Laurence Kim Peek (November 11, 1951 – December 19, 2009) was an American savant. Known as a “megasavant”, he had an exceptional memory, but he also experienced social difficulties, possibly resulting from a developmental disability related to congenital brain abnormalities. He was the inspiration for the character of Raymond Babbitt, in the movie Rain Man. Unlike Babbitt, who had autism, Peek had FG syndrome.
Peek was born in Salt Lake City, Utah with macrocephaly, damage to the cerebellum, and agenesis of the corpus callosum, a condition in which the bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain is missing; in Peek’s case, secondary connectors such as the anterior commissure were also missing. There is speculation that his neurons made unusual connections due to the absence of a corpus callosum, which resulted in an increased memory capacity. According to Peek’s father, Fran (Francis) Peek, Kim was able to memorize things from the age of 16–20 months. He read books, memorized them, and then placed them upside down on the shelf to show that he had finished reading them, a practice he maintained all his life. He could speed through a book in about an hour and remember almost everything he had read, memorizing vast amounts of information in subjects ranging from history and literature, geography and numbers to sports, music and dates. Peek read by scanning the left page with his left eye, then the right page with his right eye; his lack of a corpus callosum allowed the eyes to function independently. According to an article in The Times newspaper, he could accurately recall the contents of at least 12,000 books. Peek lived in Murray, Utah and spent a considerable amount of his time reading at the Salt Lake City Library and demonstrating his capabilities at schools, with great help from his father.
Peek did not walk until he was four years old, and then in a sidelong manner. He could not button up his shirt and had difficulty with other ordinary motor skills, presumably due to his damaged cerebellum, which normally coordinates motor activities. In psychological testing, Peek scored below average (87) on general IQ tests.
At 6, it was suggested that he have a lobotomy to ‘cure’ his incessant chattering, fidgeting and pacing; when he attended school, aged 7, he was expelled for being ‘uncontrollable’ after just 7 minutes in class. Following this, tutors visited his house twice a week for 45 minutes; by the age of 14, Peek had completed the high school curriculum.
Aged 18, he got a job working out the payroll for 160 people: this was a task that took him only a few hours, without the need for a calculator. However, he became unemployed a decade later when his employers decided to computerize payroll accounting, and he was replaced by two full-time accountants and a computer