Brain Man

multiplication1In his book, Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant (English and English Edition), Daniel Tammet, an autistic savant like Dustin Hoffman portrayed in the movie Rain Man, tells the story of life with his very special brain.  In 2004, Daniel memorized and recited more than 22,000 digits of pi, the mathematical ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, to set a new world record.  The exercise only took him over 5 hours.  Five hours of reciting memorized numbers?!? It makes my brain hurt to even think about it!  Also in 2004, as part of a challenge for a British documentary, The Boy With The Incredible Brain, Daniel learned to speak Icelandic, considered a very complex and difficult language, fluently in one week.

What is also unique about Daniel is that he is articulate, social, introspective and self sufficient.  Unlike most savants, he is able to describe how his mind works in vivid detail which is proving invaluable to scientists studying the brain. Daniel sees numbers as shapes, textures and colors. Rather than making step by step calculations, he solves complicated math calculations by seeing the answer as a shape or mathematical landscape.

Some believe that his and others’ unique, genius abilities may actually be the result of brain damage which allows more resources to be allocated to other parts of the brain which are not damaged.  Having suffered severe epileptic seizures in early childhood, this theory would ring true for Daniel.

He is also a synesthete.  Synesthesia is when the involuntary joining of the real information of one sense is accompanied by a perception in another sense. For example, letters or numbers may be perceived as different colors or even as having different smells or textures.  Daniel’s talents could be the result of Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, joining with synesthesia.

Daniel tells of a childhood in which he was isolated and ostracized; incapable of making friends and prone to tantrums. His behavior included hand flapping, closing his eyes and counting to himself, socially inappropriateness, living in a fantasy world and more.  He spent his time alone in his room preferring the company of books and was uninterested in the usual childhood activities.  He went on in early adulthood to learn to control himself, be able to successfully interact socially, live independently, fall in love, start a business, and even to emerge as somewhat of a celebrity.

In his book, an observation Daniel makes, which I find very profound, is:

It was the strangest thing: the very same abilities that had set me apart from from my peers as a child and adolescent, and isolated me from them, had actually helped me to connect with other people in adulthood and to make new friends.

My brain injury was very similar.  At first, it was isolating and a source of emotional pain and shame….because I allowed it to be.  Now, it is an accomplishment of sorts.  It has allowed me to relate and connect to others and to have more compassion and empathy.  Its meaning and significance to me evolved and changed as my personal attitude towards it and my relationship with myself evolved and changed.  This sentiment makes me stop and wonder what challenge and/or detriment could potentially be a positive in my life if I view it differently?  What quality do I see in others that could be a positive if I assumed a different perspective?

In my opinion, the opportunity to view the world from a different perspective is the most extraordinary thing Daniel offers us.

  • Stephen Gemmell

    Hi Debbie. I found this absolutely fascinating. Interestingly, at least for me, this learning and perception focus on visual, auditory, taste and smell sits at the very heart of the change proces which is NLP. I am once more in your debt, fair lady, Stephen

    • Debbie Hampton

      As you know, science has confirmed that by changing our perception through our thoughts via processes like meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy that we actually change our brains. Sounds like neurolinguistic programming (NLP) encompasses this also. Maybe by changing our perception through being exposed to the thought processes of people like Daniel, we can improve upon our own brains abilities.

      • Stephen Gemmell

        Absolutely. Some, including me, would also suggest that we alrready know all of the answers. It’s just that our external environment has ‘wired’ our brain such that we don’t remember.

  • Chet

    Wish that I had your talent for writing

    Just have to be satisfied with a little talent in golf, which is fafing away

    That’s a pun

    • Debbie Hampton

      Chet, thank you for your kind words about my writing. I enjoy it. I would not be very good on a golf course at all! I think I will stick to writing! :)

  • http://invisiblemikey.wordpress.com Invisible Mikey

    The methods with which Daniel perceived and analyzed the literary and poetic passages were totally engrossing to me. I like knowing about individuals who think in unusual ways. Thanks for making me aware of his work, Debbie.

    • Debbie Hampton

      I, too, am completely intrigued by how his mind works. I totally know now that you can change your world and your life just by changing the way you think. We can certainly learn from others and try on their “lenses” and view the world from them for a while. We can always learn this way and broaden our worlds.

  • http://pbrooke66@yahoo.com PamB

    Thank you for introducing me to Daniel Tammet. I raced over to YouTube for all of his talks as he’s both a joy and an inspiration to listen to. I always look forward to your blog and love the connection to you and your journey.

    • Debbie Hampton

      Pam, thank you so much for your encouraging words. Made me smile. :) I, too, became fascinated with Daniel and watched all the stuff out there on him. I do think we can all learn a lot from his mind…and not just the savant qualities!

  • http://alwayswell.wordpress.com Sandra / Always Well Within

    Fascinating! I too believe that everything depends on perception. It’s interesting to imagine the world being far richer and vaster than we usually conceive it to be.

    • Debbie Hampton

      What I find fascinating is that the richness and vastness is there already in the ever day, simple seemingly mundane things we usually don’t even notice. It is up to us to allow our perception of it. When what we look for changes, what we see changes and the world expands.

  • http://www.YourExtraordinaryFuture.com Sean Cox

    Thanks Debbie for this. My dear mother has a brain injury–what a journey she has been on, and we have been on with her. I know she would resonate with what you’re saying here. I certainly do.

    And thanks for the reminder–the power of perspective.

    • Debbie Hampton

      Sean, thanks for commenting and blessings to your mother. A brain injury, from my own experience, has challenges and limitations, for sure, but it also brings with it the gifts of new perception and new appreciation when one is ready to allow them.

  • http://someinsightrequired.com Sol | Some Insight Required

    This Daniel man reminds me of myself. Though I am not autistic and do not have any inclination when it comes to mathematics, I have other astounding talents.. and Icelandic isn’t really that hard to learn. I understand it when its sung, but that’s probably because I am Scandinavian.

    This post made me feel comfortable. I like it. Good on you, Debbie ;)