Wednesday, January 31, 2007

happy birthday Daniel Tammet

in junior high they would call assemblies over all kinds of stuff. if a PG cover band was in town and friendly with the school board, they could find a captive audience of those students with good attendance or citizenship indices. student elections, drill team, talent shows and Jostens also got stage time.

once Kim Peek came to our school with his dad, and did some amazing parlor tricks for us all. after an introduction of his accomplishments, qualities, parts and passions, he told some of us what day of the week we were born on. then he performed some other pretty tangled calculus which was lost on most of us. that was a good assembly. since then I’ve run into him several times around town, mostly downtown at the main library.

then I hear about this guy, Daniel Tammet. he was in junior high about the same time I was, but was getting bullied slightly more. when this would happen he would sit down, put his fingers in his ears, and count in powers of 2. 2 4 8 16 32 64 128 256 512 1024 2048 4096 8192 16384 32768 65538 131072 262144 524288 … retreating back into his mind for miles.

numbers have become his personal friends. friends with textures, colors, sounds and movement. 11 is especially friendly. 11 and 1 are both brilliant white, like light pouring in, he says. 4 is shy and 5 is a loud thunderclap. 37 is lumpy like oatmeal and 89 is falling snow. Dave Letterman is 117.

9’s are especially exciting; they are immense like skyscrapers, elastic bands stretched way out. the 9’s are also blue and, when multiplied with other nines, grow more deeply blue. for Daniel, prime numbers are the lonely ones. they are smooth pebbles that stand out from the others like signposts. also, somewhere here I aught to mention that Daniel is an autistic savant. he’s drawn some pictures of how he sees numbers. as you can see, he doesn’t carry any ones.
I can sort of imagine this method. at St. Timothy’s elementary I would count in terms of dots in simple formation, like dominoes, and then fit them together like legos. but nothing like this.

about 3 years ago Daniel spent 5 hours reciting pie at Oxford. he made it down to the 22,514th decimal place and had the public onlookers in tears. he speaks English, Spanish, Icelandic, Welsh, Esperanto and a bunch of other Indo-European languages. these days he’s working on his own language called Mänti.


kel said...

i think this is how numbers will look to all of us in heaven. and Daniel Temmet, bless his heart, will be more like the rest of us.

The Mediocre Gatsby said...

He'll be way ahead of us.

That's awesome!

jo said...

reading about daniel temmet makes me feel better about the world. i'm not quite sure why.

T.R. said...

no I'm behind on posts about synaesthesia by two!