Horizon (1964) s46e13 Episode Script

What Makes a Genius?

How can you explain the talent of someone like William Shakespeare, who, every time he put pen to paper, created a masterpiece? Can science account for genius? For somebody like Isaac Newton, whose brain power alone allowed him to understand the force .
of gravity? Or Christopher Wren - why was he the one who saw that mathematics was the key to creating such stunning structures as St Paul's Cathedral? Was the jet engine the result of Frank Whittle's brilliance, or just a historical inevitability? Were Lennon and McCartney born with a talent for writing such memorable songs, or was it just the result of hard graft? What about Handel? Was his skill a result of his genes? And Hendrix - was he just lucky, in the right place at the right time? Could anyone - anyone - have a Eureka moment? I am a mathematician.
I am NOT a genius - a fact my wife and kids would be happy to confirm.
But who is a genius, and why? Since I haven't had a chance to work with these calculators, I want to make sure they are all working.
Would somebody start by giving us a two-digit number, please? 53.
And another two-digit number 24.
Multiply 53 by 24, make sure you get 1,272 or the calculators aren't working.
Are all of your calculators working - 1,272? Yes.
What I am going to try to do is square some numbers in my head faster than you can do on your calculators, even using the shortcut.
So give us a two-digit number.
23 is 529.
39 is 1,521.
88 is 7,744.
Did I get 'em right? You did! Professor Arthur Benjamin is someone many would consider to be a genius.
333 is 110,889.
251 is 63,001.
That's amazing! 783.
Oh, that's 613,089.
That was very fast.
Let me try a four-digit number.
'He can do in seconds what many of us would find impossible.
' 2,373.
Five million 'But is he a genius?' Uh-oh! 631,129? That is amazing.
Wow! And I could see the steam coming off your head there! So that was pretty impressive, but could you go to a five-digit number? I could.
I'm going to set you on fire! It would be easier for me to explain it if I could write it down, so I could show you.
Can you actually do it out aloud, what's happening in your head, so we could hear it's not just some memory recall? Sure.
Give us a five-digit number.
OK, 24,501.
24,501 squared.
Let me explain to you how I'm going to attempt this problem.
I'll break it into three parts.
I'll do 24,000 squared, plus 501 squared, plus 24,000 times 501 times 2.
OK Distributive law.
I add those numbers together and with any luck arrive at the answer.
So, here we go, no more stalling.
24 times 501, 24 is 6 times 4.
501 times 6 is 3,006, times 4 is 12,024, double that to get 24,048.
48 becomes the word serve, serve, serve Next I do 24,000, add that to 24 neuroserve.
24 squared, which is 576.
Add that to 24 to get an even 600 million.
Serve, serve, serve.
Next I do 501 squared, that's 500 times 502 plus 1 squared, is 251,001.
Take the 251, add that to serve to get 299,001.
Wow! That is impressive! That is amazing! I don't know how he managed to do that! Wow! I wouldn't call myself a genius and I'm not just being modest.
I think genius is something that is a very creative process.
Whereas what I am doing is somewhat mechanical.
It's almost like Genius is Mozart who can compose brilliant compositions.
I'm merely someone playing the piano well.
And there is a big difference between a skill and something that is immensely creative.
So if Arthur Benjamin isn't a genius, who is? It's a question science struggles with as much as anyone else.
So in this programme I want to find out how science is trying to understand extreme talent, and to get to grips with why some people are smarter than others.
I'll ask whether geniuses are born or made.
Is this man a Grandmaster because he has the right genes? Can this baby really achieve anything she sets her mind to, or is her destiny already determined by the wiring of her brain? I'll find out whether what happens to our adolescent brain is key to understanding our intelligence.
And why these blue and yellow spots can help us detect innate abilities.
And I'll discover why this man's brain sheds light on one of the most intriguing characteristics of genius.
The question of why we all have different intellectual abilities has always engaged the minds of scientists.
And not so long ago, many of them thought the answer to be quite simple.
All it took was a decent anatomist to open up a skull and measure the brain's vital statistics.
I guess the idea of cutting up someone's brain to see what makes them intelligent or not, does make me a bit uneasy.
The search for intelligence via brain dissection doesn't really have an illustrious history.
At the start of the 20th century, donating one's brain to science was all the rage.
The popular assumption was that a heavy brain was a better brain.
Dozens of high-profile citizens had the contents of their skulls weighed and splayed.
Napoleon II's brain weighed 1,500 grams.
The novelist Thackeray's brain weighed in at a mighty 1,636 grams.
And yet Charles Babbage, the father of computing, and to many, a genius if ever there was one, his brain was a paltry 1,403.
It was this crude approach that brought the search for genius via brain dissection into disrepute.
But if you believe, as I do, that your thoughts are physically encoded in the brain, then you do have to conclude that the architecture of the brain must reflect in some way the way that you think.
In the bowels of the University of Louisville's anatomy department, they are dissecting brains of deceased scientists, or supernormals as they are known.
Dr Manuel Casanova says he has detected structural differences that might help explain cleverness.
His focus is on the minute arrangement of neurons in the cortex called the minicolumn.
This is the cortex here, is it? I can see these lines through the cortex - that's these things you call minicolumns? Ah, yes, you can think about the minicolumns as being like microprocessor of a computer.
You can accommodate only a certain number of them within the cortex.
And what we found was the brains of the supernormals, or these individuals with special skills, they had more of them because the columns were actually smaller.
But an overabundance of minicolumns is not the only difference that Manuel has detected.
The way regions of the brain were connected also appeared to be different in his supernormals.
In terms of connectivity, what we have found is that they had an overabundance of the shorter connections as compared to the longer connections.
Manuel believes that an excess of short, local connections within brain regions, is associated with narrow modes of thinking and doing single tasks extremely well.
Like concentrating on a single area of scientific research.
It's not evidence of genius, but it does suggest that the anatomy of our brain has a direct bearing on how we use it.
If anybody's brain was connected together to make them exceptionally clever, it has to be one of my heroes, Karl Friedrich Gauss, arguably one of the greatest mathematicians, if not geniuses, of all time.
In 1801, astronomers lost a newly discovered planet, Ceres, obscured by the sun.
They tried for months in vain to find the planet.
When Gauss heard about their problems, he took the data they'd recorded up to that point, created a whole new piece of mathematics, found a pattern and rediscovered Ceres.
It's one of the many great contributions Gauss made both to mathematics and science.
But how well would Gauss perform at this test? Could he intuitively tell whether there are more blue or yellow dots on this screen? What about here? Or here? Or this one? It's a test that could help answer an age-old question - was a maths genius like Gauss born or made? I'm here at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to find out.
Professor Justin Halberda came up with the test as a means of measuring one's gut sense of number.
Volunteers, in this case six-year-old Sammy, are given moments to make their mind up.
This is far to quick for him to be counting how many there are.
Yeah, absolutely.
You can get a sense, a gut sense of about how many, but you can't count precisely how many.
But you get this sense of there's more yellow on that one.
By looking at how well Sammy does as a function of the ratio between the blues and the yellows, we're going to be able to say how precise is his personal number sense.
And what did you find? Did you find that people had the same problems with assessing the difference? Everyone has a point at which they begin to have trouble, but when that point happens is different for every individual.
Was that a surprise? Were you expecting to find people reasonably similar? Yeah.
For me it was a massive surprise, because this system, this gut sense of number, is something evolutionarily very old.
I mean, rats have it, pigeons have it.
We can measure it in a three month-old baby.
So what about this connection between having good approximate number sense and your later mathematical ability? The connection appears to be way more powerful than I ever would have thought it was.
In the study we most recently ran, it was the number one most powerful cognitive predictor of success or failure in school mathematics.
I press the red one to get it going? That's right.
So, if this is the best predictor of success in mathematics, what will it say about my gut sense of number? Every now and again my analytic brain is trying to override what my subconscious brain is telling me.
Then I get it wrong.
You see there? That's absolutely true.
You feel it with your gut very quickly.
And then if you start to think, you can mess it up.
I've always had this sense that people aren't born to be a mathematician, that anyone could be a mathematician.
But does your research perhaps question that, that some people are perhaps born with better equipment that gives them a head start? It does question whether or not everybody could be a maths genius.
There seems to be a portion of the population that has a specific impairment of the number sense, and that impairment greatly hinders their ability to learn later mathematics.
They will have a significantly more difficult time.
But for the upper range, for the average person or the exceptional person with number sense, we don't see much prediction there.
That is consistent with your suggestion that almost everybody could become a maths professor.
BEEPING Finished it with a bong! OK, Marcus, so here's the performance of you and Sammy.
You are in red, Sammy is in blue.
Is high good? High is good.
Yo! High is better, so you did better than Sammy.
But crucially, look here.
You and Sammy are the same on the easy ones - ten dots versus five dots.
Ten blue, five yellow.
You guys both always know the right answer.
It's very easy.
Now, where does it start to get hard? For Sammy, it's getting hard when there are around five blue dots and six yellow dots.
That would be tough for Sammy.
For you, you are fine with five blue and six yellow.
You start to have trouble when there are eight blue and nine yellow.
Much closer in number there.
It turns out that my number sense was pretty average, whereas, for his age, Sammy did exceptionally well.
It seems that he's been born with a gift for maths.
But does that make him likely to be a future genius? Well, Justin's research seems to indicate that some people's brains may not be hard-wired to do mathematics.
But for me, it doesn't really tease out what is it about somebody's brain that makes them able to do, not only mathematics, but other things? What makes somebody not just good, but great? I want to know what explains the extra degree of intelligence that some people appear to be born with.
It raises the question of the role of genes in shaping our intelligence.
In 1820, the young genius Janos Bolyai received a letter.
It was beseeching him to turn his back on the exceedingly complex mathematical research he was engaged in.
Thankfully for us, he ignored the letter and went on to produce amazing new theories of geometry.
Now, here's the rub.
The letter actually came from his father, also a mathematician, also a great thinker.
Now what makes these kind of families? Families like the Brontes, who produced three siblings, all literary geniuses.
It makes me wonder how much intelligence is passed on from parents to child.
How much can the Bolyai family and the Bronte family tell us about the genetics of genius? I've come to the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology, where they think they have found the holy grail of intelligence.
A specific gene associated with learning.
We went back to a very basic feature of learning, which is, you know, that the more you study, the more you practise, the more you do something, the better you get at it.
So our insightful starting point was that genes that get turned on by activity in the brain, would be the ones that would be important for learning.
To test the mice, a simple conditioning process is used.
Though I should warn you, it is painful for the mouse.
It hears white noise, and then experiences a mild electric shock.
Ordinary mice should quickly learn to associate one with the other.
And now here we get the shock.
Oh! That was not nice for it.
So they jump around.
Next time, when it's put in a bit later, like the Pavlov dog, it's going to hear that white noise.
And even if there isn't an electric shock It's going to freeze probably when it hears the noise.
It really freezes? OK.
Ivan Pavlov pioneered conditioning as a means of testing how well animals learn, by training dogs.
By ringing a bell or flashing a light before he fed his dogs, Pavlov conditioned them to associate one with the other.
So eventually when he turned the light on, but there was no food, the dogs nevertheless anticipated a meal and began salivating.
Elly has conditioned two types of mice - ordinary and genetically modified.
First, she tests an ordinary mouse, that should have learnt to associate the white noise with the shock.
Here, now the tone starts.
And you can see that it basically freezes.
Yeah, it shot back! There is no shock here, all it's doing is listening to this tone.
But because it remembers that this tone is a bad thing, it is not moving.
Next, Elly tests a mouse that has had a single, specific gene switched off.
So current is this research we are not allowed to reveal the actual name of the gene, but its absence should mean that the mouse has become incapable of learning.
What we are expecting here is that it is going to hear the tone, but it is going to be oblivious.
Sure enough, the mouse had not learned to associate the white noise with an unpleasant experience at all.
In fact, it is totally oblivious to it.
The thing that's surprising is not that a gene is involved, but that with just deleting one gene you can see such a robust effect on behaviour.
Elly has created a mouse that, though seemingly healthy in every other way, is simply unable to learn.
Identifying this gene represents a profound breakthrough in our understanding of the relationship between genetics and intelligence.
What implications does this have for humans? I mean, you've found something in mice, but is it the same for humans? Do we have a gene that is associated with learning? So this particular gene, it's very interesting, is very highly conserved.
So the protein made by this gene is in humans is 100% the same as in mice.
And usually when we see something that is so highly conserved between species, it's usually a sign that it's something very critical, because, you know, evolution hasn't fiddled with it.
In other words, we humans have the very same gene as the one Elly has identified.
By knocking this gene out, developed cells become deficient in their ability to grow dendrites - the branch-like part of the neuron that connects one cell to another.
If these connections aren't made, the brain is less able to transform experiences into memories, and therefore to learn.
The implications of this are exciting, and have far-reaching consequences on how we might learn in the future.
It's not whether you have the gene or not, everybody has the gene.
But you can dial it up or dial it down as far as how well this gene might be functioning.
So of course it would have relevance in a clinical situation where there really was a deficit in learning because of a neurological disorder, but you might imagine that also in the normal population there might be times when you might be tempted to dial things up a little, you know, you feel like, "I really need to be sharp today".
Tweaking our genetics to crank up our intelligence is still just a pipe-dream.
But Elly's work does represent a real breakthrough in our understanding of how we learn.
Elly's research is starting to give a more exact explanation of how genetics might affect your intelligence, in a sense how nature will influence your ability to learn and absorb things from your environment.
But even if you have a kind of super-charged gene, that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be a rocket scientist or even a mathematician.
But it probably does mean that you might be better at absorbing information and learning things.
If our genes do, to some degree, govern our ability to learn, does this mean we can predict potential? For some the answer is an emphatic yes.
Dr Ognjen Amidzic has studied the patterns of brain activity in lifelong chess players, some of whom have made it to Grandmaster status, others who failed.
His research has allowed him to develop something akin to a genius spotting machine.
I've agreed to let Ognjen measure my brain activity as I play a game of chess.
Now, I do know the rules, but I'm not very good and haven't played for about 20 years.
Best of luck.
I do feel a bit like I'm about to run 100m For comparison, my brain will be pitted against that of internationally respected chess Grandmaster Stuart Conquest.
When he was a child, Ognjen wanted to be a Grandmaster.
He spent 20 years training, even moving to the USSR to practise in the leading chess academies.
But despite his extensive efforts, Ognjen never broke through into the elite.
He wanted to find out why he failed to make it.
So he became a neuroscientist.
I'm sorry, I couldn't keep it going for much longer! The data shows that Stuart's brain is active in different areas to mine.
His brain revealed a typical "Grandmaster" pattern, active in the frontal areas associated with long-term memory and planning, but quieter in the middle, temporal lobes.
Whereas mine was less active at the front, but getting quite hot in the middle - an area associated with encoding new experiences.
Ognjen's research suggests that even if I were to train for 20 years and memorise chess strategies, my brain would never display a Grandmaster style pattern of activity like Stuart's.
His brain however, would always have shown this pattern, even before he started playing chess.
As much activity as you have in this temporal areas is a disadvantage for you.
Really? In terms of talent, more activity in temporal areas is less talent.
All right, OK.
It means that it's probably genetical.
That's kind of a bit depressing, that you can't change it.
So you really think that some people really are coming hard-wired to do chess, do mathematics or whatever talent it is? Everyone wants to think that you can achieve everything, they can be what they want to be.
And if they are not able to achieve it in life then you have someone responsible for this, their mother or the government or father's support, lack of money or whatsoever.
So they have some explanations But you think it might be something to do with the mother and father, the genetics? I think yes.
You are born a Grandmaster or you are born average chess player, like you are born a great mathematician or musician or soccer player, whatsoever.
People are born, not created.
I just don't believe and I don't see evidence whatsoever that you can make, create a genius.
So can you use this for young kids who haven't played much chess to pick out those who will be or could be Grandmasters? Yes, definitely.
You can measure a boy or girl who is six years and above and you can see the activity there and you can make a prediction of the results in the future, and this is what I think is amazing in this technology.
I am not entirely convinced by Ognjen's work.
He has shown that Grandmasters have a different pattern of activity in their brains, compared to chess players who have practised as much but enjoyed less success.
The evidence there seems reasonable enough.
But claims that one can measure intelligence and spot genius have a poor track record, but plenty of advocates.
One of the most fervent was Lewis Terman, a pioneer of the IQ test.
In 1922, Terman began one of the longest running tests of IQ in history.
He tested hundreds of children, and followed the lives and careers of those with the highest scores, whom he christened his "Termites".
But it's the story of those who never made Termite status that is really interesting.
One of the rejects was William Shockley, who went on to share the Nobel prize for physics for the invention of the transistor in 1948 - a breakthrough that has ultimately to led to the microchip and usher in the information revolution.
Ognjen believes that we are born hard-wired with a predisposition to certain skills.
I've seen that there are indeed genes associated with learning.
And I've learned that some of us appear to have innate advantages that might allow us to excel in certain areas.
Could it be that our fate is determined at birth? Or are we born blank slates, our brains able to rise to any challenge? At the Birkbeck Babylab, they conduct experiments they hope will help us understand the potential of the baby brain.
Today it's the turn of six-month-old Esther.
Esther is wearing a cap that will measure her brain activity as she takes a simple test.
It'll measure any difference in the response she has to these faces.
Can you tell the difference between these two human faces? And what about these two different monkey faces? Most adults find this task almost impossible, but it seems that Esther can do it with ease.
What are you expecting to see? Because she is about six months old, we're expecting her to process monkey faces as well as she does human faces.
And will she have been born with that ability to distinguish? One thing we know is that babies are very attracted to faces immediately when they are born.
But the baby brain is very plastic, so over time it will learn to process faces and then process monkey faces, because it is open to all sorts of stimuli.
What happens is that connections that are very useful - seeing human faces upright - will become strengthened over those early months of life.
And connections that are less useful because she is not seeing them, like monkey faces, will become weakened.
It seems Esther, like all of us, is born with abilities she will quickly lose if she does not use them.
Far from being set in stone, the human brain is ready and waiting to be shaped.
When will Esther not be able to pick out the faces of monkeys because she finds she doesn't really need to do that? Around 10-12 months.
So really early.
I mean the brain full-face processing continues development through to adolescence, but very early on, her brain is going to specialise for human faces.
So if Esther was brought up by chimps and seeing lots of different chimp faces, there would be a different structuring of her brain? Well, yes.
Her brain would specialise for chimp faces and she would think that all humans looked alike.
So how important are the genes in all of this? I think people tend to think of genes as sort of determining outcomes.
So building things Yes, that is just not the case except for the sort of broad structures for the brain.
Genes are just as dynamic as other aspects of our development, and genes get expressed in different ways as a function of the environment that we are experiencing.
This research shows just how flexible the brain is.
It can be nurtured by its environment to assume almost any set of skills, even become an expert in monkey facial recognition or perhaps a Chess Grandmaster.
But can our environment really explain the idea of genius? This was a question doing the rounds over 200 years ago, here at the Royal Society.
The place was abuzz with rumours of a remarkable recital played by a pianist to Daines Barrington, who was a fellow here at the Royal Society.
Barrington told of how the pianist played in a masterly fashion, was "incredible", "amazing".
The pianist's name was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
He was 8 years old.
It's stories like this, of the child prodigy, which really challenged the idea that it's just environment that makes a genius.
Derek Paravicini is autistic and has been blind since he was just a few weeks old.
'Now 30, his exceptional musical talent continues to develop.
' Yeah! Fantastic! Professor Adam Ockelford has worked with Derek since he was four.
He witnessed first-hand how Derek's brain sought to make sense of the world around him.
So, Adam, if the brain is deprived of visual input, it will look for something else to make sense of the world? Yeah, I think we're not hot-wired for music, but we are hot-wired to make sense of the world, we have to make sense of the world.
I think your young brain, Derek, was trying to latch onto something that did make sense.
Music is all around.
It's just like a toy, a glorious plaything, isn't it, sound? Lots of pattern, lots of repetition, lots of predictability, which is just what you needed at that time, Derek, to make sense of the world.
I work a lot with young children with autism, and blindness actually, and I think that's quite an extreme environment for the developing brain to grow into.
Because very often language doesn't mean a lot.
Clearly if you can't see, you haven't got the visual stimulus, and that's extreme.
And yet the human brain miraculously will try to make sense of the world, try and reach out and control the world.
And what these children seem to latch onto is this super-patterned auditory environment that is music.
People think, when they hear you, Derek, "wow, it's just a gift," because it is so spontaneous.
But the truth is, behind that cleverness, behind that spontaneity, behind that creativity, lies thousands of hours of really hard work.
Actually making the connections in the brain and, of course, getting the fingers to do what they are supposed to at the right time.
Derek, how do you actually learn a piece of music? You can't see, so you can't read the music.
How do you learn a piece like The Entertainer or The Flight Of The Bumblebee? Is it learning by listening? So you listen to a piece of music and then you can pick it up? Play it, yeah.
'But such is Derek's talent, he only has to hear a piece 'of music once or twice before he is able to memorise it, play it and even improvise around it.
' It's really interesting.
In Adam's view, Derek's extreme talent is born of an extreme environment.
I guess, before I came here, I had this idea that savants could just instantly do what they do, but talking to Adam, Derek had to really work hard at this talent.
It was developed over many years before it came to full fruition.
While most of us don't develop an extreme talent like Derek's, almost everyone reveals an extraordinary ability to learn throughout childhood.
What is it about the brain that can set this supercharged period of rapid development? And could it hold a clue to genius? Over the past 15 years at the National Institute of Health in Washington, they've been conducting the largest-ever survey of brains as they mature into adulthood.
How many brains have you scanned for this particular study? It's been about 400 or 500 children, and they are scanned repeatedly as they grow up.
So we start as young as three or four years and then scan right up to the early twenties.
And you are hoping to see how the brain is changing during that period? Exactly, and by using brain scans from the same child taken repeatedly, you get a particularly rich picture of how the brain grows.
It's like the difference between looking at a painting and looking at a movie.
The scans reveal that the cortex, the outer layer of the brain responsible for thinking, gets progressively thinner as children hit adolescence.
Graphics made by Philip's colleagues show this pruning process.
The bluer the brain, the thinner the cortex.
The areas most closely associated with sophisticated, abstract thinking are the last to be pruned.
Philip and his team discovered that it's not just the pattern of brain maturation, but WHEN the brain starts to mature, that is important.
What differed according to intelligence was the extent and rate at which all these changes happened.
So the most intelligent children, actually they showed this process of the cortex getting a bit thinner somewhat later, around the age of 10 or 11 in the frontal parts of the brain, sort of around here.
And then the phase of getting thinner in the cortex was particularly vigorous in these kids as well.
In a way, the kids who have the most agile and active minds also have the most agile and active cortex.
Philip's work begins to answer the question of why some brains are more intelligent than others, by focusing attention on different rates at which they mature.
In this regard, it's an important step towards understanding our intelligence.
These kids' brains are constantly changing and developing.
Probably these parents here hope they'll be the first to read, the first to do arithmetic.
But it seems that when it comes to the maturing of the brain, a later development leads to a higher IQ, so actually you want your brain at a later age to be maturing.
It seems a little counter-intuitive.
So far I've seen how we are born with a predisposition for certain abilities.
But that's countered by the remarkable flexibility of the baby brain, which allows it to develop in concert with its environment.
And I've learnt that my brain pretty much settled down about two decades ago as I left adolescence behind.
So where does that leave me? Is my brain no longer capable of a moment of genius? Was it all over by the time I turned 21? Well, maybe not.
The race is on to see whether we can enhance our intelligence artificially.
At the University of Gottingen in Germany, they are pioneering technology that could greatly extend our control over our own brains.
They're developing a means to turbo-charge our grey matter.
The aim is to improve the volunteer's ability to subconsciously learn.
The test itself is simple.
When Leila sees a dot appear on the screen she has to tap a corresponding key on the keyboard.
There is a pattern to when the dots appear, but it's impossible to detect, at least before the artificial stimulation of her brain begins.
What we want to do is facilitate the excitability of her motor cortex.
In order to be able to do that, we have to fit an electrode I presume this is perfectly safe.
I'd be a bit nervous about having electricity shot through my brain! They are very weak currents.
They are so weak that she doesn't notice anything.
They are so weak they just manipulate the membrane potential of nerve cells, a little bit.
So we have to assure that the electrode has a good contact, so Sothis is just water? Watersalt solution.
Usually electricity and water shouldn't go together, but in this case No, this is an interesting point.
Because the brain is swimming in water, and the water has a much better conductivity that the brain itself, so this is one of the reasons this method works so elegantly.
It can travel a little bit around the corner through the water and stimulate this complex brain just by making use of the better conductivity of the water.
So now we will stimulate the motor cortex here by anodal positive electricity for ten minutes.
So now stimulation starts.
So there is now electricity passing through Leila's brain? Can you feel anything? No.
There's no smoke, I can't see anything! During this stimulation, Leila will move her fingers and do the implicit learning paradigm.
We will measure simultaneously how quick she can respond to the visual target during this time.
What we expect to see is, with motor cortex depolarisation, it gets more excitable, and then her reaction time will improve.
And then we will see an increase in speed, thatshe is not consciously of picking up a pattern, but subconsciously she's getting better at learning.
'The longer the stimulation lasts, the greater its effects will be.
'In previous experiments lasting 24 hours, permanent improvements to the brain were forged.
' We know from other, basic animal research that new connections between individual nerve cells will be built after around 30 minutes, and after about a day they start to become functional.
So it's really changing the structure of the brain by doing this? It is not just a temporary effect? Yes, we have structural alterations which allowed you to move your fingers quicker, in this case.
Through measuring the reaction times, we will see that you will probably speed up in the range of 10% or so.
10%, and that's significant, is it? You would not expect that? Not without stimulation.
I suppose there is an element of Frankenstein about what Dr Paulus is doing.
I must say that I find the idea of dialling my brain up to 11 quite exciting.
But perhaps we don't have to take such dramatic steps.
What if the brain is actually very flexible and adaptable, and can change the way it works all on its own? Until recently, it was thought that in the adult brain, information flowed along well-established routes, laid down by years of experience.
Oh, that is weird Clare Cheskin is blind.
A curvea curved thing with little dots on it You can get that detail? That's extraordinary! But I don't know what it was.
The curved thing with dots was the London Eye.
Was it really?! You've just picked up the London Eye.
'She lost her sight 20 years ago.
But now she can see - with sound.
' A series of going across like that.
Horizontal lines! That's the word! Well, you were certainly seeing There's a curve going downwards Yes, more horizontal lines.
OK, yeah.
'She sees using software that turns photos taken by her phone's camera into sounds.
'The software was downloaded for free from the internet, after it was made 'available by its developer, Dr Peter Meijer.
' More railingspeople.
Oh, yes.
'With just a few months' practice, Clare was able to "see" horizontal 'and vertical lines, curves, patterns, foliage, even people.
' There's a big, vertical column.
'The software also runs on her laptop.
' That was vegetation.
It was - we just went past a bush! Yes, that was I can tell trees.
'Clare really does "see" these sounds as images in her visual cortex.
'But how?' Research has shown that users learn to see quicker than new neurons could possibly grow connecting the visual cortex to the ear.
So scientists have concluded that the brain's flexibility is such that dormant neural pathways are being reactivated and strengthened, thus allowing her to see with sound.
'Clare's brain is not unusual in this regard.
' We all have these under-exploited neural pathways - they have been there since we were babies.
However, users still have to learn to make sense of what they see in their mind's eye.
When I first started using it, I emailedDr Meijer, who devised the programme, and I said, "There looks like a car driving right up the side of a building.
"I know things are happening which are impossible, I'm going into the Twilight Zone - "what's happening? "What is this really?" And he said it's perspective.
Because I hadn't learn to see in perspective that things get smaller and lines can appear to be diagonal when they're not.
I had to learn all that.
I had to learn, in a way, how to see.
The plasticity of the adult brain should, I think, give us all hope.
There's still the potential for new ideas, for new thoughts.
Of course, breaking new ground is what being a genius is all about.
For me, what distinguishes a really great mind is one that combines knowledge with creativity.
In order to grapple with ideas of space, time and relativity, Einstein used to imagine himself travelling across the universe on a beam of light.
It's this, as much as anything else, that I think explains Einstein's genius.
It's not so much that had more knowledge than his contemporaries, although he knew a lot of physics - it's more that he combined that knowledge with an incredibly imaginative, creative approach to the subject.
Einstein knew this, because he once said, "imagination is more important than knowledge".
It might be that creativity is the crucial, final part of understanding genius.
But how on earth does science get to grips with something as ill-defined as the urge to create? Well, I'm on my way to Birkenhead to meet a man who just might offer scientists a chance to pinpoint the biological source of our creative sparks.
His name is Tommy McHugh.
Tommy's life changed dramatically in 2001, when a brain haemorrhage altered the way his brain works and left him with an insatiable urge to paint.
Hiya, Marcus.
Nice to meet you.
And you.
This is quite extraordinary.
It's all over the place.
It's up here on the ceiling.
All over the walls and things.
It's absolutely everywhere.
Is it upstairs as well? Yes, it's all up the walls, the stairs.
There's even layers upon layers It's kind of like a little Sistine Chapel - in Birkenhead.
This is what's going on inside your brain? This is my brain, what I'm seeing.
I'm inside your brain? Yeah.
While you're seeing, I'm trying to bring all that Tommy has his own explanation for what is happening inside his brain when he feels this urge to create.
Imagine a honeycomb hive, cut in half.
Inside each hive are cells, like 50 pence pieces, with clingfilm over it.
I kept on visualising a lightning flash shooting over to this side of the brain and hitting this one cell.
But when this lightning flash opened that 50 pence cell, it unlocked a Mount Etna of bubbles.
Each little Fairy Liquid bubble in my imagination contained billions of other bubbles.
And then they popped.
All this has exploded.
Every little thing in this room wants to explode into something more.
And does it change? Are you not satisfied with the things I mean, how many paintings have been under here? Five times I've painted the whole house.
Floor, ceilings, carpets.
So it's constantly changing.
Does it ever stop? Do you ever not feel the urge? No, I can't stop.
I only sleep through exhaustion.
If I was allowed, the outside of this house would be painted and so would the trees and the pavement.
I must admit, it must be pretty difficult to be Tommy.
He seems to be hostage to this creative urge, this need to paint.
It's not so much what he paints but WHY he paints that's so interesting.
Something's happened inside his brain.
That gives us a chance to actually explore what the brain does.
It seems to me, this creative urge is related to something to do with his biology.
So science can have something to say about this creative process.
I have been told that this quiet, secluded park contains a clue to understanding the nature of creativity.
Away from the distractions of city life, I do find myself be able to gather my thoughts and focus my mind.
I'm here to meet Mark Lythgoe, whose work with Tommy is part of his broader study of the science of the "A-ha!" moment.
If I can use this metaphor that I like to use.
If you imagine you have got two types of brain cells, two types or processes going on.
There's always one process that's trying to hold down another.
There's an excitatory process but an inhibitory process as well.
With Tommy, it could be that the inhibitory process has been damaged.
Those parts of the brain, or those brain cells, aren't working in a way as they did.
Therefore - and as he described it - he's got this bubbling to the surface, those excitatory processes that are normally suppressed, have suddenly been unleashed.
And that's what provides his creative energies.
So, in some sense, all of us might have this bubbling, but we also have something which is, sort of, making sure it doesn'ttake over.
And with Tommy, that's kind of stopped and so this bubbling just keeps on going.
Yeah, it's as though the walls have come crumbling down.
The walls that allow us to focus, to shield things out, with Tommy, these walls have collapsed.
And this information's just pouring into his world that he's never had before.
Suddenly he's going, "My goodness, I've got to do something with all this information.
" And what he does, he creates.
I wanted to know how Tommy helps us to understand the creative process.
We all have this capacity to filter out irrelevant information.
It's called latent inhibition.
It crosses all species.
So that when you're sitting on the Tube reading that book, you're able to focus down, to build these walls up.
You're able to ignore the irrelevant stimuli around you and just focus on that book.
It's a remarkable capacity that we have.
People that have lower levels of latent inhibition - people that are able to bring the walls down, let the irrelevant information come into their world, do better on creativity scores.
So, do you think everybody could actually develop a more creative side like Tommy, or is it something special that Tommy's got? I think the wonderful thing about Tommy is that he can do two things at the same time.
He's able to bring the walls down, let this irrelevant information come into his world, create all these wonderful new associations and creative ideas, but he's also incredibly thematic.
Once he gets stuck on an idea, he sticks with it doggedly.
And I think this is the paradox of creativity.
You've got to be able to hold these two states at the same time.
You've got to be open, yet also incredibly focused.
And I think this is, perhaps, where true creative genius lies - the people that can hold these two states at the same time.
What interests me about this paradoxical idea - that one side of the brain can be incredibly open to new, creative ideas, and on the other be incredibly focused on detail - is that it seems to be a product of the connectivity of the brain.
And that's what Mark is looking at - the connectivity of the brain in somebody like Tommy.
Mark's work has helped move the study of intelligence on.
It used to be that genius was understood in terms of nature or nurture.
Talent was either God-given - bestowed on a lucky few from birth .
or it was the product of a fertile environment and a lot of hard graft.
But the true picture isn't quite so clear-cut.
Yes, we've seen that we are all born with a predisposition to excel in different areas.
I could hear SHE HUMS DESCENDING NOTE Then I could hear SHE HUMS ASCENDING NOTE But we've also learnt that the adaptability of our brains plays the major role in allowing us to reach our full potential.
I think we probably over-use the word "genius" to describe some half-decent footballer or your average Nobel Prize winner.
But use the word carefully and you can describe an event which probably only happens once or twice a century.
The improbable result of a lifelong, yet perfectly pitched, relationship between genes and the environment.
A brain born of this relationship is one that can have incredible focus, yet thoughts beyond the scope of the universe.
Geniuses show us how just remarkable the brain is, what a wonderful piece of work man is - how noble in reason, yet infinite in faculty.