An Inside View of a Savant’s Mind

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Daniel Tammet was born on a blue day, because January 31 fell on a Wednesday in 1979, and in his autistic mind, that is how he visualizes that date.  Tammet is one of only fifty living savants in the world, and the only one who has been able to articulate how his extraordinary mind works.

As a child Tammet exhibited behaviors characteristic of children on the autistic spectrum, often rocking and humming, failing to use eye contact, and avoiding social interactions with adults or peers.  “I became an increasingly quiet child and spent most of my time in my room, sitting on my own in a particular spot on the floor, absorbed in the silence.  Sometimes I’d press my fingers into my ears to get closer to the silence, which was never static in my mind, but a silky, trickling motion around my head like condensation.”  (p. 24)

He has the same rare savant syndrome as Kim Peek, the subject of the movie Rain Main, but unlike Peek, Tammet’s condition has enabled him to live a fully independent and productive life.  Having supportive parents who encouraged his acquisition of social skills was a definite asset along with his own self-motivation.  As a young adult living in the UK, he volunteered to teach English in Lithuania.  “I felt very anxious about the possibility of leaving my family and traveling hundreds of miles away to a new life in a new country.  But I was an adult now and knew that I had to do something if I was ever going to be able to make my own way in the world outside my room at home.”  (p. 115)

Tammet had epileptic seizures as a child, and there are theories that this may have contributed to the savant syndrome.  While this has not been proven, as an adult Tammet was inspired to raise money for the National Society of Epilepsy by breaking a European record of reciting over 22,000 digits of pi.  A year after that feat, a major TV channel filmed a documentary of Tammet meeting and interacting with Kim Peek.  Throughout his adult life Tammet has made himself available to the world’s leading neuroscientists who have studied his ability to solve complicated math problems instantly by visualizing shapes rather than making step-by-step calculations.  In a similar manner he has demonstrated learning difficult languages such as Icelandic in short periods of time by absorbing their patterns.

Some readers might find Tammet’s detailed descriptions of how he manipulates numbers and words a bit tedious, but the overall effect is a fascinating glimpse into an amazing mind.  His journey from an awkward, friendless childhood to adulthood where he learned how to control his obsessions, live independently, interact socially, and run a successful web-based business is a fascinating and uplifting read.

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Hey READERS, I would love to hear from you.

Is your MIND FULL of old thoughts or new?

 

 


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