Friday math movie - the Rain Man in each of us

By Murray Bourne, 19 Oct 2007

This week's Friday Math Movie is about the extraordinary calculator-like abilities of an autistic savant, Daniel Tammet.

From Wikipedia:

An autistic savant (historically described as idiot savant) is a person with both autism and Savant Syndrome. Savant Syndrome describes a person having both a severe developmental or mental handicap but with extraordinary mental abilities not found in most people. This means a lower than average general intelligence (IQ) but very high narrow intelligence in one or more fields.

What I find fascinating in the video is the kinesthetic thinking that is going on. Clearly his hand movements are important for the calculation processes going on in his head.

I can't help feeling that there is some element of 'freak show' when watching this kind of thing. Don't you feel a bit like a voyeur, encroaching on someone's misfortune (or luck)?

Daniel is amazing because he is not profoundly autistic and appears to have quite 'normal' social functioning. This means that he can communicate what is going on in his head, something that most people with "Rain Man" syndrome cannot.

Of course, there are plenty of 'normal' people with amazing mental powers. The Vedic mathematicians can also calculate like human computers. Most of us could train ourselves to be much stronger at mental arithmetic - and at memory.

Anyway, enjoy:

Footnote: I didn't realise before preparing this post that "Savant" is the name given to a PHP-based Web server.

See the 2 Comments below.

2 Comments on “Friday math movie - the Rain Man in each of us”

  1. Darmok says:

    Yes, I find the hand movements fascinating! He clearly has some sort of visual representation of these calculations (brings synesthetes to mind)—how interesting!

  2. Chris says:

    Catalyst (the Australian Broadcasting Commission weekly science show) screened a UK program that featured this chap I think. There was an equally impressive other fellow, who visualised the solution to mathematical problems as shapes in his mind. He too was on the edge of being able to communicate and interact, but you could also tell by his behaviour there was something else going on.

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