Monday, 24 September 2012

Seeing The World By 'Numbers': Daniel Tammet

Daniel Tammet is the author of three books, Born on a Blue Day” , Embracing the wide sky”  and “Thinking in Numbers” , Daniel Tammet, suffers  from “high-functioning autistic savant syndrome”. For him, everything from Shakespeare to snowflakes makes him think about numbers. The Brothers Grimm story about the magic pot of eternal porridge sends him into a discussion of the nature of infinity. Proverbs remind him of the times tables. A discussion of rhetoric leads to Pythagoras. He was born with congenital childhood epilepsy. Experiencing numbers as colors or sensations is a well-documented form of synesthesia, but the detail and specificity of Tammet's mental imagery of numbers is unique. In his mind, he says, each number up to 10,000 has its own unique shape and feel, that he can "see" results of calculations as landscapes, and that he can "sense" whether a number is prime or composite. He has described his visual image of 289 as particularly ugly, 333 as particularly attractive, and pi as beautiful. Tammet not only verbally describes these visions, but also creates artwork, particularly watercolor paintings, such as his painting of Pi. 

“Savantism” which he was suffering with is a rare condition in which people with 'developmental delays' of the brain (notably autism spectrum), and/or brain injury, demonstrate profound and prodigious capacities and/or abilities far in excess of those considered normal. He is also familiar with a number of foreign languages, including French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Estonian, Icelandic, Welsh and Esperanto, as well as his own invented language, "Mänti", which has about 1,000 words.Tammet learned Icelandic in a week, in front of the cameras. The culmination of the challenge was a live interview on Icelandic TV, which he coped with brilliantly. Tammet set a European record on March 14, 2004, when he recited the mathematical constant pi (3.141...) to 22,514 decimal places from memory in a time of 5 hours, 9 minutes. Tammet shows how mathematical proofs mirrored the use of reasoning in law. We learn how a nine-year-old coined the term for the number 1 followed by 100 zeros – "googol", inspiration for the ubiquitous search engine's monicker. He also surveys the likelihood of life on other planets as viewed by mathematicians and astronomers.

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