Discovering Daniel Tammet

Yesterday through I stumbled into the Oddee website again. They have funny or interesting lists on various topics. Such as the 10 Real Life Super Heroes. Bizzar stuff, I wouldn’t mind researching a bit on that Tothian guy. He appears to have an admirable outlook on life while maintaining most of his screws… most.

The right has a number of links to other ‘articles’ on the site when I found the related Real-life Superheroes: 10 People with Incredible Abilities. Number 1 on that list is one Daniel Tammet, who prompted me to make this blog. I learned a number of things just by watching the video interview and reading about him. Like the word savant and that the Icelandic language is apparently really hard to learn. The mans abilities/brain are, of course, incredible. But the ability to do crazy math and other accomplishments is just garbage in garbage out functionality. What really caught my imagination was HOW he does it.

You can watch a Discovery Channel documentary separated into five parts on youtube. That same user also has the Kim Peek (Rain Man) documentary, also very interesting.

First I’d like firmly to put myself in my place. I am not a neurologist, a psychologist, or a philosopher… I do realize this and constantly remind myself of such while I whimsically dig channels to connect these deep pools.

Interacting with the world is what life does, whether the life in question is aware of it or not. From a cell filtering nutrients to an astronomer star hopping. I’d say memory recall is the is a step up from interaction. The how to that is what I think about here.

For the closest relation to Daniel’s case think of face recognition. It stems from the base requisite all creatures with a face: identifying your species and mate to reproduce. When we look at someone our brain makes unconscious determinations based on shape, texture, and mood that many would find hard to describe in full. We can identify a face we know/knew almost instantly. Even when it takes time to place a face no conscience thinking required, it just sort of bubbles up. Or doesn’t. And most adults could recognize tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of faces.

When Daniel thinks of numbers, this is how his brain thinks. Like our names on a page, the symbols making numbers are just identification for a shape. Landscape as he calls them. A colored, textured landscape that brings about feelings in him. 1 is bright and brilliant. 6 is an ugly hole. 9 is tall and foreboding. Pi is beautiful, he’s memorized it to 22514 decimal places the same way we remember the route to grandma’s house. And this way of seeing numbers allows him the ability to do massive calculations faster than a calculator in some cases. And, he’s able to learn a language in a week.

Kim Peek, another savant, has a photographic (eidetic) memory. He is able to read a page in a matter of seconds and retain it word for word. Unlike Daniel, he doesn’t have some tangible method. His brain just does it raw. Information goes in as is where the rest of us use what the documentary doctor called ‘conceptual encoding’. Which basically means if we were given a list of words and told to memorize it we would make connections to accomplish the effort, and we would focus. He doesn’t have to struggle with that filter we use for determining useful information. For Kim he hears it, it’s in.

Two very different men, savants, skills, and ways of processing information. I can relate, like many can, because I had my favorite courses in school often relating to the ones I enjoyed or found easiest to comprehend. A correlation strikes me with some studying methods teachers have suggested and friends of mine used to get through those courses I wasn’t good at. Copying info down in your own hand writing. Flash cards. Doodling subject related material. Practice through repetition.

Different people think different ways. Its surprising to me that this is such a common knowledge but little is said about looking within and learning how you think. It seems to me that this is that heart of individual learning itself. I have seen it glanced upon, so perhaps the concept is still in it’s infancy under the relatively new ‘sciences’ of psychology and sociology. Far older glances I have read under metaphysical ideas, by Aristotle’s terms, universal comparing to relative and philosophically related. Not so much the modern usage to label mystical stuff.


The best I’ve been able to determine, I think and learn most ‘natural’ by association. Like star watcher a learning new stars, I start with what I know to jump to what I’m learning. It’s progressive, often slow, and the more obscure a subject is to me thicker I am. Once I am able to start straight from what I was learning, it’s locked in my head. Which is why I’m good at figuring out and understanding the how things work and the why things work. Math, music, science, computers, technology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and learning stories (though not narrating them) are all interests of mine.

I can be fairly slow on the uptake. I find it difficult to pick up on random bits of information. Dates, vocabulary, languages, places, grammar, names, formulas are often hard for me to learn without spending enough time to establish a large enough base to build further understanding. It doesn’t help that I get obsessive in the areas I’m already established, then emotion and conflict gets in the way of the new learning.

Pillared learning:

Another way I wonder about this is through the relation of mind, conscience, and emotion. All are intangible ideas that reside ‘inside’ the body. Most have a sense of what these words mean. Mind processes, conscience gives permission, emotion determines priority… that is how I interpret them anyway. And yet they are all sub-functions to each other and they all rise learn and grow.

What would happen if a person had these functions swapped? These are just me playing… don’t read to much into them.

-> Would it be that if the filter (conscience) is processing (mind) it’s going to retain everything that goes through it. But the result of that is inhibited ability to relate to the present world because the filter is having to develop artificially elsewhere.

The filter (conscience) playing authority(emotion)? I would think this would make a more dramatic being because every choice would appear colorful or maybe just black and white depending on how extreme.

The filter (conscience) playing the body. I’d say a kinetic or even anxious person as ins and outs to processing would require movement of some sort…

-> How about the authority (emotion) is processing? Would it be that all information that comes in is going to be processed as beautiful, ugly, worthy, boring, neutral, etc? Would is also be tapping the face recognition/memorization abilities?

Authority (emotion) playing filter (conscience): Similar to the opposite only I think it would be more extreme to the point of bi-polar.

Authority (emotion) playing body: I’m picturing a child in a tantrum or dancing. Destruction of property. Various, more aggressive art forms.

These are interesting, I may keep on tomorrow… but my arrows I think may be where Daniel and Kim would be by my logic.


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