What is it like to live inside the body of the special kind of genius known as the autistic savant (once know as idiot savants)? These are people whom scientists think are brain damaged in the womb. One part of the brain, the part that controls social interactions, ends up underdeveloped and to compensate, the other part, that controls mathematics, music or art, for instance, over develops in order to compensate. This is why there are people who socially retarded but able to instantly tell you the day on which something happened, when you give them the date. The novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" is written from the point of view of such a savant?now one of them explains how he does it.
Richard Johnson interviews Daniel Tammet in The Guardian newspaper. Tammet can perform incredible mathematical calculations at incredible speed. He speaks seven languages but, not being content with that, he has invented his own language. But unlike other savants, who can perform similar feats, Tammet can describe what goes on inside his head.
Austistic savants are similar to people with Tourette's Syndrome in that they are often obsessed with counting things and with doing things in specific sequences, such as in series of three. Tammet is no exception to this. He is a math genius who can do math faster than a computer or calculator. He doesn't do this with his conscious mind. Most creative people, such as writers and painters, feel that they create with their unconscious minds, and Tammet feels he does his math the same way. Despite his mathematical abilities, he can't tell his right from his left.
Around 10% of the autistic population, and 1% of non-autistic people, have this type of genius, but while there are theories about this, no one really knows why. It's recently been discovered that autism itself is a genetic reaction to heavy metal pollution (the type in car and power plant emissions), which helps to explain why it's almost an epidemic in some areas of the country. When one part of the brain is injured, what makes the other part overdevelop into genius is unknown.
Tammet explains that he is able to do math with imagery. He sees numbers as shapes, colors and textures, which makes them much easier to deal with. This information may help educators learn how to teach math to the rest of us.
To read this extraordinary interview, ,1409903,00.html,click here.
Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk
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