I was born on 31 january 1979 - a wednesday. I know it was a wednesday because the date is blue in my mind and wednesdays are always blue.
This is how Daniel Paul Tammet starts his autobiographical story. He suffers from a rare condition known as high-functioning autistic savant, like the character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man. Tammet has synasesthesia and Asperger Syndrom and had suffered epilepsy seizures as a child. The result is that he has an extraordinary talent for numbers and languages.
He says, ¨Numbers are my friends and they are always around me. Nembers are my first language, one I often think and feel in. Each one is unique and has its own personality. The number 11 is friendly, 5 is loud, 4 is shy, 333 is beautiful, 25 is energetic, 37 is lumpy like porridge, 89 is like falling snow and 289 is ugly. This kind of visual and emotional experience of numbers is called as Synasesthesia. He feels excited and happy with certain numbers and is uncomfortable with other numbers such as 99. Whenever he is stressed, he calms himself by counting numbers. In his mind, he says, each integer up to 10,000 has its own unique shape, colour, texture and feel. He can intuitively "see" results of calculations as synasesthetic landscapes without using conscious mental effort, and can "sense" whether a number is prime or composite.
Tammet set a European record on March 14th 2004 when he recited the famous mathematical constant Pi (3.141...) to 22,514 decimal places from memory in a time of 5 hours, 9 minutes.
After this fantastic feat, he was asked why learn such a long, tedious and complicated number pi to so many decimals. His answer, ¨pi is for me an extremely beautiful and utterly unique thing , like the Mona Lisa or a Mozart symphony, pi is its own reason for loving it.¨
Tammet not only verbally describes these visions, but has also created artwork: including a watercolour painting of Pi. He has written a poem on Pi
Three, One, Four, One, Five, and On
The numbers recount their endless tale.
Three - Barefoot green, a silent voice.
White as hunger, One is twiceBright like babies’ eyes.
Four is timid, envious of E.
Five, Punctuation or a pregnant sigh
Precedes proud Nine, colour of falling night.
Two, an unfastened knot,
A wayward wind, the hollow of Six resounding.
Nearby, Eight, a cloud of fireflies above a lake
Over which I skim Sevens
Remembering that Zero is nothing but a circle.
Tammet says he speaks eleven languages including English, French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Estonian, Icelandic, Welsh, and Esperanto.He particularly likes Estonian, because it is rich in vowels.
Tammet can learn new languages very quickly. To prove this for a Channel Four documentary, Tammet was challenged to learn Icelandic in one week. Seven days later he appeared on Icelandic television conversing in Icelandic fluently.
Tammet is creating a new language called Mänti, which in Finnish means pine tree. Mänti has many features related to Finnish and Estonian, both of which are Finno-Ugric languages.
He perceives words also as colours. To him, Richard is red, John is yellow and Henry is white.
He describes his meeting with Kim Peek, upon whom Rain Man was based, as one of the happiest moments of his life. They connected when they asked each other date calculations based on their birth dates, and got the answers correct instantly. Kim has read more than 9000 books and can recall all their content.
Tammet was the first of nine children born to working-class parents in London. He and his family had a tough time because of his disability. He completed schooling but found the other children as objects to cope and contend with, to navigate around, rather than as individuals to get to know and to play with. Tammet is gay and lives with his partner.
Tammet has his own website http://www.optimnem.co.uk/ , writes blogs and gives online courses for learning languages.
He has written another book, 'Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind'. This book is about his personal and scientific exploration of how the brain works and the differences and similarities between savant and non-savant minds.
It is said that there are about 50 people in the world at present similiar to Tammet. But most of them suffer from a disability. They cannot communicate, connect or have feeling for others. They are unable to live independent lives. They cannot understand jokes and take everything literaly. For example if you tell them ¨take a seat ¨they will not understand that it means sit down. Tammet is lucky that he has the capacity to connect to the world, which he has also developed consciously by controlling and training himself. He is able to express himself as he has done clearly and eloquently in his book.
Tammet helps charities which work for people suffering from epilepsay and autism and has an inspiring message ¨My main message is that difference need not be disabling, that it's ok to be different and that everyone is unique in some way and should feel it possible to live out that uniqueness. When we do that, autistic or not, we give ourselves the chance of happiness.
His book is not just for curiosity. He has a point for people like us, who consider ourselves as normal. He does not see ordinary and extraordinary as totally different and unconnected. He sees a link. His own evolving life is proof of such connection. He, the extraordinary, is training himself to become ordinary. The reverse is also possible. Every one of us is unique and we may have talents, hidden inside ourselves. We can unlock them by conscious efforts in the same way as he has trained himself to be emotional and friendly to others. So, we the ordinary mortals, can look for and connect to the extraordinary things within ourselves and make our lives richer and happier for ourselves and others.