Inside the Mind of an Austistic Savant with Synaesthesia Inside the Mind of an Austistic Savant with Synaesthesia
GOOD Blog

Inside the Mind of an Austistic Savant with Synaesthesia

by Andrew Price

January 9, 2009
Daniel Tammet is a 28-year-old English savant who can do remarkable things with numbers (think the character in the movie Rain Man), and also has synaesthesia, which mixes up your senses (think dropping acid). His interior life is considerably different from yours and mine. He recently recited pi from memory to 22,514 digits. Unlike many savants, Daniel seems to be able to describe how he thinks with special insight. New Scientist has a fascinating interview:I have a relationship with numbers that is similar to the relationship that most people have with language. When people think of words, they don't think of them as separate items, atomised in their head, they understand them intuitively and subconsciously as belonging to an interconnected web of other words....You wouldn't use a word like "giraffe" without understanding what the words "neck" or "tall" or "animal" mean. Words only make sense when they are in this web of interconnected meaning and I have the same thing with numbers. Numbers belong to a web. When somebody gives me a number, I immediately visualise it and how it relates to other numbers. I also see the patterns those relationships produce and manipulate them in my head to arrive at a solution, if it's a sum, or to identify if there is a prime.He also claims to have learned eleven languages including English, French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Estonian, Icelandic, Welsh, and Esperanto. I know of no reason to doubt him; autistics are notoriously bad at deception.Tammet's case is a nice reminder that we've barely scratched the surface in our understanding of how people's minds work, and their apparent limitations may not be inherent.There's a 50-minute documentary about him called The Boy with the Incredible Brain, which you can watch on Google video here. His 2007 memoir is Born on a Blue Day.
Recently on GOOD
The
Daily
GOOD
Sign up to receive the best of GOOD delivered to your inbox each and every weekday
Inside the Mind of an Austistic Savant with Synaesthesia