Author Topic: Rare glimpse into a unique inner universe  (Read 1611 times)

Devious Viper
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Rare glimpse into a unique inner universe
« on: August 04, 2006, 03:54:46 am »
Daniel Tammet can learn a new language from scratch in a week, do mental calculations to 100 decimal places and reel off every prime number up to 10,000. He also has a form of synaesthesia - the sensory cross-wiring that makes, for example, sounds into tastes or smells into sights. For him, numbers transform into colours, shapes and objects. They also have "personalities" - 11 is friendly, and 5 is loud. Five is also a clap of thunder. 37 is lumpy, like porridge. And Daniel's birth date - 1/31/79 - is blue.

Around 10% of autistic children are similarly gifted, but the real rarity about Daniel is not the unusualness of his mental universe, but that he can tell you what it is like.

Autistic people find it difficult to communicate and interact with other people, so their inner lives tend to be a closed book. Daniel's book, Born On A Blue Day, is more or less the firts report from inside the mind of an autistic savant.

The inner landscape described by Daniel is certainly strange. There are numbers, of course - pebble-like prime numbers, skyscraper-shaped 9's, shy little 4's. Where most people might take a mental wander through a pretty meadow to relax, Daniel will soothe his nerves by surrounding himself with his numerical friends.

Calming his nerves is a constant necessity for Daniel because they are constantly jangled by sensory minutiae that most of us don't even register. A car's horn is as shocking to him as a gunshot might be to you or I. A light touch on the arm makes him squirm; the smell of cigarette smoke is intolerable. worry, confusion and fear abound.

Yet Daniel is oddly distanced from his emotions. As a child he recalls fleeing a classroom in tears after watching a TV programme about a haunted house. Yet during the film he felt nothing. Only when it ended "a switch was flicked in my head and I realised i was frightened." Whereas most of us know our emotions directly, Daniel has to actively work out what it is he feels.

Other people's feelings are even more obscure to him. As an adolescent he realised that he had a need, like everyone else, to be close to others. So - using his touchingly literal autistic logic - he started to stand very close to people he liked, "feeling the warmth from their bodies". Only after many hurtful rejections did Daniel learn that this is not the way to go about it.

Tammet is softly spoken, and shy about making eye contact, which makes him seem younger than he is. He lives on the Kent coast, but never goes near the beach - there are too many pebbles to count. The thought of a mathematical problem with no solution makes him feel uncomfortable. Trips to the supermarket are always a chore. "There's too much mental stimulus. I have to look at every shape and texture. Every price, and every arrangement of fruit and vegetables. So instead of thinking,'What cheese do I want this week?', I'm just really uncomfortable."

But you still feel as though you haven't quite got inside the mind of Daniel Tammet. The descriptions he offers of his mental processes are like those of an observer. It is almost as though Daniel himself is on the outside with us, trying, like the rest of us, to see what it is that makes him tick.

Daniel's website: http://www.optimnem.co.uk/


jordyn

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Re: Rare glimpse into a unique inner universe
« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2006, 07:23:50 am »
"The inner landscape described by Daniel is certainly strange. There are numbers, of course - pebble-like prime numbers, skyscraper-shaped 9's, shy little 4's. Where most people might take a mental wander through a pretty meadow to relax, Daniel will soothe his nerves by surrounding himself with his numerical friends."

for my daughter it's books, when she's scared at night, she sleeps with her books, wherever she goes she brings a book, whatever she does she'll read anything she can...billboards, food labels, newspaper advertisments...and if there's no books, it's "what if" questions...what if the sky wasn't blue, what if dogs had arms, what if we had no tv, reading that small snippet you posted helped me now understand her needs to engage in those behaviors, it leaves hope that as she grows up she'll realize that you don't need to touch and smell a person to know what they are.

her couselor is very positive about being able to alter her, reactions enabling her to interact with her peers on a more, acceptable level, i don't think an average person will ever be able to understand the depths and variety of their worlds.
"The world that God made is inherently comprised of relationships, symmetries, analogia, anagogy, poetic wisdom. Thus is the language of symbolism."

Devious Viper
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Re: Rare glimpse into a unique inner universe
« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2006, 11:41:27 pm »
for my daughter it's books, when she's scared at night, she sleeps with her books, wherever she goes she brings a book, whatever she does she'll read anything she can...billboards, food labels, newspaper advertisments...and if there's no books, it's "what if" questions...what if the sky wasn't blue, what if dogs had arms, what if we had no tv

Daniel Tammet speaks about meeting Kim Peek, the real-life inspiration for Rain Man:

Peek was shy and introspective, but he sat and held Tammet's hand for hours. "We shared so much - our love of key dates from history, for instance. And our love of books. As a child, I regularly took over a room in the house and started my own lending library. I would separate out fiction and non-fiction, and then alphabetise them all. I even introduced a ticketing system. I love books so much. I've read more books than anyone else I know. So I was delighted when Kim wanted to meet in a library." Peek can read two pages simultaneously, one with each eye. He can also recall, in exact detail, the 7,600 books he has read. When he is at home in Utah, he spends afternoons at the Salt Lake City public library, memorising phone books and address directories."He is such a lovely man," says Tammet. "Kim says, 'You don't have to be handicapped to be different - everybody's different'. And he's right."

Like Peek, Tammet will read anything and everything, but his favourite book is a good dictionary, or the works of GK Chesterton. "With all those aphorisms," he says, "Chesterton was the Groucho Marx of his day." Tammet is also a Christian, and likes the fact that Chesterton addressed some complex religious ideas. "The other thing I like is that, judging by the descriptions of his home life, I reckon Chesterton was a savant. He couldn't dress himself, and would always forget where he was going. His poor wife."

On questions:

The only aspect of Tammet's autism that causes him major problems is his lack of empathy. "There's a saying in Judaism, if somebody has a relative who has hanged themselves, don't ask them where you should hang your coat. I need to remember that. Like the time I kept quizzing a friend of Neil's who had just lost her mother. I was asking her all these questions about faith and death. But that's down to my condition - no taboos."

« Last Edit: August 07, 2006, 04:03:57 am by Devious Viper »