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A Savant Explains His Abilities

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the mr.-monk-has-nothing-on-tammet dept.

930

numLocked writes "Of the few hundred autistic savants in the world, none have been able to explain their incredible mental abilities. Until now, that is. It seems that Daniel Tammet, a mathematical savant who holds the record for the most digits of pi recited from memory, is able to explain exactly how he intuits answers to mathematical problems. Tammet is quite articulate and speaks seven languages, including one he invented. The Guardian is running an article about his amazing abilities."

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930 comments

Well of course (3, Funny)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725419)

Of the few hundred autistic savants in the world, none have been able to explain their incredible mental abilities.

They're too busy counting...

homosexuality (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725651)

is there any relation between savants and homesexuality?

from the article:

"Because I can't drive, Neil offered to pick me up at my parents' house, and drive me back to his house in Kent. He was silent all the way back. I thought, 'Oh dear, this isn't going well'. Just before we got to his house, he stopped the car. He reached over and pulled out a bouquet of flowers. I only found out later that he was quiet because he likes to concentrate when he's driving."

Long Article Not much explanation... (0, Troll)

johnatjohnytech (632978) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725427)

Explanation: He imagines shapes/figures for the numbers and it just comes together. Hardly groundbreaking information.

Intuitive... (2, Insightful)

toonerh (518351) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725542)

I think he is saying math is completely intuitive to him. He sees the two numbers being multiplied and the product comes to him in a private visual way he can readily translate to base 10 digits. The human brain is very parallel and associative, but to the WinTel guys it would be a machine with 10,000 cores completely interconnected with a clock rate of 100's to 1000's of Hz. Humans are not at their best when they think sequentially - savants are the postive proof.

It makes one wonder.... (4, Insightful)

TFGeditor (737839) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725430)

...if the savants' abilities are compensation for "ordinary" cognitive abilities.

Re:It makes one wonder.... (4, Interesting)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725465)

NO. You don't want this, trust me.

My little sister is autistic, and I think at least a third of her brain is wired for solving jigsaw puzzles. Try working that into a resume.

Re:It makes one wonder.... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725506)

It's sad that we've created a society for ourselves in which the overriding concern is work and making money. In a world where farmers are going bankrupt because it's so cheap to make food, do we really need to worry what a person looks like in the context of a resume??

Re:It makes one wonder.... (5, Informative)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725668)

It's sad that we've created a society for ourselves in which the overriding concern is work and making money. In a world where farmers are going bankrupt because it's so cheap to make food, do we really need to worry what a person looks like in the context of a resume??

Yes, this is a little unspoken crisis in my family. One of us three older non-autistic siblings is going to have to take care of her in a few decades when our parents are no longer around, and although nobody's said anything, it's obvious that nobody wants to be that sibling. This sounds heartless, but if you spent an hour with her you'd understand- she's pleasant enough, but incoherent and unresponsive, so you never really feel like you know her even after you've met her. No one has any idea how employable she'll be when she's an adult (she's in her teens now), or how much of an independent life she'll be able to lead. Right now she's a handful and requires close adult supervision at all times unless a jigsaw puzzle or a DVD player is around- she can't get involved in typical conversations that take place and will try to regain attention by turning off all the lights in the room and laughing at everyone in the darkness. Maybe she'll grow out of it. Right now it's pretty funny at family gatherings- I can tell my brother in law would like to strangle her from the way he groans when the lights go out, but he can't say anything.

She just got a yahoo email account. I should send her an email- she'll be thrilled. Maybe it's possible to have an email conversation with her. I don't even know.

Re:It makes one wonder.... (1)

Nept (21497) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725517)

right ... autism varies. I had a friend in high school who was a savant, and he had a great knowledge of geography - he was able to recall every country, every capital and most cities of the world. But he had a hard time with just about everything else.

Re:It makes one wonder.... (2, Interesting)

gooser23 (113782) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725557)

Not to mock your sister's, your's, or your family's pain, but have you considered seeing what she can do with a pile of cross-cut documents?

Maybe I've watched too much sci-fi, but I would reckon the goverment could find some use for her.

Resume Puzzle (5, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725677)

She could apply to the NSA as a code-breaker. Many of the better code-breakers in history were experts or idiot-savants who "specialized" in the structure of information. Indeed, in the war, Bletchley Park (the UK's code-breaking center) used puzzles to identify people they wanted to interview for such jobs.


The ability to organize complex, structured data (which is basically all a jigsaw is) is a key requirement in database administration. Being able to visualize the optimal structure is a talent people will pay a LOT of money for.


As another person has noted, the ability to reassemble a randomly scrambled structure (such as a shredded document) would appeal very much to certain areas of law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security.


Being able to connect bits of image that are associated by some non-obvious connection may well be of interest to people studying image compression. There may be organizations which can yield better compression, which do not require too much meta-data to explain and which do not take significantly longer to uncompress.


If all else fails, she can simply put "massively parallel combinatorial logic" on the resume and apply as a maths lecturer.

Re:It makes one wonder.... (2, Informative)

incast (121639) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725467)

FTA:

"Scans of the brains of autistic savants suggest that the right hemisphere might be compensating for damage in the left hemisphere. While many savants struggle with language and comprehension (skills associated primarily with the left hemisphere), they often have amazing skills in mathematics and memory (primarily right hemisphere skills)."

Re:It makes one wonder.... (1)

TFGeditor (737839) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725547)

I missed that when reading TFA. Sill, it is highly interesting that mental/cognitive ability is self-compensating in the same way that blind people learn to perceive the world through other senses. I recall reading about recognized geniuses who could not function in "normal" society due to perceptive deficiencies. Perhaps what most deem "important" is not important at all.

Re:It makes one wonder.... (2, Interesting)

woah (781250) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725625)

This is quite interesting, because it's apperently different to people with Asperger's syndrome. I read somewhere that it's their right hemisphere that's lacking, and the left hemisphere is compensating for this. Which is why they have good language abilities (left hemisphere) and logical thinking (left hemisphere), but may lack in comprehension or finding meaning in what's being said (right hemisphere), as in the case of hyperlexia.

Savantism (4, Interesting)

SparksMcGee (812424) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725438)

Question: why is autism associated with this kind of savantism? Granted there are 'normal' geniuses, but it seems like this sort of genetic brilliance is exactly the sort of thing that could be developed--ideally without autism--using gener therapy and modern genomics. Anyone remember the Orson Scott Card novels where the planet of Path is ruled by a class of people genetically engineered for superintelligence and obsessive-compulsive disorder, although the one could be separated from the other?

Re:Savantism (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725466)

Anyone remember the Orson Scott Card novels where the planet of Path is ruled by a class of people genetically engineered for superintelligence and obsessive-compulsive disorder, although the one could be separated from the other?

iirc, in the novel, the obsessive-compulsive folks were the religious caste, and were genetically engineered that way to be controllable or something.

Re:Savantism (2, Interesting)

Jennifer E. Elaan (463827) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725627)

Speaking as an autistic person (although probably not a savant... although I have been accused of it at times), I highly doubt that it's possible to seperate these two. I also doubt the reasons for even wanting to.

Re:Savantism (2)

PatrickThomson (712694) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725653)

It's not associated as such, I'm guessing that savants like this who aren't autistic are just bog-standard geniuses. We forget all the hundreds of thousands of people with autism who aren't geniuses.

Severely autsitic children are just heartbreaking.

Re:Savantism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725679)

I'm not sure the difference is in the hardware if you know what I mean.

There is no evidence (of my knowledge) that suggests that their neurons are of function differently. I think that it is more the way that they represent and manipulate reality. This is all "software" to give it a quick and dirty name.

Same problem, same hardware, different algorithm.

Actually, the researcher suggests that by saying that we all have that ability but we need to unlock it.

I don't think that better genetics is going to do the trick here. No matter how faster your CPU is, if your algorithm has an exponential cost, you are going to end up loosing against a linear algorithm in a slower CPU. I know that the metaphor does not adapt perfectly to the way that human brain solves problems.

I do believe that genomics may render more intelligent people in general with the capacity to learn. But the key for problem-solving is learned. There is a lot of wasted talent out there.

You and I for example, blogging right now :)

(I'm not sure if there is a lot of talent, but I'm pretty sure about the waste part)

Besides, being a good leader does not have to do with mathematical intelligence. I think it is exactly the way around. All mathematically intelligent people that I know would be disastrous leaders. And not just because "oh, people are so stupid that they wouldn't understand his perfect ideas". It is just a different kind of intelligence*.

I also think that human advancement does not rely that much on intelligence. Social development seldom has to do with intelligence. It has more to do with the capacity of common people to fight and take their destinies in their own hands. True, there is a relationship with technological advance (look at the industrial revolution). But I think that intelligence is completely overrated on this area, specially in the science fiction croud.

Ok, that's enough for today, I filled my 10,000 new enemies daily quota.

S

* In preparation for possible replies to this paragraph, please don't talk about "emotional" intelligence or "multiple" intelligences. I think all of this measurement-oriented psychology is fundamentally fucked up because it is reductionist and fragmented.

There is, however, slashdot intelligent people.

Another thing, please don't think that this comment means that I am "pro-Bush". It could be interpreted that way.

he figured out how to express it... (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725439)

too bad slashdot editors can't, do I really have to click through and read the whole thing?

Re:he figured out how to express it... (1)

Frizzle Fry (149026) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725556)

You have to remember that a typical slashdot editor is halfway to being an idiot savant.

Re:he figured out how to express it... (1)

FredThompson (183335) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725643)

If slashdot editors were savants, they wouldn't repost the same flippin' articles all the time.

Well, then again, maybe their savants at reposting their own articles and those of hackaday.

What? (4, Informative)

mboverload (657893) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725440)

Didn't know what the hell they were talking about...until I looked it up on wikipedia =)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autistic_savant [wikipedia.org]

MOD PARENT DOWN: KARMA WHORING TROLL (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725560)

He cycles between posting goatse links and karma whoring links like this to keep his karma up. Mod parent down! Just look at his history: http://slashdot.org/~mboverload [slashdot.org]

Re:MOD PARENT DOWN: KARMA WHORING TROLL (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725575)

goatse links? What are you smokin? =)

3... 2... 1... (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725443)

Now lets hear the slashdotters comment of how they too are misunderstood savants.

"I speak 4 languages too!" - Klingon, Perl, and Esperanto don't count my dear friends.

Re:3... 2... 1... (1)

stupidfoo (836212) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725463)

I speak 400 languages. 399 of which I invented myself.

Re:3... 2... 1... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725494)

Don't you mean:

"Jnavuri macha roohn sava. Micyh jivc nvari 'rys streisand." ?

Re: 3... 2... 1... (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725492)


> Now lets hear the slashdotters comment of how they too are misunderstood savants.

I've got the "misunderstood" part down, but I can't figure out where to go frome here.

Re:3... 2... 1... (4, Funny)

The One and Only (691315) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725596)

I speak Twi'lek. I learned it playing "Knights of the Old Republic". It's easy, there's only three or four spoken phrases, each of which means everything you can conceive of!

So let's see (5, Funny)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725448)

Since his epileptic fit, he has been able to see numbers as shapes, colours and textures. The number two, for instance, is a motion, and five is a clap of thunder. "When I multiply numbers together, I see two shapes. The image starts to change and evolve, and a third shape emerges. That's the answer. It's mental imagery. It's like maths without having to think.

So presumably 69 is Jenifer Lopez, and 303 is the goatse guy?

Re:So let's see (1)

TFGeditor (737839) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725511)

The "see numbers as shapes, colours and textures" bit reminds me of something I read once in a SciFi novel about aliens who could smell colors and see odors.

Re: So let's see (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725534)


> So presumably 69 is Jenifer Lopez, and 303 is the goatse guy?

Nope, JL is 455 and gg is 4554013.

(I shudder to imagine how he visualizes multiplying them together.)

Yawn ... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725455)

"I hear dead people.". Yawn ...

The real question (0, Offtopic)

Yonkeltron (720465) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725456)

Yes but does he use Emacs or Vi?

Re:The real question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725646)

i use notepad. * pats himself on the back *

I for one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725471)

Welcome our new autistic savant overlords

Just imagine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725472)

...a beowulf cluster of them.

Braining my Damage (4, Funny)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725473)


FTA: "Savants have usually had some kind of brain damage. Whether it's an onset of dementia later in life, a blow to the head...

Item 1, check. Item 2, check.

So how come I aren't a genius now?

This is clearly false advertising.

Re:Braining my Damage (1)

MXK (763030) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725622)

I think it only works if it's one or the other - both together cancel themselves out.

Better luck next life time!

Re:Braining my Damage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725678)

thats debatable. is it really damage or is it an improvement? look, you may lose some ability that is common and not very special and gain an ability that is quite unusual. most people would consider that a gift.. a special power if you will.. a modern day X-men.. a super hero even...

Certainly (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725478)

Certainly I will explain it. Certainly certainly indeed. I will explain it, explain it I will certainly do...

Re:Certainly (1)

novakyu (636495) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725610)

Certainly I will explain it. Certainly certainly indeed. I will explain it, explain it I will certainly do...

That's exactly how I felt reading TWFA. They briefly mention, "oh, yeah, he does it because it just comes to him; 'don't even have to think," and then go on to talk about his personal history and just quote him on irrevelant things. The subject of TFA is either bad writing or false advertising.

Perhaps it is true---savants don't know how they do what they do; they don't know how they arrived where they are, and if they had the history's most articulate orator's skill, they wouldn't be able to explain how they do it.

On the other hand, there's the always Homo Supersus theory [steinitzpuzzlers.com]---maybe they are keeping something from us on purpose... (adjusts tinfoil hat).

Pfh, languages (2, Interesting)

zaxios (776027) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725480)

The one he invented doesn't count.

Re:Pfh, languages (1)

Spodlink05 (850651) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725507)

The one he invented doesn't count.

Exactly what I was thinking. How can anyone tell he's not talking gibberish?

Re:Pfh, languages (2, Interesting)

martinoforum (841942) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725554)

If it's sufficiently structurally complete to present as a workable communication structure, I'd say it's worth counting. The article suggests he's planning to present it academically, give him the benefit of the doubt for now, eh? After all, Perl gets counted as a programming language... what's the difference between THAT and gibberish?

Re:Pfh, languages (1)

MatthewNewberg (519685) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725578)

I would count it if hey can actually communciate almost everything with another person in that language. That would mean two things, another group of people would know the language, and that there are enough words in the language for everyday things. I doubt anyone else really speaks the language, so it really doesn't count.

Re:Pfh, languages (1)

MrByte420 (554317) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725624)

Its intersting because the language that he described sounds very similar to Esperanto which is one of the languages that he speaks. in Esperanto you have structues like the article describes, e.g. A Cow == Bovo A Barn == A Place for Cows - Bovejo

Re:Pfh, languages (2, Interesting)

novakyu (636495) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725647)

Not to mention that this isn't the first time somebody invented a language---so, nothing new here. If Criole Languages [wikipedia.org] or Twin Languages [toddlerstoday.com] aren't worth mentioning (since those are more or less spontaneous processes), it should be worth noting that one of the languages he can speak (i.e. Esperanto) is actually an invented language, rather than a naturally developed language, and any geek knows that Tolkien, a philologist, invented a few languages himself.

Overall, TFA looked like a really bad writing by some sensationalist author who ought to look for other careers.

...other people have been able to describe this (4, Interesting)

aslate (675607) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725481)

That sounds like Synesthesia, which Horizon did a program about last year. People with synesthesia can see numbers as shapes (A woman described being able to see 1 to 10 in a line, 11-100 stacked above them, and then on and on in blocks of 100), words as colours (Monday is green) and someone could even smell words (His best friend's names made him feel sick).

The program seemed to conclude that we all, to an extent, are synesthetic. Quite a large number of people assosciate colours with days of the week, and we all use words like a "soft/sharp sound", a "bite" to a tase, and so on. Although these words are ones of touch, we use them in other contexts. Cross-referencing the senses in a similar war to more advanced synesthesia.

Re:...other people have been able to describe this (1)

Turn-X Alphonse (789240) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725611)

Wrong. He could TASTE words, his best friends name tasted like ear wax.

Re:...other people have been able to describe this (1)

koreaman (835838) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725632)

Which begs the question, how does he know what ear wax tastes like in the first place?

Raymond Babbitt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725491)

Sure, he can count well, but if you ask him how much one of those new compact cars cost:

"About a hundred dollars."

Or how much a candy bar costs:

"About a hundred dollars."

Savant, indeed.

What is mathematical genius (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725499)

Why is multiplying large numbers considered mathematical genius? Or memorizing PI to 1,000 digits? Perhaps arithmetical genius

If he solved Fermat's theorem over breakfast, that would be mathematical genius!!

Re:What is mathematical genius (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725636)

Exactly.

Lets not downplay savants... they can do some pretty spectacular feats on memory recall and so forth.

Some 'genius' are able to do math like CRAZY.

But I'd rather have the ability to complete problems slowly (and thoroughly understand the material), have a slightly above average memory, a great deal of insight and the ability to "discover" things in sciences or maths, and of course creative ability.

It reminds me of those pedigree purebred children who are 10 years old and have six different degrees, superb IQ levels and wide knowledge--but they can't put it to practical use and make a -real- difference by inventing something amazing or discovering a scientific phenomenon.

You don't -want- to be a clutz who sees numbers all day and who can't control themselves due to major OCD.

Crypto (5, Interesting)

koreaman (835838) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725504)

I don't really know a lot about autistic savants or encryption technologies, so this may sound idiotic, but if these guys can so easily factor large numbers why don't they have them working for NSA breaking public-key encryption?

Re:Crypto (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725573)

I would think that is beyond their abilities.

Some have advanced arithmetical skills compared to an untrained average person, but they aren't able to compete with computers (and a trained person can equal their abilities as well).

All-in-all, they are the subject of awe in much the way a talking parrot is. We're amazed mostly that they can do things despite being inferior to a normal human.

Re:Crypto (1)

koreaman (835838) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725584)

So basically what you're saying is that they can't do anything a computer can't do, all they can do is things other humans can't do?

Re:Crypto (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725655)

You've obviously never studied the nature of a savant. I suspect a few savants probably do work for organizations like the FBI/NSA/whatever, but that of course would be confidential information. If savants can "picture" numbers as images/sounds/shapes/tastes/etc, perhaps they can "picture" solutions to encrypted information. I was particularly interested in the article when Daniel said he doesn't "think" about answers, they just "appear" to him. There was a movie one time portraying an autistic/savant kid who "broke" a proposed national encryption scheme. Of course that was probably fictional, but I wouldn't rule it out as beyond their capabilities. Too many people think that computers are the "ultimate" in "thinking" machines. I believe an organic system of millions of neurons/synapsis, if used to their full potential, will beat any non-biological computer currently envisioned.

Does not Compute! (5, Interesting)

ParadoxicalPostulate (729766) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725505)


"When I multiply numbers together, I see two shapes. The image starts to change and evolve, and a third shape emerges. That's the answer. It's mental imagery. It's like maths without having to think."

I don't understand. There is nothing intrinsic in the number 2 and the number 5 that will tell you what they will equal when they are multiplied.

The way we arrive at the solution is extrinsic, namely in the form of the operator (multiplication in this instance).

But if it's extrinsic, I don't understand what the author of the article means by "instinct" and "shapes" and that sort of thing. As far as I can understand, the only explanation would be the ability to compute those operations at much higher speed, then any "non-savant."

If that's the case, then, theoretically, would there not be a limit associated with the physical properties of the nervous system that would cap out at a certain number of such operations per unit time? So theoretically might we not be able to test such a thing by running him through a long list of operations? That'll let us know if he's really just making those calculations really, really fast, or if he really is viewing the mathematics in such a fundamentally different way (something I find rather unsettling).

Then again, how would we design such a test? I fear that the number of operations we can demand his brain to perform per unit time will be limited by his powers of cognition (i.e. by the time he reads/hears all the stuff he needs to hear, we'll already be beyond that critical operating time interval).

Eh, I think I come off as somewhat difficult to understand. Oh well, I wanted to make sure my question appeared in the main thread of discussion (rather than being posted after most people have moved on).

Re:Does not Compute! (1)

koreaman (835838) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725521)

I have no answer to your questions, but I just wanted to let you know that I understand what you're saying, you're not really coming off as hard to understadnd.

Re:Does not Compute! (2, Insightful)

Kosmatos (179297) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725558)

I think that the visualizing of the numbers has little to do with it. His brain multiplies the numbers thanks to ihis brain being optimized for this type of operation, and gives him the answer. All the while, he is visualizing each number in the process. However, any shape or pattern or color can be assigned to each number and it would'nt change anything...

Theories...

Re:Does not Compute! (1)

aslate (675607) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725559)

...but then isn't that the whole point about him? We can't understand how he works out things. Sure, it seems weird that he can add shapes and get numbers to us, but it can be perfectly logical to him. I mean, what is multiplication? Basically, adding a number to itself so many times, so how can we "multiply" 2 by 10 without adding two to itself 10 times? Or the reverse, division, it even stranger a concept. We just divise different ways of working with things, numbers etc. Why not working with shapes?

Re:Does not Compute! (4, Interesting)

WolfWithoutAClause (162946) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725574)

I don't understand. There is nothing intrinsic in the number 2 and the number 5 that will tell you what they will equal when they are multiplied.

Correct. I think he has shapes for each of the numbers he's multiplying and he has learnt the shape that they turn into when you multiply them. Because the visual powers of the human mind are quite powerful he's able to do that fast.

It's kinda like using your computer's graphics card to do matrix multiplication. If you feed the info in the right format you can get the answer out faster than using the main processor, because the graphics processor actually has more computing power; but it's not as general purpose.

Re:Does not Compute! (1)

neil.pearce (53830) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725602)

I don't understand. There is nothing intrinsic in the number 2 and the number 5 that will tell you what they will equal when they are multiplied.

Perhaps he's adept with logs?
log(ab) = log(a) + log(b)

(I think, it's been many, many years since school)

Re:Does not Compute! (1)

koreaman (835838) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725618)

I'm a student right now, and we just got through working with logarithms. log(ab) = log(a) + log(b), you are correct.

But is there any actual way of calculating a logarithm besides memorization/trial-and-error?

Intuitive Thinking (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725617)

I think he is talking about intuitive thinking. Your brain knows the answer without conscious thought.

I used to have a problem with it when I was in school. I would know the answer to a problem but I couldn't explain to the teacher the process by which I derived the answer.

six languages (1, Funny)

evenprime (324363) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725519)

the seventh doesnt count if he is the only one using it

Re:six languages (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725600)

And it is so limited that it will never get general use - he based it on "relationships".

For one thing, many amateur linguists have had a go at this type of language-creating based on relationship. Secondly, it suffers from the creator's knowledge level - their relationships may not hold for others, or may represent a misunderstanding of the objects/concepts that are "related".

The seventh language doesn't count.

Sounds like he has synesthesia (4, Informative)

WolfWithoutAClause (162946) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725522)

Synesthesia is a not uncommon brain disorder which links the senses together. For example some people when told a name see a colour. Others taste or smell something etc. Interestingly, for each person with the disorder each word always connects to the same sensation, and different people with the same sort of synesthesia sometimes have similar sensations...

The upside is that this can make it easier to remember things- it means you've got more things about the thing to connect to other things- his description of how he remembered pi as a story is a *classic* description of the mnemonic technique for remembering things- you basically turn what you want to remember into a series of pictures that you string into a whacky story. It works really, really well; people easily get upwards of 90% recall using it. And he has a built in picture or sensation to help him with this; which is the hardest bit of the technique.

Once dated a girl who had synesthesia (1)

Laebshade (643478) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725631)

I once dated a girl who had synesthesia. She told me my voice had an almond color. Long story short, it didn't work out between us (her condition wasn't an issue with me, and I don't think she was self-conscious about it). I thought it was an interesting 'condition', she seemed to think of it as a gift.

Supply vs Demand (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725526)

Now that Daniel is explaining how anyone can be a savant, Slashdot userids will become scarce enough to have value.

Dani... ehhh, Tammet. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725546)

"He was actually born with another surname, which he prefers to keep private, but decided to change it by deed poll.

(...)

They were thinking, 'This is the end of Daniel's life'."


Major disclosure of the private parts?

The brain of a savant (5, Interesting)

Space_Soldier (628825) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725550)

"He can't drive a car, wire a plug, or tell right from left."

Is it possible that knowing how to drive a car, wire a plug, tell right from left, and other banal things that we do require a ton of processing power? Since he cannot do these things, all that processing power goes to processing numbers and memorising words.

It we would be cool if on a math test we cold forget our ability to drive cars and concentrate on processing numbers.

Re:The brain of a savant (1)

koreaman (835838) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725604)

Stop thinking in terms of computers. You can't apply any notion of "processing power" to the human mind. It's not one grand unified "thinking machine", it has individual parts that do different things. What you just described, in terms of a computer, would be like saying "I don't have a graphics card, would that make my CPU run faster because the machine isn't wasting processing power on the graphics card?" As you can see, this is absurd.

Give this guy his own GUI. (3, Funny)

deathcloset (626704) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725580)

The number two, for instance, is a motion, and five is a clap of thunder.

I'm wondering, do you think that perhaps if we could present someone with this man's abilities an interface to some kind for a programming language that he could also achieve amazing things?

maybe vocal recognition or a motion-capture interface? He did say he is making his own language.

For instance, if he combines these abstract ideas in his mind in a mechanical way he is showing the ability to visualize details of und use complex concepts with amazing precision.

what is a chunk of code if not merely an amazingly complex concept?

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11725597)

Yeah, but does he run Linux?

Funes, The Memorious (4, Interesting)

keen (86192) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725607)

This man's abilities reminds me of a story, Funes, The Memorious. [bridgewater.edu]

Daniel's life story is not the same as Ireneo Funes' fictional life, but in a way they both lead to the same question - what does it mean to think?

Without effort, he had learned English, French, Portuguese, Latin. I suspect, nevertheless, that he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract. In the overly replete world of Funes there were nothing but details, almost contiguous details.

In March 2001, there was an article in Science, "The Art of Forgetting" which touched on these issues, and more current research begins to detail the chemical methods of action for the brain's 'forgetting system'. Indeed, life would not be possible if we remembered everything. Human cognition seems to be defendant on removing details, as much of what we do is through abstracting away the differences... this allows us to generalize. Of course, over-generalization is a failure-point for human cognition as well, as we all know.

All of this will be very useful to AI research, especially if we are trying to model computer minds after the ones nature evolved.

Language (0, Flamebait)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725615)

If he made up a language, who's to say he's not just speaking gibberish and having a little private joke? ;-)

Unless he's the guy who made up Klingon. :D

memorizing Pi like memorizing a song? (3, Interesting)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725638)

Most people can pretty easily memorize song lyrics and the sounds of a song, but yet the digits of Pi are incredibly hard to memorize. Might the digits of Pi be to this guy be like memorizing a song to most of us? I equally can't explain in a nice rational way why it's easy to memorize a song, but to anyone that can it doesn't need any more explanation.

How to confuse a savant... (1, Funny)

MXK (763030) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725641)

... show him the Google logo - it'll blow his mind!

Btw, do you think if we put a bag of ice on his head he'll run faster?

Geek Syndrome, Silicon Valley & Ausism (2, Interesting)

gtoomey (528943) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725654)

This Wired article [wired.com]I says the Silicon Valley has a very high degree of austism.

The "shyness about making eye contact" is a symptom of austim and is used as a dianostic criterion.

The examples were almost Finnish (1)

Toothrot (705230) | more than 9 years ago | (#11725676)

Mänti = a type of tree = mänty (pine tree)
ema = mother = emo (usually of animals)
ela = life = elo / elämä
päive = day = päivä
Päike = sun (not as direct a counterpart in Finnish)

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