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Sanjay Gupta MD

Sperm Bank For Geniuses; Christopher Paolini Is A Writer At 22; Matt Savage An Award-Winning Jazz Composer At Age 14

Aired December 09, 2006 - 08:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Here are the stories now in the news. A car bomb today in Karbala killed at least five people, and wounded dozens more. The U.S. military reports a Marine died of combat injuries in Anbar province. Also, reports today of a car bomb in Mosul. At least three are known dead there.
On Capitol Hill, 12 years of Republican control are over. The House and Senate gaveled the 109th Congress to a close in the wee hours of the morning. Among the bills passed, one that will extend expired tax breaks.

Ignoring international pressures, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly says Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment program. That is according to an Iranian news agency. Iran is locked in a stand off with the West over its nuclear program.

Back here in the States, no heat, no lights, no way to cook. Some people in Illinois and Missouri have been without power for more than a week, but utility officials worked to get the last 1800 customers back in business last night.

We do have your next check of the headlines coming up at the top of the hour. But first, "HOUSE CALL WITH DR. SANJAY GUPTA" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up on HOUSE CALL, breeding genius. The strange story of a Nobel Prize sperm bank and the children it produced. A daydream turned into a number one best-seller. How and where you can find your creative genius.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did take piano lessons for many years, but he was already sight reading better than I.


ANNOUNCER: A boy living in a silent world turns into a teen playing jazz with the masters. Coming up on HOUSE CALL.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning and welcome to HOUSE CALL. This morning, we're delving into the world of genius. What exactly is a genius? Can they be made or is genius learned or nurtured?

Let's start with a look behind the curtain of a secret experiment of sorts, a sperm bank made up of Nobel Prize winners. Twenty years later, did the children it produced outsmart their peers?


GUPTA (voice-over): What if there was a formula for breeding genius? Entrepreneur Robert Graham believed there was.

DR. ROBERT GRAHAM, STARTED 'NOBEL PRIZE' SPERM BANK: Special academic distinctions.

GUPTA: In 1980, Graham opened the Repository for Germinal Choice. It's a sperm bank for the highest achievers. He collected vials of sperm from five Nobel laureates and dozens of other scientists. Many with genius IQs.

The project, which shut down in 1999, had its share of criticism and mockery, even a skit on "Saturday Night Live."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What donor would you recommend?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Consider the -- a Nobel Prize winner, for example. We've got some...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe, maybe, yes.

GUPTA: In its 19 years of operation, some 215 children were born, among them, Jesse Gronwall. Today, he's confident, gregarious, and thinks he stands out from the crowd.

JESSE GRONWALL: I know that I'm smart. And I know that I think about things that other people don't.

GUPTA: At 14, Jesse learned his biological father was not his father, Tom, but actually donor Yellow from the Repository for Germinal Choice. Jesse's parents say their son was always bright, mastering computers by age 5, and memorizing just about every national anthem by the time he was 7.

TOM GRONWALL, JESSE'S FATHER: I don't think he talked sooner than most kids. But once he got going, boy it was like, he picked it all up.

GUPTA: All Jesse knows of his genetic father is what was written on the sheet -- IQ 145, successful international financial consultant, reading mountain climbing, music.

"Slate" magazine's deputy editor David Plotz spent the last few years tracking down children and donors from the Repository, and wrote a book called "The Genius Factory." He says that one thing the kids have in common is strong mothers.

DAVID PLOTZ, AUTHOR, "THE GENIUS FACTORY": And these kind of mothers, I think, those kind of women who would have raised excellent and achieving children had they gone to the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank or had they gone to David's Discount Sperm Warehouse.

GUPTA: Genius or not, Jesse Gronwall and his parents say they'll always be grateful for Graham's experiment.

J. GRONWALL: I know that it's not all genes. That's definitely not the case because much of what I am relates to my parents and the way they brought me up. But at the same time, I can't entirely write off genes.


GUPTA: Now no one disputes Einstein was a genius. Mozart, Isaac Newton all considered geniuses. But what made them that way? Many would say geniuses think better. They think faster. They solve problems easier than the average person.

But is that all there is? And how does a person become so smart? Well helping us answer that question is Keith Sawyer. He's a psychologist. He's also Creativity Researcher at Washington University in St. Louis.


R. KEITH SAWYER, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Good morning, Sanjay, it's good to see you again.

GUPTA: Thanks so much for being here. You know, before we go any deeper into the show, I want to ask a basic question to you. What is genius?

SAWYER: Genius is someone who generates something incredibly new and exceptional, that creates something that has a major impact on the world and changes lives for everyone.

GUPTA: I think that's a good definition. It's not just about memorizing facts, but novel ideas, creative ideas which we're going to talk to -- talk about quite a bit in this show.

Let's go to our inbox. Lots of questions coming in on this. Justin in Rhode Island writes this question. "I have an IQ of 150. My sister has a very normal IQ. Why isn't she a genius as well?" First of all, Justin, I hope your sister forgives you for writing that question in. But what do you say about the genetic component of this, Keith?

SAWYER: With the evidence that's been coming in in the last few years, psychologists now have a pretty good understanding that it's both genes and environments.

And in fact, the DNA is not like a blueprint for exactly what you're going to be like as an adult. The DNA has to go through a lot of influences in the womb and during development that result in human nature, that result in our adult personality.

So it's a very complex combination. And the DNA does not predict who you're going to be.

GUPTA: That makes sense. So the question now, William from Georgia writes this. "Has the DNA of Einstein and others who are in the genius category been evaluated to see any similarities?" Have you heard about that at all, Keith?

SAWYER: Yes, you know, that's a fascinating question, because now we have all of these new techniques to study DNA. But people have been interested in the brains of exceptionally creative people for hundreds of years.

And in fact, Albert Einstein's brain was removed from his body after his death during the autopsy. And it was very well preserved, so that portions of the brain was parceled out to brain researchers over the next 50 years.

I mean, he died in the 1940s. And there's been just tons of study of the brains of exceptional creative people. Even Abraham Lincoln's brain was preserved back in the 1800s. So our culture has a fascination with the brains of creative individuals.

But we've never been able to identify any differences. In fact, Albert Einstein's brain is about 10 percent smaller than the average adult male's brain.

GUPTA: That's interesting. Now you know, it's easy to say that intelligence or genius is in part nature or nurture. But if you wanted to be more specific than that, I mean, are you born with a certain potential for intelligence? Or could anybody, you know, reach any particular level, no matter their genes?

SAWYER: I'd say there probably is some portion that represents innate talent, that's some threshold. But a lot of people have the potential to perform at a very high level

Because in my research and the research of my colleagues, perhaps the key ingredient to exceptional genius is dedication, focus, and hard work. Being able to work hard and work smart.

There are a lot more people that have the potential for that high level of performance than the people that are performing at that level. So I would say it's -- there's some necessary qualities that you're born with. But really, a lot of it is what you make of what you come into the world with.

GUPTA: And making the most of what you come into the world with is what we're talking about a lot on this show. Keith Sawyer's our guest. Stay where you are. When HOUSE CALL returns, what you need to know about boosting your own creativity.

ANNOUNCER: Educated in the wilderness.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I decided to try and write a story. So "Eragon" was my practice book.


ANNOUNCER: Find out how this teenager became a best-selling author. First, take today's quiz. Where do experts say our most creative moments occur? Here's a hint. There's more than one place, but they all start with a "b." The answer, coming up.


GUPTA: That's just one of my podcasts. Now you can download these for free on iTunes or at And by subscribing also for free at iTunes, you have access to a library of topics, from headaches to autism.

And speaking of autism, we're going to meet a teen with autism who has an incredible gift later on in the show. You're not going to want to miss that.

But first, let's bring back Keith Sawyer. He's a creativity researcher. He's also a professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

And Keith, you know, many people may not link creativity and genius, but you do. Let me ask this question. Can have you genius without creativity?

SAWYER: I would say that the people that we recognize as exceptional geniuses from the past and today are people who create something that has an impact on the world. I don't think it's possible to be a genius in isolation, or to be a genius sitting in a room by yourself or out in the woods and never accomplishing anything.

You actually have to take some action, do some hard work, and make an impact on the world to be a genius in my book.

GUPTA: I think it's a good definition, actually making a difference. With your smarts, whatever they may be. And Keith, you'll appreciate this. As we learned in the quiz answer, experts say taking breaks can boost creativity. There's no better example of taking a break and using it as inspiration for a great idea than with the young man that I met earlier this year.


CHRISTOPHER PAOLINI, AUTHOR: Magic can yield unexpected results when the ancient words are combined in new ways.

GUPTA (voice-over): Christopher Paolini is a writer, 22 years old. He lives in Montana's Paradise Valley, just north of Yellowstone Park. It's some of the wildest and most beautiful country you'll ever see.

PAOLINI: Through these mountains, I hike every chance I get.

GUPTA: He grew up here, a gifted child with an intense home- school education. He finished high school before he was old enough for a driver's license.

PAOLINI: When I graduated, I really didn't have a lot to do, because you know, you look around us, you can't just go to the nearest mall or movie theater. I decided to try and write a story. So "Eragon" was my practice book.

GUPTA: That practice book was about a 15-year-old boy and his newfound dragon doing battle against an evil empire.

PAOLINI: Before him laid Palinkar (ph) Valley, exposed like an unrolled map.

GUPTA: The Paolini family spent a year promoting "Eragon" on their own, until it caught the attention of novelist Karl Hyacin and his publisher. Within months, it was a number one best-seller.

PAOLINI: It was a story that I really emphasized with and related to about, you know, a young man coming of age.

GUPTA: Paolini says many children have a spark of genius inside, but they need the right environment free to pursue their passion.

Are you happy you studied this way?

GUPTA: Very. I think I learned a lot more doing it this way. I was able to pursue my own interests. And if I had gone through a regular school, the education may have been fine, but I would never have had the time to write a book.

I think many people underestimate the importance of having time to just sit, and think, and daydream, because "Eragon" was my daydreams.


GUPTA: Daydreaming a best-seller are going to be turned into a major motion picture this fall as well. Christopher Paolini is definitely gifted. I think we'd agree with that, but does that mean he's a genius? And that's a distinction, Keith, that Tom in New York questions us about.

"What is gifted compared to genius? And can you describe gifted in terms not limited to IQ test scores."

Keith, you talk a lot about genius. And you have a very good definition. What is the distinction, though, between gifted or genius?

SAWYER: Giftedness is usually something we talk about in connection with children or people who are in school still. And so, it often refers to a potential. Right? It's something that we recognize the child has exceptional potential in a certain area.

And in my experience, the children that we recognize as gifted are incredibly focused. They have this ability to focus in on a problem and work very long hours.

And that's connected with a finding from Creativity Research that the most creative people love what they're doing so much that they lose track of time while they're doing it. It's that flow state that results in exceptional creativity.

So there's something about giftedness that it's not only that you're gifted at math or that you're gifted at chess. But it's also the love of what you're doing, such a love you that don't mind spending hours and weeks and months developing that talent.

GUPTA: You know, I love talking about this stuff. And I loved putting this special together, because there was a lot of interesting things just like what you're talking about. And we are talking with Keith Sawyer answering all of your questions on intelligence and genius. Stay tuned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can adults increase their intelligence? Find out after the break.

Plus, finding genius in unusual places. First, this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse."


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Teenagers who take a daily multi vitamin tend to have healthier lifestyles, according to the American Diatetic Association. An ADA survey finds teens who take the supplements are less likely to smoke and be overweight.

It's recommended that pregnant women get a flu shot, but the archives of pediatrics and adolescent medicine reports the vaccine may not help protect the baby. Among 41,000 infants studied, maternal vaccines did not reduce the chance of a newborn getting sick.

Danish researchers have found first time mothers who had increased risk for post partum mental disorders, including depression, and schizophrenia. Doctors say the highest risk occurs 10 to 19 days following birth.

Judy Fortin, CNN.



GUPTA: Go behind the scenes of our in-depth look at genius by clicking on You're going to find interviews with all sorts of geniuses, some of them who didn't make it into our special, plus a very cool quiz on your own brain power. Who doesn't want to do that?

Brain power and getting smarter is what adults often want, hoping it will help them work more efficiently or come up with better ideas in their own field.

Helping explain how you might do just that is Keith Sawyer. He's a Creativity Researcher. He's also professor at Washington University.

Keith, we got lots of e-mails on this topic. Another question now for you from a viewer. Chris in North Carolina. "How can an adult work smarter and use their brain more effectively?"

So, you know, I mean, maybe they're not a genius. Maybe they are, but they just want to be better at what the they're doing. Keith, what do you tell them?

SAWYER: Well, they can take some lessons from studies of exceptionally creative individuals. And I've said the creative individuals work very hard and they work long hours and they invest a lot of time in what they're doing. So that would be my first message.

But creative people also work smarter. And what they do, there are two things really. They're very good at asking good questions, identifying good problems. That some of the hardest things to do is come up with the right question. If you come up with the wrong question, it could lead you down the wrong path. You'll spend a lot of time working hard, but maybe you'll work hard on a dead end. So asking that good question is critical.

And another thing creative people are really good at is generating a lot of ideas, but a lot of those ideas aren't going to be such good ideas. Creative people don't bat 1,000. So they're really good at selecting the best ideas. They have a lot of ideas, but they evaluate them critically and select the really good ones.

So those are two ways you could think about increasing the way you work smarter -- thinking of good questions and focusing really hard on selecting the good ideas out of all the ideas that you come up with.

GUPTA: I think it's so important. Certainly true in the media world, for example, being able to hear all those different ideas on any given day, and pick the ones that are going to stick and work. That's good advice coming from Keith Sawyer.

And we got much more HOUSE CALL coming up after the break.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A gifted composer...


GUPTA: What does New York City sound like?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And born with autism. Inside the world of savants when HOUSE CALL returns.


GUPTA: You're listening to Matt Savage, just 14-years old and an award-winning jazz composer already. He's played with the likes of Kenny G. and Wynton Marsalis.

You can already see that Matt is special. Just how special? Well, Matt's gift puts him in a category with only 100 other people in the world. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): Matt Savage finds expression on the 88 keys of the piano. This is what a hurricane sounds like to Matt.

MATT SAVAGE, MUSICIAN: It kind of transfers from the brain to the fingers. It goes through your body. That's how it feels.

GUPTA: The home-schooled 14-year-old has recorded six CDs on a label his parents started, Savage Records. But Matt is a little different. He's autistic. As a child, he didn't like to be touched. And he couldn't bear the sound of music.

DIANE SAVAGE, MATT'S MOTHER: Our house had been completely quiet. I mean, no TV, no music, no sound. I mean, it was just always quiet. And then my husband and I just heard "London Bridge" being played perfectly down in the playroom.

GUPTA: Matt was 6 1/2. His first CD came out a year later. Dr. Darold Treffert has studied savants for more than 40 years. He was an advisor on the movie "Rainman."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much is 4,343 times 1,234?


TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: He's a genius?

GUPTA: Treffert says Matt Savage is what is known as a prodigious savant, one of only about 100 in the world.

DAROLD TREFFERT, UNIV. OF WISCONSIN MEDICAL SCHOOL: Savant Syndrome is a condition in which somebody who has a developmental disability, including autism, for example, has some spectacular island of genius. And we tend to think of ourselves when we're born, that we have a blank disk in this marvelous piece of equipment called the brain. And what we become is everything that we put on our disk.

There's much more to us than that. We come with software attached. Matt Savage comes with that music chip installed.

GUPTA: Other researchers disagree. They say savants are simply able to overcompensate for a weakness or damage to the left side of the brain.

What do you want to do with your life?

M. SAVAGE: Want to play jazz.


GUPTA: We're talking with Keith Sawyer. He's a psychologist. He's a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Keith, let's get to another e-mail question now. This one's from Anu in Virginia.

"Many times children or adults with severe mental illness, such as autism, display signs of genius. What is different?"

And I guess even more than that, is there a link? I mean, do you have to have some sort of disability to express these islands of genius?

SAWYER: Matt is a fascinating example of an autistic savant. And these exceptional individuals have fascinated psychologists for decades, even over 100 years because it seems that they capture some expertise that we associate with giftedness or with genius. And I think it's true. It's not just in music, but you find these savants in drawing and writing. You find them in chess playing.

And I think that it's a partial evidence that some of this talent is based in the brain at some level.

GUPTA: Keith Sawyer, a fascinating discussion. We could go on all day, but unfortunately, we're out of time. Keith, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

SAWYER: Well, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me, Sanjay.

GUPTA: All right. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching. Let's go out now with some more music from Matt Savage in his new CD, "Quantum Leap."