THE PEOPLE

The Body Builders explores the way science and technology are unlocking untapped resilience in our minds and bodies. But at its heart, it is a book about people, many of whom started out in unremarkable circumstances, then found themselves facing challenges most of us can hardly imagine.  Their stories show us where our limits lie and how we might overcome them, what we are capable of, and why. Here are some of the people you will meet.

The Bionic Man Who Builds Bionic People

Hugh Herr was a world-class rock climber when he lost both his legs to frostbite, and doctors told him he would never walk again. Driven to tinker with his prosthetics so he could climb again, Herr eventually turned his efforts toward  improving the prosthetic legs he relied upon in every day life. What he learned about how the different components of the human leg work together to allow us to walk, run and dance amazed and enthralled him. The devices Herr, now an MIT professor, is building based on that knowledge are not only restoring mobility to those who have lost it--they may just transform mankind.       

The blind woman who can see with her ears 

Pat Fletcher was blinded in a horrific accident at a grenade factory. Doctors told her she would never see again. Then one day she learned of a computer program that could covert the pixels of visual images into patterns of sound. Its inventor claimed the brain could learn to recognize these "soundscapes."  What happened next is helping to change the way scientists think about the brain and what all of us are capable of. Today, Pat Fletcher is seeing with her ears.

The Boy Who Remembers Everything

When he was two, Jake Hausler began pointing at cars during walks through his suburban New Jersey neighborhood with his mother, Sari, and blurting out seemingly random numbers. Then one day, Sari realized the pattern: Jake was referring to the numbers on the inspection stickers placed in the corner of each car’s front windshield. He had memorized them.  It was the first indication Jake had the remarkable capacity to recall virtually every day of his life and an astounding array of facts and figures. At least one biotech company is betting big that understanding Jake's gift and those of others like him holds the key to a new generation of memory drugs for the rest of us some have dubbed "Viagra for the brain." 

The Acquired Savant Who Became an Accidental Artist 

Derek Amato was a 39-year-old sales trainer fighting off middle-age malaise, when he dove head first into the shallow end of a pool and suffered a crippling concussion.  Four days after his accident something amazing happened. Amato had never played the piano before. But that day when he spotted one at a friend's house, he sat down and played a beautiful melody as if he had been studying the instrument for years.  Amato, doctors says, has a rare condition known as acquire savantism.  In the 75 or so known cases, ordinary people who suffer brain trauma suddenly develop what can seem like almost-superhuman new abilities: artistic brilliance, mathematical mastery, photographic memory.  Now improved brain-imaging techniques are enabling scientists to begin to probe the unique neural mechanisms at work. Some have even begun to design experiments that investigate an intriguing possibility: creative genius lies in all of us, just waiting to be unleashed.

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