Savants: A talent for calendars

Dustin Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of a savant in the 1988 film "Rainman." Susan Spencer introduces us to several real-life savants (Originally broadcast on March 18, 2018):

Artist George Widener could happily spend countless hours … happily counting, and counting, and counting.

His art is awash in numbers and dates and days -- and so is his head. "If you look at August of 1968 -- August 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th are Wednesdays," he said.

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Calendar savant George widener.

CBS News

George is what's known as a calendar savant. 

"Calendar savants are able to identify what day of the week will a particular date fall on, in the past, or in the future," said savant expert Dr. Darold Treffert.

"Your theory is that this is just pre-wired at the factory, if you will?" Spencer asked.

"Factory-installed!" he smiled.

Most of us need Google; George needs a few seconds. Give him a year and a date, and he'll produce the day of the week with astonishing accuracy.

His skill is so remarkable, you really do have to see it to believe it:

December 2, 2018?  "December 2, 2018 is a Sunday," he said.
January 3, 2015? "Saturday."
Valentine's Day 1956? "Tuesday."
When is Christmas next on a Wednesday? "2019, it looks like, yeah."

"You haven't missed one yet," said Spencer.

"No," he smiled

We moved on to the celebrity bonus round:

Elvis died August 16, 1977. "And that was a Tuesday."
Luciano Pavarotti, born October 12, 1935. "A Saturday."
President Lincoln, born February 12, 1809. "Looks like a Sunday, yeah."

So, when Widener produces a day, is this a conscious thought? "It's intuitive,' said Dr. Treffert. "He doesn't need to think about it. It appears."

George Widener is a high-functioning savant, able to live independently. And he is doing quite well. At the Manhattan art gallery where we met him, his art sells quickly for tens of thousands of dollars. 

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Visitors at an exhibit of George Widener's artwork, at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York City.

CBS News

But Widener seems happiest about something far more fundamental:  "It's been wonderful that I've been able to use, you know, what's inside of me and to feel like I have a useful purpose."

      
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Story produced by Amiel Weisfogel.