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CNN Live Event/Special
Genius: Quest for Extreme Brain Power
Aired September 17, 2006 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Carol Lin. And here's what's happening right now in the news. 109 people now sickened by tainted spinach. And health experts fear the number of cases could surge even more. Meantime, the recall of spinach products has expanded.
And a 14-year-old South Carolina girl rescued from this booby- trapped bunker after 10 days. And it's all thanks to a cell phone text message that she managed to send to her mom. Police have arrested a man for allegedly kidnapping her.
In Pittsburgh, an urgent search for a gunman happening right now. The man shot and wounded five Duquesne University basketball players. And police say the man had earlier disrupted a school dance and the players were trying to calm things down.
And at least one Muslim group says it is not a real apology. Pope Benedict today says he is deeply sorry for the reaction to his recent comments. They offended Muslims across the world, sparking violent protests.
Now coming up next on CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta's primetime special on "Genius: Quest for Extreme Brainpower." Are geniuses born or made? Sanjay unravels the mysteries of the mind.
I'm Carol Lin. "Genius" is straight ahead. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hello and welcome. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. No one really knows why Einstein was Einstein or where amazing mental abilities really come from, but over the next hour, we're going to tell you what we do know about creativity, about high intelligence, about how to make yourself and your kids smarter, about that awesome power we call genius.
GUPTA (voice-over): Just looking at a human brain, you can't tell if it belongs to a genius or a fool. You can't even tell if it's from a man or a woman.
But now, imagine actually seeing the birth of an idea. With high tech imaging, that's what they do at the mental illness and neuro discovery or Mind Institute in New Mexico. It's a world renowned center for brain research. This image was taken through a process called magnetoencephalography. You sound smart just saying it. It shows electrical activity, millisecond by millisecond. REX JUNG, MIND INSTITUTE: You're seeing the brain activity over a course of one single second. So in that second, all these different things are happening in the brain.
GUPTA: First to light up? The brain region handling sight, as the test subject looks at something. Next the motor cortex, muscle control as the subject points a finger in response.
JUNG: And then up in this part of the brain, this is the frontal part of the brain, the frontal cortex, prefrontal cortex in which a lot of the action happens involved with decision making, problem solving, integration of ideas, narrowing the focus down to the specific right answer.
GUPTA: They say the higher the intelligence, the faster this pathway lights up. Based on other kinds of imaging, Dr. Rex Jung and his colleague Richard Haier say the brains of smart people are different from average brains.
Here's one surprise. The higher the IQ, the less brain activity, as signified by the cool green color. The smart brain is more efficient.
RICHARD HAIER, DR., UC IRVINE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: It might be that more intelligent people have more tissue in certain areas to process information. And therefore, the tissue overall doesn't have to work as hard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From what you're about to see next, we must enter quietly into the realm of genius.
GUPTA: In the popular imagination, the genius is a loaner, standing head and shoulders above the crowd. The artist Leonardo Davinci, Isaac Newton who invented calculus and explained gravity, Mozart created music by the age of 5, and of course Albert Einstein whose ideas about time and space turned the universe inside out.
But Keith Sawyer, a psychologist who has studied children, jazz musicians, and comedians says even the most celebrated minds build on the work of others.
R. KEITH SAWYER, AUTHOR, "EXPLAINING CREATIVITY": Even something exceptional like Einstein coming up with the theory of relativity is based in the same mental building blocks as you'd find your way around a traffic jack. So creativity researchers have discovered that there are underlying processes in the brain, which all of our intelligent thought is based on.
GUPTA: Intelligence is often measured by IQ, where a score of 100 is average. But genius clearly requires more than a high score.
Genius is hard to define. For example, that may sound like Mozart. But it was written by a computer programmed by a California college professor. And what to make of people like Stephen Wilshire, a mentally challenged artist who barely spoke until he was six-years old. Yet he displays vast talent and astounding memory. After studying the city skyline for just a few hours, he can draw it from memory with breathtaking clarity.
A bit later, we'll explore the world of savants like Wilshire and when they tell us about the link between intelligence and creativity. Researchers say they're not the same thing. For now, let's look at the creative process.
SAWYER: I think of creativity as an emergent phenomenon, meaning that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The jazz ensemble, the pianist, the saxophone player aren't composing the piece, but they're interacting with each other to generate something unexpected and unpredictable. In an improvisational theater performance, what the actors generate is better than what any one actor could have done alone.
GUPTA: To demonstrate, Sawyer brought us to the IO Theater in Chicago, a comedy landmark that helped launch performers like Amy Pohler and Mike Myers.
SAWYER: Improvisation has incredibly important lessons for any collaborative group. What it really takes is the ability to hear what's going on around you, and connect it in a new way.
GUPTA: These actors invent a scene based on a single suggestion from the audience.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flowers, milkshakes, rainbows, childhood memories.
GUPTA: There's no script. They make it up as they go along.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to autograph this for you because you don't want to know who diagnosed you with Lemington syndrome. Me, Dave Lemington. There you go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is it? What do I have to do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me ask you as simple question. What color is your shirt? Don't look down?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Checker -- I don't know!
GUPTA: So why is improv a good example of the creative process?
SAWYER: Rather than one big moment of insight, creativity is generally a buildup of many small bits of insight over time, each bit of insight emerging from hard work. When you see an improvisational group on stage, it's not one actor having a brilliant punchline, but it's an accumulation over time of all the actors each contributing a little bit.
GUPTA: The key to any innovation, not just comedy Sawyer says, is the group working together, building on each other's ideas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a good thing you sought me out. You don't have Lemington's Disease. You have Barrington's Disease. I'm Dr. Steve Barrington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barrington? It's Lemington's Disease!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barrington!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lemington! She has every sign of Lemington!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, really?
SAWYER: It's even in the bible, right? There's nothing new under the sun. Creativity is the ability to make connections. It's making connections in your mind between concepts, and in particular, connections that no one's thought of before.
GUPTA: Rex Jung says those connections are based on the interplay inside the brain between so-called white matter and gray matter. To better explain, we asked a pathologist, Dr. Robert Reichert to bring in a real brain. We would slice it open to see how the parts are linked.
JUNG: What I'll be interested in looking at as we go through the brain is how it's wired together.
GUPTA: Gray matter really is gray. And the white matter is white, fine branches of neurons linking different areas.
JUNG: The importance of that is that this is a superhighway. This white matter area is a superhighway connecting the front to the back of the brain. So you're looking at these crossing white matter fibers that globally connect up different parts of the brain.
GUPTA: Jung believes that creativity, like improv comedy, is inspired by the need to adapt, to form new brain connections.
JUNG: I think we spend some 90 some percent of our lives in very predictable environments. What happens with that other 5 or 2 or 1 percent of our life where things become very unpredictable and we have to make a decision on the fly? Now comedians are adept at that.
GUPTA: His colleague Richard Haier is more skeptical. He says a group will never be smarter than its most intelligent member. He also says that heredity is the biggest factor, that for better or worse, we are born with the tools of genius or without them.
Someday, Jung and Haier say brain scans might replace an IQ test or even the SAT for college. But for now, the secret of genius remains tantalizingly out of reach. Where do the best ideas come from? Experts say the three B's where creativity takes place are the bed, the bathtub, and the bus. To reach that moment inspiration, you need to put in long hours and lots of concentration. But here's the catch. The eureka moment often comes later, when the brain has had a chance to rest.
SAWYER: What the bed, the bath, and the bus share in common is that they're all places where you're not at work. The aha experience doesn't come if you haven't invested the hard work first. There's a cyclical nature to the creative process. So you work hard, take time off, work hard, take time off. And it's that alternation that seems to be great creators.
GUPTA: Those are the three B's. I hope you'll stick around for the rest of the ride.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming up, genius in unlikely places, as we visit the amazing world of savants.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I always believed that even when he was hard to reach, there was a shining star in there and we just had to find a way to get to it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And later, how to make your children smarter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we don't have any evidence for is the claim that the more you enrich the environment, the more neurons you grow, the smarter you become. That's pop psychology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We'll look at toys, music, videos, and special schools. Stay tuned.
GUPTA (voice-over): Matt Savage finds expression on the 88 keys of the piano. This is what a hurricane sounds like to Matt. What does New York City sound like?
Matt can improvise.
MATT SAVAGE: It kind of transfers from the brain to the fingers. It goes through your body. That's how it feels. GUPTA: And the 14-year-old composes his own jazz melodies about the places he's been, like Curacao and the people in his life, like his grandmother. He wrote this song for her, called "Serenity." The song earned the home-schooled 14-year old an Askat (ph) Young Jazz Composer Award. It's the second year in a row he's received the honor.
Matt has also recorded six CDs on a label his parents started, Savage Records. He has played with the likes of Chaka Khan and rubbed shoulders with jazz artists like Dave Brubeck, McCoy Tiner (ph), Kenny G, and Wynton Marsalis. Heady stuff for any teenager, 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: He couldn't handle like television or the radio or loud noises, people singing. When it was his birthday, he didn't want "happy birthday" to be sung.
I always believed that even when he was hard to reach, there was a shining star in there. And we just had to find a way to get to it.
Diana and Matt's father Larry were able to get to his shining star with audio therapy and a toy piano.
SAVAGE: 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?
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: 5,359,262.
TOM CRUISE: He's a genius. 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.
GUPTA: Other skills exhibited by prodigious savants? Near picture perfect memory, like Stephen Wilshire, who can see a skyline once and draw it in exquisite detail, as he did in Tokyo in 2005.
Calendar skills, like artist George Widener.
GEORGE WIDENER: All the days in 1803 are the same days of the week in 3081. All the days of the week in 2108 are the same as 8012, which is flipped around. Now I don't why it does that, you know, but it does.
And memory, like Orlando Serell.
ORLANDO SERELL: September 30th, 1988 was on a Monday. And November 25th, a Wednesday. I went to the credit union.
GUPTA: Give him any date, and he can tell you what day of the week it is and usually what he was doing that day.
We put him to the test with January 19th, 1994.
SERELL: January 19, 1994 is on a Wednesday. We had an ice storm. And the temperature that day was 9 degrees. And we got asked out of work. We got paid for four hours.
GUPTA: How about September 18th, 2003?
SERELL: September 18th, 2003 is on a Thursday. And that's - we were out of power due to Hurricane Isabelle. On September 19, I went to my parents house, cleaned up the backyard. On September 20th, that Saturday, the power came back on around that Saturday night.
GUPTA: Serell's childhood was normal until age 10, when he was struck in the head by a baseball. The injury somehow resulted in phenomenal recall, making Serell what Dr. Treffert calls an acquired savant.
Serell and others who have developed amazing abilities after brain injuries have led Treffert to conclude we must all have genius in us, but these abilities are overridden by the language and the logic that rule our everyday lives.
It takes a disability like autism, he says, or an injury like Serell's to bring out those abilities.
TREFFERT: And we tend to think of ourselves, when we're, born, that we have a blank disk and this marvelous piece of equipment called the brain. And what we become is everything that we put on our disk and our memories and so forth.
And I'm saying there's much more to us than that, that we come with software. And some people come with that software installed and have access to it.
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. One of the things I like about jazz is that you can be free. I'm going to continue with what I'm doing, just make it bigger.
(END VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Straight ahead, the strange story of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and the children it produced. With all those geniuses, how did the kids turn out?
GUPTA (voice-over): What if there was a formula for breeding genius? Entrepreneur Robert Graham believed there was. He spent two decades of his life recruiting Nobel Prize winners and other high achievers as sperm donors for what he hoped would be a revolutionary project.
ROBERT GRAHAM, DR., STARTED 'NOBEL PRIZE' SPERM BANK: We find certain individuals who are well under 40 being granted special academic distinctions.
GUPTA: He was banking on the seeds of brilliant men to ensure America's future.
In 1980, Graham opened the Repository for Germinal Choice, amid high expectations and hot controversy. In Escondido, California, in a building adjacent to a different sort of bank, Graham preserved vials of sperm from five Nobel Laureates, one Olympian, and dozens of other scientists, many with genius IQs.
Anita Neff ran the repository before it closed in 1999, a year after his death.
ANITA NEFF, REPOSITORY FOR GERMINAL CHOICE: If you start with the best and the brightest that you can, then you add the nurturing process to that, hopefully you'll come up with the next generation of strong, healthy, bright children.
GUPTA: Graham's project 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 (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe, maybe, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have an athletic kind of a thing or mind? Or Eric Hayden right here. Here's a very popular number. Very popular. This is the U.S. Olympic Hockey team.
GUPTA: In its 19 years of operation, some 215 children were born. Like many 21-year old college students, Jesse Gronwall spends a lot of his time procrastinating. An honor student with plans to go to law school, he's confident, gregarious, and curious just about everything, especially international politics.
He 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, Graham's exclusive sperm bank. Jesse's parents Tom and Andrew Gronwall went to the repository, not because they wanted a genius, but because they couldn't have children on their own.
They say their son has always seemed brighter than others, mastering computers by 5, memorizing just about every national anthem by 7, and possessing impressive communications skills.
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: Jesse was the 15th child born from the bank. But all he knows of his genetic father is what was written on the sheet - IQ 145, successful international financial consultant, reading, mountain climbing, music.
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 and the people that they are. But at the same time, I can't entirely write off genes.
I'm interested in knowing the man and exploring further the question of genes playing into it. I want to know if I've grown into maybe something of an image of that man.
ANDREW GRONWALL, JESSE'S MOTHER: It wouldn't have mattered if I had a kid from the Nobel Prize Bank or not. I still think I would have had a smart son.
GUPTA: "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, they're the 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: Where many people go today is the California Cryobank, perhaps the nation's top commercial sperm bank.
CAPPY ROTHMAN, DR., FOUNDER, CALIFORNIA CRYOBANK: We're now surrounded with billions of sperm.
GUPTA: Dr. Cappy Rothman started the bank in 1975.
ROTHMAN: I agree it seems like two brilliant people are more likely to beget a brilliant child than two less than average people. But you know, society hasn't demonstrated that. GUPTA: The Cryobank recruits donors from a pool of college students and graduates, high achievers with high sperm counts. They get about 6,000 calls a month and distribute 2500 vials of sperm every month, all over the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the donor's long profile, which is the medical history.
GUPTA: Comprehensive donor profiles include everything from physical and personality characteristics, to family, medical, and academic histories.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he's 6'1, 170 pounds, brown hair. He's a lawyer. He likes dogs. His mother is a lawyer. Blue eyes. And he's good with his hands. That's nice.
GUPTA: But it's often beauty, not brains, that parents are looking for, says Latrice Allen, who's been matching clients with donors for 20 years.
LATRICE ALLEN, DONOR MATCHING COORDINATOR: The physical characteristics are more important to clients, like hair color and eye color, things like that because they do want someone who physically matches what they're looking for.
GUPTA: The idea of manipulating your child's genes to be a genius or beautiful or whatever doesn't sit well with many people. But is it really so far fetched?
ROTHMAN: A woman does the same thing naturally when she picks and chooses the man she wants to make love with and have children. It's the same thing, it's just a different methodology.
GUPTA: Genius or not? Jesse Gronwall and his parents say they'll always be grateful for Graham's experiment.
J. GRONWALL: I think that the public image of the bank and that the people associated with it are somehow larger than life, I think what they're missing is that these are just people, you know? They're regular people, sometimes extraordinary, sometimes not.
GUPTA: If anything, it proves the link between genes and genius is more fragile than Graham or anyone else imagined.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR (voice over): Coming up, what every parent should know about raising smart kids. We go to summer camp with the Einsteins of tomorrow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of annoying being with all of these smart kids because I'm used to being the smartest kid around.
PHILLIPS: Then, the school where you need genius I.Q. just to apply.
And later, the boy who was home-schooled in the wilderness and wrote a number one best-seller before he was old enough for a driver's license.
We'll be right back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did it!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great going.
GUPTA (voice over): At first glance this looks like any average summer camp. But these teens are an academic elite, the top 1 percent based the SAT. As smart as they are, they want to be smarter. So they come here to the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, or CTY, with alumni like Sergey Brin, who went on to co-found Google.
The kids call it Nerd Camp. For three weeks, six hours a day, they write or do math or design mousetraps or dissect brains.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we have a hippo (ph) campus, which is really exciting.
ELI EISENBERG, AGE 15: It's challenging and it's fun. And I like the kids.
KEVIN HONG, AGE 14: Sometimes in school, like, if you actually do show off, not a lot of people like that, and the other people stand out.
GUPTA: Here all the kids are outstanding. But you have to wonder, will they still be exceptional 10 years from now or 20 years? Even 30?
According to Camilla Benbow, the answer is yes. Benbow has studied super-high achievers for more than three decades.
What we have found in our work is that more is better.
GUPTA: More intelligence, that is. Benbow followed the brightest kids who were identified by the Hopkins program. The higher their SAT score at age 12, the more likely a child was to get a Ph.D. from a prestigious university, to earn more money, and to take out patents on new inventions. In fact, the smartest 10-year-olds got advanced degrees nearly as often as students that were already enrolled in graduate school.
One of the most impressive kids was Terry Tao, an Australian who made a nearly perfect score on the math SAT when he was just 8 years old. By 16 he was at Princeton. By 24 he was a full math professor at UCLA. And this summer he received a Fields Medal, considered the Nobel Prize in mathematics.
At age 30 he is a remarkable success story. But he says it was a tough transition.
TERRY TAO, UCLA: When you're in school, you get problems served to you in these little bite size pieces. You know, you have these homework assignments, and to every problem you know there's a solution, and you even know where to find the solution, and so forth.
And, opposed to real life, where it's sort of much more unfair. You can get the problems and there might not be a solution, or -- you know, if there is, nothing you've learned will let you handle it.
GUPTA: Benbow says CTY and other programs like it ensure that kids like Terry Tao aren't lost in the shuffle.
BENBOW: But a lot of kids have that drive, and it may come out on their own, but their environment, in order to really develop those talents, that environment has to be there to nourish it.
ASHA LEMMIE, AGE 13: It is just so much fun you don't think about the work anymore. I want to write children's books because I want books that are real. I want books that can connect to a 12-year- old child.
MOSES NAKAMURA, AGE 16: It's kind of annoying being with all of these smart kids because, I mean, I'm used to being the smartest kid around, and now everyone else is just as smart as me.
GUPTA: Not all brilliant adults were overachieving kids. Peter Agre the 2003 Nobel Prize in chemistry. He got a D in the subject in high school. You won't find many D students here, but you just mind find the next Einstein or Hemmingway, or Charlie Parker.
PHILLIPS: Up next, find out if those baby books and videos will really make your kid smarter.
Plus, this child prodigy was reading and playing the violin by age of 2. But until she found this one-of-a-kind school, her teachers couldn't keep up. What's the secret?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not just the profoundly gifted. Any student would learn more.
PHILLIPS: We'll be back in a moment.
GUPTA: There's a kind of arms race out there between educational videos, books, and toys. So fierce it leaves many parents bewildered.
(on camera): Baby Einstein alone sold more than $250 million worth last year. But the American Academy of Pediatrics says no to television or videos for any child under the age of 2.
So, the question is, is early stimulation good or bad?
(voice over): In the book "Freakonomics," authors Steven Levitt and Steven Dubner analyze statistical data to find surprising connections and behaviors, including which factors predict success in school. Their verdict: educated parents, older parents, having money all help. Having lots of books in the house or watching television all day long doesn't matter.
Psychologist Ellen Winner agrees, to a point.
ELLEN WINNER, BOSTON COLLEGE: What we don't have any evidence for is the idea, is the claim that the more you enrich the environment, the more neurons you grow, the smarter you become. That's pop psychology.
GUPTA: But Winner, like most experts, says a child does need human interaction to develop a healthy brain.
WINNER: We do know that parents of gifted children tend to spend more time in structured leisure activities. They're not vegging out in front of the television. They're reading or gardening or doing carpentry. That's a role model for kids.
GUPTA (on camera): It seems like good advice, but some parents and teachers go much, much further.
(voice over): Think Reno, Nevada. What probably comes to mind is casinos or slot machines. Maybe the lonely outskirts of the Black Rock Desert.
But along with beautiful surroundings, the old gambling town is also home to the Reno Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra and its first violinist, the concert master, 11-year-old Misha Raffiee. Not only a first class violinist, she's not bad at the piano. And with an I.Q. north of 145, she's quickly outpaced her classmates at one of Reno's best private schools.
The message from her teachers: slow down.
MISHA RAFFIEE, AGE 11: I was told that I shouldn't ask as many questions. The teachers feel that some of the other students may not really understand. I felt that my learning was being held back.
GUPTA: By last fall the Raffiees were desperate, on the verge of moving Misha and her mother to California to find a school that would challenge her. But then fate intervened.
In August, the Davidson Academy opened its doors to 36 students from around the United States around as far as away as Australia. Now, there are no dorms. Those not already living in Reno moved with their families.
Every student here has an I.Q. higher than 145 or the equivalent on another achievement test. Such ability is rare. Only about one person in 10,000 has an I.Q. that high.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pick up your hat.
GUPTA: The academy is the brainchild of Jan and Bob Davidson, entrepreneurs who made a fortune selling educational software, like Math Blaster, then sold the company and started a foundation to help the very brightest students. They say it's important to start young, that genius delayed is genius denied.
JAN DAVIDSON, CO-FOUNDER, DAVIDSON INST.: I'm hoping this will be a model for all schools, where they allow a child to learn according to his ability and his motivation.
BOB DAVIDSON, CO-FOUNDER, DAVIDSON INST.: I think there's been kind of a hang-up on what we call age-based education. That if you're 6, you learn this; if you're 7 you learn that; if you're 8, et cetera. But that's probably what needs to be rethinked.
GUPTA: At Davidson each student has their own curriculum. For some 12-year-olds, calculus. For Misha, three languages. Older students 14 or 15 are also taking courses at the University of Nevada Reno.
WINNER: They learn in different ways. They're not just faster, they're different.
GUPTA: Ellen Winner is a Boston psychologist who studies gifted children.
WINNER: They think in unusual ways. They solve problems in unusual ways. And one of the ways in which they're unusual is that they learn things almost completely on their own. They require very little adult structure or scaffolding.
They just pick things up on their own. They soak it up on their own, the way a typical child soaks up language on his own when he's learning his first language.
GUPTA: Nationwide, for every $100 spent on special education for struggling students, Winner says just 3 cents goes to classes for the so-called gifted. Since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, gifted classes are being cut back or eliminated as schools focus on students who are falling behind, not the ones fighting to get ahead.
WINNER: Many schools just want to deny it, because if they say your child is really, really, really gifted in math, they're going to have to provide special services for that child, and that's not easy for schools to do, and they'd rather just shove it under the rug. Not all schools, but many schools.
GUPTA: Many educators say it's a matter of priorities, that the smartest students can figure out things for themselves.
J. DAVIDSON: But they're still children. And they need to be supported. And we have found that these students are not achieving in schools. They're definitely underachieving. Twenty percent of our dropouts test in the gifted range.
GUPTA: The Davidsons didn't set out to build a school. They started with a consulting program for kids in that tiny one in 10,000 group. Kids who simply ran out of options in the regular classroom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vanessa...
GUPTA: Kids like 11-year-old Vanessa Robinson, who until this fall went to public school in Enterprise, Alabama. She loves goofing around, but she's been reading chapter books since she was in kindergarten.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want you to think about and reflect what we learned in this activity individually.
GUPTA: The gifted program at Hillcrest Elementary is more ambitious than most. Each week students spend a full day learning advanced material. And Vanessa loved it. But that class is only one day a week, so this fall, with advice from a Davidson consultant, Vanessa's mom and dad are trying home schooling.
VANESSA ROBINSON, AGE 11: I get to move at my own pace, and I don't have to wait for everybody else.
CHRISTIANE ROBINSON, VANESSA'S MOTHER: I asked her, "How much actually do you learn new at school?" And she said 98 percent she already knows. I cannot just ignore my daughter's special education needs and just do nothing.
DANIEL ROBINSON, VANESSA'S FATHER: It doesn't matter how far you want to go right now, we're going to find that for you.
GUPTA: Like Vanessa, Misha showed early signs that she was no ordinary child.
KAMBIZ RAFFIEE, MISHA'S FATHER: One time Simi had taken Misha to a Barnes & Noble and she was just about 2 years old. And one of her friends was with her, and then Misha started at that time to read a book, a children's book, to him.
SIMI RAFFIEE, MISHA'S MOTHER: And they were all surprised. "Oh, she is reading! She can read! How can she read?"
I said, "No. I don't know. She can read."
GUPTA: Not only was she reading at age 2, Misha started playing the violin. Mr. and Mrs. Raffiee knew their daughter was smart, but until she took an I.Q. test for the Davidson application, they didn't know how smart.
S. RAFFIEE: It was very high. It was -- I don't think that it can be higher than that. It was very high.
K. RAFFIEE: And then we asked her about the type of questions that were on that I.Q. At least in my case, frankly, it was beyond me. GUPTA: The Davidsons say individualized study shouldn't be limited to the gifted. That if the regular system doesn't work, it's time to try something else.
J. DAVIDSON: I think the opportunity to learn at your own pace and your own motivation level will -- would allow anyone to achieve more than they would otherwise. It's not just the profoundly gifted. Any student would learn more.
GUPTA: As far as the Raffiees are concerned, with the academy they've hit the jackpot.
PHILLIPS: Coming up, a boy who dreamed about writing dragons and fighting monsters finds magic in words as a best-selling author. He tells us how to find that spark of genius.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.
CHRISTOPHER PAOLINI, AUTHOR: I go through these mountains. I hike every chance I get. Usually day hikes, sometimes spend a couple of nights.
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.
(on camera): When did you first think about writing a book?
PAOLINI: When I graduated, I really didn't have a lot to do because you look around, you can't just go to the nearest mall or movie theater. You have to find ways to entertain yourself.
And I loved reading, and I loved reading fantasy, so I decided to try and write a story to entertain myself. I actually thought, you know, I'll write a book as practice, I'll write a practice book. Then I'll write a real book. So "Eragon" was my practice book.
GUPTA (voice over): That practice book was about a 15-year-old boy and his newfound dragon doing battle against an evil empire. Paolini turned Paradise Valley into Palancar Valley, home to elves, monsters and heroes. He made drawings of his mythical world.
PAOLINI: Before him lay Palancar Valley, exposed like an unrolled map.
GUPTA: Spreading flyers and doing readings from Texas to Seattle, the Paolini family spent a year promoting "Eragon" on their own until it caught the attention of novelist Carl Hiaasen and his publisher. Within months of publication by Knopf it was a number one best-seller.
Paolini's second book, "Eldest," also hit number one. And while he finishes the trilogy's final chapter, "Eragon" is headed for the big screen in December.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One false move, one reckless decision, and everything's lost.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm the rider, and I say we go.
PAOLINI: It was a story that I really empathized with and related to about, you know, a young man coming of age, and here I was 15, 16, doing the same sort of thing.
GUPTA: He did have moments of self doubt, but so did "Eragon."
PAOLINI: "What wisdom can I give people that they haven't already learned? What feats can I achieve that an army couldn't do better? It's insanity."
GUPTA: Those who study giftedness say it's simpler to be a prodigy than a highly-creative grownup. The child masters a set of rules. The adult has no roadmap.
Paolini says many children have a spark of genius inside, but they need the right environment, free to pursue their passion.
(on camera): Are you happy you studied this way?
PAOLINI: 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. I mean, because "Eragon" was my daydreams. I wanted to be out riding a dragon, fighting monsters. And you don't -- if you don't have that time to sit and think and figure out what you really want to do when no one's telling you what to do, I don't -- I think you're going to have a hard time being happy in life.
GUPTA: The advice "Eragon" gets from a fortuneteller is worth hearing.
PAOLINI: "Your deeds are limited by your strength, this words you know and your imagination."
(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said that talent hits a target that no one else can hit, but genius hits a target that no one else can see.
I hope we've given you some things to think about.
I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Thanks for watching.
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