Saturday, April 21, 2007
Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant. He possesses an amazing facility with numbers and languages but encounters difficulties with abstract ideas, communication, and empathy with others. His memoir contains fascinating descriptions about how his brain works. Daniel has synesthesia and therefore experiences some words and especially numbers as colors, shapes, and/or textures. For example, he is able to visually differentiate prime numbers and performs large calculations by fitting one number "shape" with another to form a new shape, or the solution. Tammet was the subject of a documentary "Brainman" that showed some of his abilities, including setting a record by memorizing and reciting pi to its 22,514th digit and learning Icelandic in a week. Partly due to his autism, presumably, some parts of the book are a bit flat and lack emotional resonance and the book does a much better job of conveying Daniel's extraordinary abilities and does a poorer job of detailing his limitations. On the whole, though, this was a fun glimpse into someone else's brain, one that works completely different than my own.