Daniel Tammet

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Daniel Tammet
Daniel Tammet at Reykjavik University.jpg
Tammet speaking at Reykjavík University in 2007.
BornDaniel Paul Corney[1]
(1979-01-31) 31 January 1979 (age 34)
London, England
OccupationWriter, educator
 
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Daniel Tammet
Daniel Tammet at Reykjavik University.jpg
Tammet speaking at Reykjavík University in 2007.
BornDaniel Paul Corney[1]
(1979-01-31) 31 January 1979 (age 34)
London, England
OccupationWriter, educator

Daniel Tammet FRSA (born 31 January 1979) is an English writer, essayist and autistic savant. His best selling 2006 memoir, Born on a Blue Day, about his life with high-functioning autism and savant syndrome, was named a "Best Book for Young Adults" in 2008 by the American Library Association.[2]

Tammet's second book, Embracing the Wide Sky, was described as one of France's best selling books of 2009 by L'Express magazine in its March 2010 edition.[3]

Thinking in Numbers, Tammet's third book, was published by Hodder in the UK on 16 August 2012, and by Little, Brown in the United States and Canada on 30 July 2013.

Tammet's books have been published in 20 languages.[4]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2012.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Daniel Tammet

Tammet was born Daniel Paul Corney[1] and raised in East London, England, the eldest of nine children. He suffered epileptic seizures as a young child, which he subsequently outgrew following medical treatment. At age twenty-five, he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen of the Autism (Spectrum) Research Centre at Cambridge University.[6] Tammet is one of fewer than a hundred "prodigious savants" according to Dr. Darold Treffert, the world's leading researcher in the study of savant syndrome.[7]

Tammet finished school with nine GCSEs (an 'A*' in History, 'A' grades in English, English Literature, French, and German, two 'B' grades in the Sciences, a 'B' in Maths, and a 'C' in Woodwork)[8] and three A-Levels in History, French and German, all at grade 'B'.[9]

Preferring travel to university, Tammet taught English for a year in Lithuania.

Tammet twice participated in the World Memory Championships in London under his birth name, placing 12th in 1999 and 4th in 2000.[1][10]

He changed his birth name by deed poll because "it didn't fit with the way he saw himself."[9]

In 2002 Tammet launched his website, Optimnem.[11] The site offers language courses (currently French and Spanish) and has been an approved member of the UK's National Grid for Learning since 2006.[8]

Tammet was the subject of a documentary film entitled (in the UK) The Boy with the Incredible Brain, first broadcast on the British television station Channel 4 on 23 May 2005.[12]

Savantism[edit]

Tammet has been "studied repeatedly"[13] by researchers in Britain and the United States, and has been the subject of several peer-reviewed scientific papers.[14] Professor Allan Snyder at the Australian National University has said of Tammet: "Savants can't usually tell us how they do what they do. It just comes to them. Daniel can describe what he sees in his head. That's why he's exciting. He could be the 'Rosetta Stone'."[9]

In his mind, he says, each positive integer up to 10,000 has its own unique shape, colour, texture and feel. He has described his visual image of 289 as particularly ugly, 333 as particularly attractive, and pi as beautiful. The number 6 apparently has no distinct image yet what he describes as an almost small nothingness, opposite to the number 9 which he calls large, towering, and quite intimidating.[8][15] In his memoir, Tammet states experiencing a synaesthetic and emotional response for numbers and words.[16]

Tammet holds the European record for reciting pi from memory to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes on 14 March 2004.[17]

Tammet has reportedly learned ten languages, including Romanian, Gaelic, Welsh, and Icelandic which he learned in a week for a TV documentary.[18]

Career[edit]

Born on a Blue Day, Tammet's memoir of a life with Asperger's syndrome, received international media attention and critical praise. Booklist's Ray Olson stated that Tammet's autobiography was "as fascinating as Benjamin Franklin's and John Stuart Mill's" and that Tammet wrote "some of the clearest prose this side of Hemingway". Kirkus stated that the book "transcends the disability memoir genre".

For his US book tour, he appeared on several television and radio talk shows and specials, including 60 Minutes and Late Show with David Letterman.[8] In February 2007 Born on a Blue Day was serialised as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week in the United Kingdom.

Tammet's second book, Embracing the Wide Sky was published in 2009.[14] Professor Allan Snyder, director of Sydney University's Centre for the Mind, called the work 'an extraordinary and monumental achievement'.[19] Tammet argues that savant abilities are not "supernatural" but are "an outgrowth" of "natural, instinctive ways of thinking about numbers and words". He suggests that the brains of savants can, to some extent, be retrained, and that normal brains could be taught to develop some savant abilities.[19]

Thinking in Numbers, a collection of essays, was first published in 2012 and serialised as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week in the United Kingdom.[20]

Scientific study[edit]

After the World Memory Championships, Tammet participated in a group study, later published in the New Year 2003 edition of Nature Neuroscience.[21] The researchers investigated the reasons for the memory champions' superior performance. They reported that they used "strategies for encoding information with the sole purpose of making it more memorable", and concluded that superior memory was not driven by exceptional intellectual ability or differences in brain structure.[22]

In another study, Simon Baron-Cohen and others at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge tested Tammet's abilities in around 2005.[23] He was found to have synaesthesia according to the "Test of Genuineness-Revised" which tests the subjects' consistency in reporting descriptions of their synaesthesia. He performed well on tests of short term memory (with a digit-span of 11.5, where 6.5 is typical). Conversely, test results showed his memory for faces scored at the level expected of a 6–8 year old child in this task. The authors of the study speculated that Tammet's savant memory could be a result of synaesthesia combined with Asperger syndrome, or it could be the result of mnemonic strategies.

Baron-Cohen, Bor and Billington investigated whether his synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome explained his savant memory abilities in a further study published in Neurocase in 2008. They concluded that his abilities might be explained by hyperactivity in one brain region (the left prefrontal cortex), which results from his Asperger syndrome and synaesthesia.[24] On the Navon task, relative to non-autistic controls, Tammet was found to be faster at finding a target at the local level and to be less distracted by interference from the global level.[24] In an fMRI scan, "Tammet did not activate extra-striate regions of the brain normally associated with synaesthesia, suggesting that he has an unusual and more abstract and conceptual form of synaesthesia".[24] Published in Cerebral Cortex (2011), an fMRI study lead by Professor Jean-Michel Hupé at the University of Toulouse (France) observed no activation of colour areas in ten synaesthetes.[25] Hupé suggests that synaesthetic colour experience lies not in the brain's colour system, but instead results from "a complex construction of meaning in the brain, involving not only perception, but language, memory and emotion".[26]

In his book Moonwalking with Einstein (2011), science journalist and former US Memory Champion Joshua Foer speculates that study of conventional mnemonic approaches has played a role in Tammet's feats of memory. While accepting that Tammet meets the standard definition of a prodigious savant, Foer suggests that his abilities may simply reflect intensive training using standard memory techniques, rather than any abnormal psychology or neurology per se. In a review of his book for the New York Times, psychologist Alexandra Horowitz described Foer's speculation as among the book's few "missteps", because the issue of whether or not savants such as Tammet make use of such strategies is irrelevant.[27]

Personal life[edit]

Tammet met his first partner, software engineer Neil Mitchell, in 2000. Tammet lived with him in Kent, where they had a quiet life at home with their cats, preparing meals from their garden.[7][28] Tammet and Mitchell operated the online e-learning company Optimnem, where they created and published language courses.

Tammet now lives with a new partner, Jérôme Tabet, a French photographer whom he met while promoting his autobiography. Although he has said that he did not think he would be here if it were not for the love and support of Mitchell, more recently he noted that he used to live a rigid existence aimed at calming his many anxieties—"I was very happy, but it was a small happiness"—whereas now, as the subtitle of Embracing the Wide Sky: A tour across the horizons of the mind asserts, he believes that we ought to seek to liberate our brains—a belief reflected in his new life:[29]

My life used to be very simple and regimented but since then I have travelled constantly and given lots of lectures and it just changed me... It made me much more open, much more interested in, I guess, the full potential of what my mind could do... Because of that change I grew and in a sense I grew apart from my long-term partner, so we parted amicably in 2007, and a short while later I met my current partner, who is from France so I decided to go and live with him in Avignon.

Works[edit]

Non-fiction[edit]

Essays[edit]

Awards[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Joshua Foer: Moonwalking with Einstein, Penguin Press 2011,
  2. ^ "ALA 2008 Best Books for Young Adults". American Library Association. Retrieved 3 November 2010. 
  3. ^ "Les best-sellers de l'année 2009 réunis au Fouquet's (in French)". L'Express. 23 March 2010. Retrieved 29 March 2010. 
  4. ^ "Andrew Lownie Literary Agency)". Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
  5. ^ "Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts)". Thinking in Numbers: The Blog of Daniel Tammet. 19 December 2012. Retrieved 20 December 2012. 
  6. ^ Tammet, Daniel, Born On A Blue Day, p. 6
  7. ^ a b Lyall, Sarah (15 February 2007). "Brainman at Rest in His Oasis". The New York Times (New York). Retrieved 25 June 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c d Tammet, Daniel (2006). Born on a Blue Day. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 978-0-340-89974-8. 
  9. ^ a b c Johnson, Richard (12 February 2005). "A genius explains". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  10. ^ http://www.memocamp.com/highscore?type=user&user=84&daten=wrl
  11. ^ Optimnem: The Official Website of Daniel Tammet
  12. ^ The Boy with the Incredible Brain
  13. ^ Lyall, Sarah (15 February 2007). "Brainman, at Rest in His Oasis". The New York Times (New York). Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  14. ^ a b Tammet, Daniel (2009). Embracing the Wide Sky. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-96132-5. 
  15. ^ Morley Safer (28 January 2007). "Brain Man". CBS News. Retrieved 2 February 2007. 
  16. ^ Tammet, Daniel, Born on a Blue Day
  17. ^ "Pi memory feat". Oxford University. 15 March 2004. Retrieved 14 March 2011. 
  18. ^ Bethge, Philip (3 May 2009). "Who Needs Berlitz?". Der Spiegel (Germany). Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  19. ^ a b Peter Wilson (31 January 2009). "A Savvy Savant finds his voice". The Australian. Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
  20. ^ "Thinking in Numbers—DanielTammet.net". DanielTammet.net. 2012. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  21. ^ "Daniel Tammet—Brainman". Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
  22. ^ Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapor. Routes to remembering: the brains behind superior memory Nature Neuroscience, December 2002
  23. ^ Baron-Cohen, Bor, Billington, Asher, Wheelwright and Ashwin. Savant Memory in a Man with Colour Form-Number Synaesthesia and Asperger Syndrome. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2007, pp. 243–245.
  24. ^ a b c Bor, Daniel , Billington, Jac and Baron-Cohen, Simon. Savant Memory for Digits in a Case of Synaesthesia and Asperger Syndrome is Related to Hyperactivity in the Lateral Prefrontal Cortex. Neurocase, 13:5, 311–319.
  25. ^ Hupé, Jean-Michel, Bordier, Cécile, and Dojat, Michel. "The Neural Bases of Grapheme-Color Synaesthesia Are Not Localized in Real Color-Sensitive Areas". Cerebral Cortex, doi:10.1093/cercor/bhr236.
  26. ^ Hupé J-M, 2011, "Neural basis of grapheme-colour synaesthesia" Perception 40 ECVP Abstract Supplement, p. 41
  27. ^ Alexandra Horowitz (11 March 2011). "How To Memorize Everything". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 November 2011. 
  28. ^ Caroline Scott (13 August 2006). "Daniel Tammet Life and Style Times Online". The Times (London). Retrieved 26 May 2007. 
  29. ^ "A savvy savant finds his voice | The Australian". Theaustralian.news.com.au. 31 January 2009. Retrieved 8 June 2009. 
  30. ^ "Olympics: are the fastest and strongest reaching their mathematical limits?". Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  31. ^ "Olympics: What I'm thinking about ... Tolstoy and maths". Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  32. ^ "The Sultan's sudoku". Retrieved 16 August 2013. 
  33. ^ "Booklist Editors' Choice Adult Books 2007)". Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
  34. ^ "Hodder Our Books Born On A Blue Day". Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
  35. ^ "Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads Announces Selection for 2012)". Retrieved 1 November 2011. 

External links[edit]