Travelling into the world of autism, synaesthesia,and mnemonic structures

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Daniel Tammet
Daniel Tammet

This posting is about as far away from construction marketing as you can get. Yet the observations here invites some thought about how the human mind works and (perhaps) how pseudo-science can be marketed (or sceptics can test, dispute and seek to debunk the accepted scientific perspective).

The story starts last night where, I think from a link on my Facebook High IQ group (though I couldn’t find the correlating reference when I checked back before writing this post) I saw a link to a YouTube documentary video about Daniel Tammet.

Tammet, it seems, is a savant — with incredible ability to recollect numbers and details, such as the numeric Pi to a level beyond that of most computers and calculators. Most of us have heard of people with otherwise low apparent intelligence with these abilities — but Tammet is, if we believe him (and his three books), one of the exceptions — someone with autism and savant-like qualities, who can function at a high level socially and intellectually.

His unique talents were profiled on a British television documentary, “The Boy with an Incredible Brain” in 2005, and you can watch the show here (It’s 45 minutes, but I found it riveting).

Tammet asserts he can sense emotions and visual images with numbers, and these images and emotions explain how he is able to do things like learning the Icelandic language in one week, or in the case of Pi, to “22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes” — beating the European record for this memory-challenging exercise.

According to the story, he had a seizure when he was a young child, and the skills evolved.

However, there are some inconsistencies in the story, and here things get interesting.

I certainly didn’t know this before, but some people make a study of memory retention and engage in competitions to prove their skills. It seems the normal mind can be trained to do extraordinary things. An example is how Asian children, once they learn and practice on the abacus, can conduct incredibly complex arithmetic exercises without any tools other than their minds.

Tammet apparently entered into one of these memory contests under his birth name and someone who asserts he was one his competitors has come forward with some unverified comments about Tammet’s synaesthesia and autism, which Tanmmet asserts, in a follow-up email to me, are libellous. The original (unproven) comments and some detailed discussion about their veracity are posted on the appropriately named mnemotechnics.org forum.

In his email  I received on Aug. 30 2013, some weeks after the original Aug. 12 posting, Tammet writes:

Your article of August 12 (http://constructionmarketingideas.com/2013/travelling-into-the-world-of-autism-synaesthesiaand-mnemonic-structures/) reproduces a link and text of a defamatory comment posted to a webforum.

Under the terms and conditions of websites, the posting or re-posting of illegal (libellous) content is prohibited.

The casual reproduction of such content also contributes to cyberbulling (including homophobic anonymous comments posted to me via my website).

Please therefore exclude this content from the above article.

I have complied with Tammet’s request.

Undoubtedly, several prominent scientists thing Tammet is for real. He’s given a TED lecture, and his books seem to be doing quite well. It is quite possible this story is partly true, and partly enhanced.

Marketing and journalism are like that, of course. Truth is dressed up, and sometimes apparent truths are debunked. If you believe the television documentary, you’ll think there are untapped mysteries in the mind that could, if unlocked, really change the scope of human potential. Maybe there is more to the story that we can’t see, however. I won’t pass judgement, but think you will enjoy the video.

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