦·斯奈德(Allen Snyder)的研究还得到了他人的重复验证,所以我觉得这个理论是值得信赖的,"威斯康星大学医学院(University of Wisconsin Medical School)的心理咨询师达洛德·崔福特(Darold Treffert)说。他数十年来一直在研究学者症候群。

But what about more mainstream geniuses? Could the theory explain their talents, too?

但是更多的主流天才该怎么解释?这个理论能否解释他们的天分?

Consider autism. From Daniel Tammet, who can perform mind-boggling mathematical calculations at stupendous speed, to Gottfried Mind, the “Cat Raphael”, who drew the animal with an astonishing level of realism, so-called “autistic savants” can have superhuman skills to rival those of the Renaissance polymaths.

以自闭症为例。丹尼尔·谭米特(Daniel Tammet)能够以让人震惊的速度完成极为复杂的数学运算。"画猫的拉斐尔"戈特弗里德·麦恩德(Gottfried Mind)画的动物能够达到惊人的现实主义水平。所谓的自闭学者症候群患者能够获得超凡的技能,和文艺复兴的通才相媲美。

It’s been estimated that as many as one in 10 people with autism have savant syndrome and there’s mounting evidence the disorder is associated with enhanced creativity. And though it’s difficult to prove, it’s been speculated that numerous intellectual giants, including Einstein, Newton, Mozart, Darwin and Michelangelo, were on the spectrum.

据估计,十分之一的自闭症患者患有学者症候群。有越来越多的证据表明,自闭症和极高的创造力有关。虽然这一点很难证明,但是有人猜测知识界的许多巨人,包括爱因斯坦、牛顿、莫扎特、达尔文和米开朗基罗,都患有自闭症。

One theory suggests that autism arises from abnormally low levels of serotonin in the left hemisphere in childhood, which prevents the region from developing normally. Just like with sudden savant syndrome, this allows the right hemisphere to become more active.

理论表明自闭症的原因是童年时期左脑的血清素低于正常水平,导致该区域无法正常发育。就和突发性学者症候群一样,这就让右脑较为活跃。

Interestingly, many people with sudden savant syndrome also develop symptoms of autism, including social problems, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and all-consuming interests. “It got so bad that if I had money I would spray the money with Lysol and put it in the microwave for a few seconds to get rid of the germs,” says Padgett.

有趣的是,很多突发性学者症候群患者也会出现自闭症,包括社交问题、强迫症和吞噬一切的兴趣。"我的病症严重到如果我有钞票,我就会在上面喷来苏尔(Lysol)消毒液,然后放进微波炉转几秒钟,以消灭病菌,"帕吉特说。

“They are usually able to have a normal life, but they also have this obsession,” says Brogaard. This is something universal across all sudden savants. Jon Sarkin compares his art to an instinct. “It doesn’t feel like I like drawing, it feels like I must draw.” His studio contains thousands of finished and unfinished works, which are often scribbled with curves, words, cross-hatchings, and overlapping images.

"他们通常能够正常生活,但是会有着迷的东西,"布若嘉德说。这是突发性学者症候群患者普遍存在的情况。琼恩·萨金把他的艺术比做本能。"感觉上不是我喜欢绘画,而是我不得不画。"他的画室里有数千幅完成的和未完成的作品,上面画满了曲线、词语、网状线和重叠的图像。

In fact, though they often don’t need to, sudden savants work hard at improving their craft. “I mean, I practiced a lot. Talent and hard work, I think they are indistinguishable – you do something a lot and you get better at it,” says Sarkin. Padgett agrees. “When you’re fixated on something like that, of course you do discover things.”

事实上,突发性学者症候群也会努力提高自己的技艺,尽管他们不需要这样做。"我的意思是,我进行了大量的练习。我觉得才能和努力是分不开的——一件事你做了很多次,就会有提高,"萨金说。"当你专注于一件事情时,你当然会发现一些东西。"帕吉特表示同意。

Muybridge was no exception. After the bet, he moved to Philadelphia and continued with his passion for capturing motion on film, photographing all kinds of activities such as walking up and down the stairs and, oddly, himself swinging a pickaxe in the nude. Between 1883 and 1886, he took more than 100,000 pictures.

迈布里奇也不例外。在那次打赌以后,他搬家到费城,继续用胶片拍摄物体运动的爱好,他拍摄了各种活动,比如上下楼梯和他自己赤身露体挥舞十字镐。从1883年到1886年,他拍了10万多张照片。

“In my opinion at least, the fact that they can improve their abilities doesn’t negate the suddenness or insistence with which they are there,” says Treffert. As our understanding of sudden savant syndrome improves, eventually it’s hoped that we might all be able to unlock our hidden mental powers – perhaps with the help of smart drugs or hardware.

"至少按照我的看法,他们能够提高自己的能力与他们的才能是突然获得并能够长久保持并不矛盾,"崔福特说。随着我们对突发性学者症候群的认识逐渐加深,最终我们有希望释放潜藏的脑力——可能要在药物或硬件的帮助之下。

But until then, perhaps us mortals could try putting in some extra hours instead.

但是,在那一天到来之前,芸芸众生可能还需要靠多花时间和努力。

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