April 20, 1961

Dear Herbert:

Here is one of the most interesting medical cases I have over encountered, and I think you may find an idea in it.

One of the best bridge players in his time was a man named Allen Harvey, from Louisville. He must have been born about 1920; he was a decorated pilot in World War II. He took up bridge about 1942 and became a very good player almost immediately, which is typical of those who are ever going to be good bridge players. During the war years he made himself known to the bridge-playing world and after the war he became one of the highest-ranking players.

In 1958 Harvey had a bad automobile accident that almost killed him. It crushed and destroyed one side of his brain. It seemed also to have damaged the other, previously inactive, side of his brain. Since his family in Louisville is quite rich and prominent, the best specialists were called in. They agreed for almost two years that while Harvey might recover physically (as he did), he would never again achieve a mental age of more than about seven years and would never regain memory of what had gone before.

In this last prognostication they have so far been proved correct. Harvey cannot remember anything before the accident and has not recognized any person from his past, including his wife, parents, sister, and friends. He has come to know them as a growing child knows his uncles and aunts, by being told who they are.

But in the former prognostication the specialists were wrong. Harvey's brain, whatever remained of it, remained dormant for two full years. Then it began to be capable of absorbing knowledge. He quickly learned to speak and read and write, with handwriting like that of a bright and careful sixth-grade student. He learned to recognize old friends, after being told that they were old friends. (Since he had been very popular, they made a pilgrimage to see him.) He learned the outlines of history and literature. In short, he absorbed general knowledge with the rapidity of a child whose I.Q. is maybe 175.

After about a year and a half of intensive instruction, in which the undamaged portion of the less damaged half of Harvey's brain brought him to the level of a bright 13- or 14-year-old, Harvey's family thought it was time to introduce him again to bridge. To this end they brought in his closest bridge-playing friends in Louisville, one or two from Cincinnati, and one (a man named Edson Wood) from Indianapolis.

I digress here for a moment. There was a time when bridge authorities including Culbertson insisted that bridge skill is a matter of general intelligence and not of some mystical quality called "card sense." This entire approach was exploded when the concept of special attributes was introduced. It was never a tenable approach, because some of history's greatest men, whose mental capacities are beyond question, have been very poor card players, while a lot of stupid bums have been great card players. Anyway, the new understanding makes it clear that a person can have a special aptitude for bridge just as some other person can have a special aptitude for music and be able to read the score of a symphony and actually hear a hundred-piece orchestra playing while to others the same score would look like flyspots on a sheet of staves.

Back to the story. Harvey as a mental 13-year-old was the quickest bridge learner his old and forgotten friends had ever seen. Within a few months he was capable of winning top scores in minor Louisville tournaments. Three months ago, playing with Edson Wood in the Southern Championships, he finished fourth, and his "new brain" had been playing bridge less than two years. Wood told me that if Harvey hadn't blacked out for a period of some forty-five minutes, and become substantially imbecilic (unable to control either his thought processes or his motor activities), they would have won. Wood was prepared for the possibility that Harvey would not recover, but after the forty-five minutes Harvey snapped back and became rational again. This may be a hazard of reconstructed minds. I have a feeling that this case may be of some importance in the study of the human mind. It indicates that a special aptitude in one side of the brain is likely or surely to be found in the other side.

I think someone should commission a study or an article on this subject that would be of interest to the public and of great value to science based on the case of Allen Harvey of Louisville.

Albert H. Morehead

New York City