Savants are capable of amazing performance in a number of specialized tasks (e.g. rapid counting). In the same time they have difficulties with tasks requiring higher level of abstraction, and display poor general intelligence.
Is integer arithmetic fundamental to mental processing? the mind’s secret arithmetic, A. W. Snyder, D. J. Mitchell:
In contrast to the popular views discussed above, the unique aspect of our perspective is that the mechanism and information drawn on for savant mathematics resides equally in us all but it cannot be recruited by us for mathematics. In other words, we believe that mathematical savants, like all autistic savants, arise from their privileged access to lower levels of raw information.
Why is it that savants have privileged access to lower levels of information ? Perhaps it is promoted by a loss of those centres that control executive or integrative mechanisms (…)
An intriguing question remains. Although we do not normally have access to lower levels of information as do savants, is there nonetheless some artificial means to promote this access, say via induced altered states of consciousness?
A reference to the theory of hierarchical memory (Jeff Hawkins, On intelligence, see earlier post).
From the point of view of this theory savants would be somehow unable to develop higher level memory patterns.
On the flip side, a normal person cannot recognize lower level memory patterns anymore, and therefore doesn’t have access to savant-like abilities, which are based on this raw access.