Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Genius Explains

Ever wonder how a savant thinks? The UK's Guardian has an article from early last year that tells the tale of Daniel Tammet, who became a savant after coming out of an epileptic attack at the age of three. Since then, Tammet, now in his mid-20s, has been really good at math. Numbers are his friends. Unlike most other savants however, Tammet can describe what is happening in his head as he effortlessly plays with numbers in very complex ways. Scientists are studying Tammet just for this reason. He can articulate what's going on.

Savants usually occur as a result of some sort of brain damage. One hemisphere of the brain is damaged and the other compensates for it -- or something like that. Autistic savants for instance may have the right hemisphere of the brain compensating for damage to the left. The left hemisphere however is the side that governs language and comprehension. This is where Tammet differs from the norm. He is not only good with numbers, but he also has quite the capacity for language. He's already fluent in six languages, and is in the process of creating his own: Mänti. His gift of languages and numbers makes him unique -- and scientists are hoping that by studying him and the language he's creating, they will obtain unparalleled insight into savants, autism and how the brain works.

The article, especially the interview of Tammet, is a very interesting read. [This came to me via redit.]

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