Ming the Mechanic:
Savants and synestesia

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Savants and synestesia2007-03-26 20:35
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picture by Flemming Funch

Daniel Tammet is a savant with quite fantastic mental abilities, and only few of the negative effects of autism. You can see a 50 minute documentary with him here. Amongst other feats, he has recited Pi to 22,500 decimals, and he can learn a new language in a week. In that program they put that to the test, by asking him to learn Icelandic in 7 days. Icelandic is very hard, but at the end of the week, he was interviewed on Icelandic TV and had obviously mastered it.

Part of what is interesting is that, as many autistic savants, part of his trick is synestesia. What is particularly unique about him is that he can articulate his own mental processes. He loves numbers, but he doesn't really do calculations. He experiences each number as a certain visual pattern. Each number from 1 to 10,000 has a certain distinct shape and color to him, which he can draw or model in clay. When he's asked to calculate something, the result sort of flickers in front of his eyes, and he simply reads off what he sees.

One of the researchers tried to throw him off by presenting him with a section of the decimals of Pi which was wrong, with some digits in the wrong place. And, whereas the real series of decimals is pure beauty to him, the false series gave him a strong reaction of being wrong and disharmonious.

What's sort of interesting and inspiring about people like that is that it hints at the possibility that anybody could do the same thing, if we better understood how. Their brains have somehow become short-circuited a bit, so they don't have the filters 'normal' people have, but they have more direct access to their abilities. Which often comes with a cost of lost functionality in some other area, or an inability in understanding emotions. But sometimes it doesn't.

.. Oops, I actually wrote about him before. I was looking for a picture of him, and Google suggested I'd find it on ming.tv. I guess I don't have perfect memory.

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1 comment

26 Mar 2007 @ 23:33 by dewf @ : awesome!
thanks for posting that, ming. i've been reading a bunch about autism etc lately, and this is fantastic.

i've been reading up on an astrology/i-ching-type system called "human design" lately, and the guy who "invented it" (had some crazy 8-day revelation while living as a hermit on the island of ibiza) has a lot to say about the future of humanity. he says that autism and prostate cancer are the result of a mutation occurring in humanity, and while this mutation in humans is detrimental, it is actually going to be useful in a new species of humans that will increasingly come into the world -- ie, we will be increasingly giving birth to our own replacements, while our species will slowly die off, become sterile, etc. 2027 is a key date in his cosmology. just thought it was interesting 'cause it's very _childhood's end_, which is a fantastic book. a lot of the new age scene has been saying similar things for awhile, about the 'crystal children' for example.  

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2009-10-25 17:04: Opinions, perceptions and intuition
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2008-06-29 16:47: Complicated and Complex
2008-02-20 16:39: The universe as a virtual reality

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