Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Real Rainman

Imagine seeing numbers as complex colors or patterns. Equations weave together to form visual landscapes in your mind. You can perform insanely difficult calculations in a fraction of a second and you have trouble discerning right from left.

If you can imagine these things then you have a small taste of what it's like to be Daniel Tammet. Born to middle-class parents in London in 1979, he was one of nine children. In his memoir, Born on a Blue Day, he recalls having epilepsy and Asperger Syndrome as a child. Daniel is a high-functioning autistic savant which makes him unique. He has "been to the other side" and can help researchers understand autism on a level they've never had before.

He also suffers from Synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that causes one of the senses to cross paths with another. Daniel says that 37 is lumpy and 89 reminds him of falling snow. Some see numbers as colors, some experience words as personalities. It's hard for me to wrap my head around, but the Synesthesia is what enables Daniel to do what he does.

Tammet set the European record for reciting pi to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes. He is also fluent in eleven languages. He learns them very quickly and effortlessly. He was once challenged to learn Icelandic in one week. A week later he appeared on Icelandic television speaking like a native. The language instructor on hand said his learning skill was "not human". He has even created his own language called, Mänti.

Daniel was showcased in the 2004 documentary, Brainman. He and his domestic partner Neil Mitchell, have been together since 2001 and operate the e-learning company, Optimnem.

Again, not paranormal, but very very cool.

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