Daniel Tammet was born in January of 1979 in London, England -- the oldest of nine children, he is an autistic savant
When he was a baby, Daniel would constantly bang his head against the wall. His mother was deeply concerned and breastfed him for two years.
One afternoon, Daniel was playing with his brother in the living room and went into an epileptic fit. His father's father had epilepsy and had died because of it. Soon thereafter, Daniel was put on medication to control the seizures.
Autism is a neurological disorder characterized by restricted behavior, weakened communication skills (speech impediments) and impaired social skills. It is usually an inherited issue, often noticeable before age three. It affects about one or two per 1,000 people globally and occurs four to five times more often with boys than girls.
A savant is a person with extraordinary mental ability. Scans of the brains of autistic savants suggest that damage to the left side of the brain may be causing the right side of over-compensate for the damage. They struggle with comprehension (left brain hemisphere) but often have amazing skills in memory and mathematics (right brain hemisphere), which also accounts for a lack of empathy.
For example, a blind autistic savant, Leslie Lemke, was able to play Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 after hearing it for the first time, even though he had never had so much as a piano lesson.
Daniel Tammet is fluent in German, French, Spanish, Icelandic, Lithuanian and Esperanto. He has also invented his own language, called "Manti." He is able to figure out cube roots faster than a calculator. He does not see "numbers" -- he sees them as shapes, colors and textures.
The mathematical constant "pi" is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter -- its value, to the first 11 decimal digits, equals 3.14159265359. In 2004, Daniel broke the European record for recalling the value of "pi" to the furthest decimal. He had memorized this number to 22,514 decimal digits and can also recite it backwards.
"I do love numbers. It isn't only an intellectual or aloof thing that I do," Daniel contends. "I really feel that there is an emotional attachment, a caring for numbers. I think this is a human thing -- in the same way that a poet humanizes a river or a tree through metaphor, my world gives me a sense of numbers as personal. It sounds silly, but numbers are my friends."
The 1988 movie, Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman as an autistic savant, won four Oscars at the Academy Awards in 1989:
- Best Picture -- Rain Man
- Best Original Screenplay -- (Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass)
- Best Director -- Barry Levinson
- Best Actor in a Leading Role -- Dustin Hoffman
Barry Morrow created the character of the autistic savant based on a real-life savant he had met, named Kim Peek, who is able to read two pages of a book simultaneously and recall in exact detail the 7,600 books he has read. When at home in Utah, Peek spends his afternoons at the Salt Lake City Public Library, memorizing phone books.
Daniel Tammet is also an avid reader. His favorite book is a good dictionary and the works of G.K. Chesterton, because he likes Chesterton's humorous aphorisms.
"Poets have been mysteriously silent the subject of cheese." G.K. Chesterton
During his early school years, Daniel was a shy loner, unable to make eye contact. He would hurry outside during the recess time, but not to play with the other kids. "The place was surrounded with trees," he pointed out. "While the other children were playing football, I would just stand and count the leaves."
After his schooling, Daniel wanted to be a teacher. Initially, he worked as a volunteer in Lithuania. Later, he returned home to London to live with his parents and found work as a tutor of mathematics.
Eventually, Daniel had set up his own business. He works at home, creating e-mail courses in numeracy, learning languages and literacy for private clients. Working from home via e-mail has allowed him to minimize human interface and also gives him time to work on his own language of Manti.
Daniel Tammet is definitely an odd and wonderful specimen of the human species -- but then again, incredibly intelligent people always seem odd to those who aren't.
Quote for the Day -- “Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.” Albert Einstein
Bret Burquest is the author of 11 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a few dogs and where a chicken is the egg’s way of making more eggs.