Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Daniel Tammet: the Savant

2 . 4 . 8 . 16 . 32 . 64 . 128 . 256 . 512 . 1024 . 2048 . 4096 . 8192 . 16384 . 32768 . 65563 . 131072 . 262144 . 524288 . 1048576 . 2097152

If you’ve ever studied maths or computer science, you’ll certainly recognize the above sequence of numbers. These numbers crop up all the time, and have a familiar air to them; heck, you may even have come to actually like some of the numbers.

But take it further than that. A lot further. And imagine that you perceive numbers as “multidimensional coloured and textured shapes”; each one evoking a different emotional response such as joy or despair.

Welcome to the world of the Daniel Tammet, one of only 50 prodigious savants worldwide.

And what this dude can do with his brain is amazing. He once recited Pi to 22,514 decimal points in five hours and nine minutes. And when challenged to learn the Icelandic language, he appeared on Icelandic television conversing in Icelandic. After only one week!!!! This was simply not possible, said his Icelandic language instructor. But it was.

But what I find strange about these savants – who include Kim Peek, the inspiration for the film Rainman – is that they all seem to suffer from medical conditions such as Asperger Syndrome (autism). And it is because of having something “wrong” with them, that the function of their brain improves in other areas and they gain astonishing powers in number crunching and learning languages.

Now this got me thinking – if the human brain has such great potential (as shown by savants such as Daniel Tammet and Kim Peek) – then why have humans evolved to be as stupid as we are (in general)? My next door neighbor, for example, doesn’t even know pi to 2 decimal places, let alone 22,514!! And does this untapped and hidden potential of the human brain, as revealed by the savants, mean that humans will actually go on to evolve in such a way that this brain power potential will eventually be unleashed in the future?

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