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.
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.
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.