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Daniel Tammet the savant
February 28, 2007 6:51 PM   Subscribe

Daniel Tammet (60 Minutes clips) is a highly functioning autistic savant able to learn Icelandic in a single week and recite PI to 22,500 places. "Savants can't usually tell us how they do what they do. It just comes to them. Daniel can. He could be the ‘Rosetta Stone." Previously on MeFi, he has a new book and movie (Google Video, 48m).
posted by stbalbach (22 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wikipedia.
posted by stbalbach at 6:53 PM on February 28, 2007


Yeah, I pretty much can't tell you how I learn languages once I get past explaining what I do on the outside. I read books, and listen and speak, but what that is deep down? Who knows.
posted by taursir at 7:08 PM on February 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I almost feel like he's lying when he describes dividing weird numbers as some kind of sparkly metallic shape - come on, you've got to be doing some kind of long division in there, even if it's very effective, sparkly long division. Plus what is he pointing at and pushing around if not digits? I find his explanations a bit unenlightening.
posted by Astragalus at 7:36 PM on February 28, 2007


He can intuitively see patterns, like great chess players, from years of experience, filter out the noise of the many possibilities and zero in on the likely solutions.
posted by stbalbach at 7:52 PM on February 28, 2007


The Thomas Newman "American Beauty" soundtrack was annoying.
posted by geoff. at 7:58 PM on February 28, 2007


Plus what is he pointing at and pushing around if not digits?

Synesthesia, the ultimate form of thinking outside the box. Actually, more like feeling outside the box. But this stuff is fascinating.
posted by bardic at 8:22 PM on February 28, 2007


The Yahoo video crashed Firefox entirely, after showing a couple segments. Any way to move tabs to separate windows?
posted by Goofyy at 8:38 PM on February 28, 2007


Astragalus, you mustn't have watched the movie link as your questions and queries are addressed in it.
posted by dobbs at 9:39 PM on February 28, 2007


When I was four or five years old, the name "Sarah" evoked for me a stylized mop leaning against a wall to the right - mop head up. Other words chimed pictures in my head but most of the visual associations are long gone.
posted by longsleeves at 9:53 PM on February 28, 2007


last week's askmefi thread where daniel tammet comes up.
posted by phaedon at 10:33 PM on February 28, 2007


I gnashed my teeth when I got to this in the Wikipedia article: "Tammet was challenged to learn Icelandic, one of the worlds hardest languages, in one week." [Emphasis added.] Fortunately, it being Wikipedia, I simply deleted the idiotic characterization. (I've seen a lot of languages called "the world's hardest" before, but Icelandic?? It's just another Germanic language, people.)
posted by languagehat at 6:01 AM on March 1, 2007


Hmm.. well I guess 60-minutes video was wrong about Icelandic then. It does seem pretty hard they use these strange sucking noises that other languages don't, kind of like Bushmen clicks..but sucks.
posted by stbalbach at 7:39 AM on March 1, 2007


Synesthesia, the ultimate form of thinking outside the box. Actually, more like feeling outside the box. But this stuff is fascinating.

Synesthesia is not a form of "thinking" it happens before things are actually read and it's caused by a physical brain process. It's also not related to autism, as far as I know. As far as I know. Synesthesia isn't some skill you can develop (although wikipedia indicates you can get it from a stroke, or hallucinogenic drugs)

Anyway, who knows if this guy is telling the truth or not. Impressive mathematical feats can be learned, and there is no reason someone couldn't memorize a "program" for calculating the digits of pi, rather then memorizing the digits themselves, a lot of people do this as some kind of hobby.
posted by delmoi at 8:56 AM on March 1, 2007


Anyway, who knows if this guy is telling the truth or not.

Having seen multiple documentaries on Tammet, including the one linked above (which isn't a 'movie'), where his claims to visualise numbers and their interactions were very rigorously tested, and found to be genuine, I'm going with 'telling the truth'.

Do you have a bit of a thing against savants, delmoi?
posted by jack_mo at 9:26 AM on March 1, 2007


Icelandic is not that hard, it has quite a few cognates with other Scandinavian languages, which in turn share many cognates with English. Who couldn't learn to do a decent interview in Icelandic in a week? Nerdburger still has a rotten accent, so I will give him a C+. I would like to see him train for a week and go kick Cro Cop’s ass. Now that would be cool.
I can do double digit cube roots in my head i.e. what is the cube root of 185193? Yet, still I have only achieved half of the coveted title idiot savant.
posted by MapGuy at 10:08 AM on March 1, 2007


"what is the cube root of 185193?"

That's easy. 42.

(sorry, just wanted to piss off languagehat:)
posted by vronsky at 11:25 AM on March 1, 2007


*gnashes teeth*

It does seem pretty hard they use these strange sucking noises that other languages don't, kind of like Bushmen clicks

Huh? The weirdest phonemes it has are preaspirated voiceless stops, and they're 1) not that uncommon, and 2) quite easy to learn to produce. And MapGuy says he has a rotten accent, so it would seem he hasn't exactly mastered the phonemes. You want a hard language? Try Georgian (where the case of the subject of a sentence varies according to the tense of the verb), or an Australian Aboriginal language.
posted by languagehat at 11:49 AM on March 1, 2007


We had a "creative" session at work yesterday - and afterwards I experienced a wave of dejavu.

I remembered someone saying to me recently they experience dejavu after thinking "creatively" for long periods of time but then couldn't be sure if it had indeed actually happened.

The brain is a funny place to live in, subjectively.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 12:28 PM on March 1, 2007


Languagehat: The weirder things Icelandic has that may be being referenced here are the voiceless nasal stops, and other voiceless sonorants (which seems to be some sort of oxymoron; voiceless sonorants).

As for what the strange sucking noises could possibly be, well, maybe there's something to do with all that ingressive breathing in scandinavia. Otherwise, I wouldn't think of comparing icelandic to "bushmen", because well, no clicks and no actual other phonemic and odd voicing modes.
posted by taursir at 1:02 PM on March 1, 2007


Languagehat writes: the case of the subject of a sentence varies according to the tense of the verb - I was going to ask how this is different from latin, but having thought about it realise how it is - wow.

Yeah and aboriginal where nouns and verbs aren't even abstracted. Double wow.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 1:09 PM on March 1, 2007


*gnashes teeth*

They do that too, it means "I'm pissed", or "let's have dinner" - a common source of confusion and embarrassment for non-natives.

taursir, "nasal stops" was what I meant, discussed in the documentary.
posted by stbalbach at 1:46 PM on March 1, 2007


delmoi: Impressive mathematical feats can be learned, and there is no reason someone couldn't memorize a "program" for calculating the digits of pi, rather then memorizing the digits themselves, a lot of people do this as some kind of hobby.
I can't believe that comment went completely passed over- memorizing, by first inventing, a program to produce digits of pi would seem vastly more impressive than simply memorizing the digits. Granted, I seem to recall a formula was actually discovered a few years' back, but even if that was a valid formula, I recall it being so beastly in shape that being able to compute it in one's head would be unquestionably savant-like...
posted by hincandenza at 3:30 PM on March 4, 2007


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