Daniel Tammet

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Laurence's picture
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Years ago I watched a video on youtube titled ' The boy with the incredible brain '. It was a documentary featuring a man called Daniel Tammet, and for all intents and purposes is a savant. As a boy he suffered from epileptic seizures - which they believe to be the source of his abilities (complex math problems, working out days from calenders, becoming fluent in a language in a couple of weeks, etc.) Daniel says that he experiences each of these numbers; he feels and empathizes with the words - these are the symptoms of a condition known as Synesthesia.

Wikipedia gives examples of Synesthesia :"In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme → color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored,while in ordinal linguistic personification, numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities.In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be "farther away" than 1990), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map (clockwise or counterclockwise). Yet another recently identified type, visual motion → sound synesthesia, involves hearing sounds in response to visual motion and flicker." - Citation needed.

At the time of viewing this documentary, I was astounded. It seemed amazing that this man was able to have these abilities. However, with the inevitable passing of time, Daniel Tammet and his extraordinary feats were forgotten by me (ironic, isn't it Wink )

However, to my esoteric delight there was a section in Josh Foer's book that was pretty much dedicated to Daniel Tammet. Josh interviewed Daniel, talked to various people who had knowledge of the subject, searched him on the internet etc. He found posts Daniel has made under an alias where he advertised selling techniques that allowed him to perform amazing memory feats; he had association with the WMC and the community etc. Through his findings, Josh came to the conclusion that he wasn't entirely convinced that Daniel's feats were sourced from his conditions; Josh was under the impression that, like us, Daniel Tammet was mnemonist, a proficient one at that, but all his feats were performed with the aid of mnemonic devices. To strengthen this: there are many books that reveal how to perform impressive mental arithmetic calculations and work out calender days etc. It seemed that everything Daniel could do, could be learnt by a mnemonist.

What are people's thoughts on this? Is it possible, using mnemonics, to become fluent in a language in a couple of weeks (he was immersed by the way)? Is it that, humble are actually capable of doing all of this? I'd be very excited to find out. Or if not, using mnemonics, are we able to perform similar feats, perhaps not as well as if we had a synesthetic condition, but similar (a month or two to become fluent in a language for example)

Please write back.

P.S. I apologize for the sheer amount of writing in this topic - have a new laptop and enjoy the tiny clicking sound that the keys make as they are pushed down, it's most pleasing.

P.P.S Here's the link to the video I was referring to -

See video

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Re: Daniel Tammet, Joshua Foer, and Moonwalking with Einstein

Laurence wrote:
What are people's thoughts on this? Is it possible, using mnemonics, to become fluent in a language in a couple of weeks (he was immersed by the way)?

Yes, memory techniques and mental math tricks could explain everything. Whether he has synesthesia or not, he is a trained mnemonist who has described using the techniques to learn French and German.

One thing that isn't clear is whether he had advance warning that he was going to have a week to learn Icelandic. He already spoke a couple of complex languages, which gives a head start. Also, what was he asked in Icelandic, and what did he actually say in Icelandic? Was he fluent in Icelandic, or just able to answer a few basic questions?

If you want to test mnemonic techniques to learn languages, join our Esperanto Learners group. Smile

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Re: Daniel Tammet

I have noticed one thing about the "savants" that no one seems willing to admit.

Look at what the savants can do. Calendar dates. The weather for any particular day. Multiplication of two massive numbers.

Has ANY of the savants actually ever done anything worthwhile with these "talents"? Can rapid multiplication find the cure for cancer? Does the ability to tell me what day of the week Feb. 22, 1904, fell on cure blindness? Someone can learn a foreign language in a couple weeks? Impressive. How about a fusion reactor? Can they build one of those?

And when someone learns a foreign language, do they fully parle the carne though, me china plate? Is their grasp of idiomatic and cultural identity associated with that language adequate? Can they explain "drinking the Kool-Aid"? Do they know enough to correct the idiom by explaining that it wasn't Kool-Aid that was drunk at Jonestown?

In the Count of Monte Cristo, the "Count" learns several foreign languages by learning the 1,000 most-frequently used words of each of those languages. As this forum demonstrates, this is not beyond the capacities of most people.

But, for instance, if you walk into Saudi Arabia, fully versed in Arabic, and have never read the Koran, you are probably going to miss an enormous swath of the language, culture, etc. Memorizing words so you can spout them like a parrot? Meh. It seems a huge waste of time and effort to only want to learn the "language" without learning all the things that surround it.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

Alex wrote:
Memorizing words so you can spout them like a parrot? Meh. It seems a huge waste of time and effort to only want to learn the "language" without learning all the things that surround it.

I love the self-imposed importance that I have seen several times on this site. I'm not really sure who you are to judge what for me should and shouldn't be a "huge waste of time and effort." I'll be the judge of that. If you take away the idea of self-satisfaction and personal growth, then doing anything that doesn't put food in your mouth or shelter over your head is a complete and utter waste of time and effort. If that's the case, then learning anything that doesn't make you money is pointless. But I value personal growth and satisfaction and I know what makes me happy.

I have read statements here to the effect of: "I don't want to use memory techniques for something useless like memorizing cards or random numbers; I want to learn something important like a poem or guitar chords or phone numbers of my friends." What an ignorant display of self-importance. You who think this way are forgetting to include the "only important to me" clause. There is zero survival benefit to memorizing a poem, unless some day someone with a gun to your head threatens to blow your brains out your ear unless you recite perfectly Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. Give me a break. There is no more importance in remembering all of your friends phone numbers than being able to memorize a deck of cards in under 2 minutes. Neither one is making you rich. However, both tasks do have the potential for creating a sense of personal growth in an individual.

How can anyone say to me that memorizing 1,000 words of Esperanto is not important to me? How can anyone say that competition is not the most important thing for me? My efforts are no less important or dignified just because I'm driven by a will to compete and win. I couldn't care less about swapping idioms with a native speaker. If I can hail a taxi, give directions, order my food and stay away from the areas that might get me killed, I feel that I've accomplished something.

If learning a culture is important to you, then it is important to YOU not to ME. To me, unless you spend an abundant amount of time in a place, learning the culture is a huge waste of time and effort. But I realize that that is my opinion, and I would never think that my efforts are more important than someone who will never go to Russia or even speak with a native but learns every idiom associated with communism. Importance is not universal; it is personal.

Just realize when you are giving your meaningless efforts importance over someone else's.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

I just read a long, interesting post about Daniel Tammet and mental math:
http://infopractical.livejournal.com/77298.html

The critique was written by Mathew Crawford, who appears to be a mental math expert who has written a couple of math books.

It's a very aggressive criticism that even questions the researchers:

Note that they never once asked Daniel to multiply 7139 times 41562. Why did I pick a problem like that? Because there's very little special about the numbers, except that they don't contain the shortcuts inherent in every one of the problems Daniel worked in the documentary. They’re not even particularly easy to factor, so there’s no quick reconstruction to save the day.

It seems to me that the only reason not to test Daniel with such computations is that he is using methods like mine -- not seeing shapes and colors or whatever weird method he claims.

I also noticed that during the very first problem in the video, Daniel moves his fingers in a useful way. I don't believe he's "playing with shapes and colors" or something like that. I recognize those finger movements. Not precisely, but back when I was learning mental arithmetic (when I was only about as good at it as Daniel is), I would move my hands more than I need to now. It's a lot like what the Chinese kids working on the mental abacus. It's a mental image of real calculation. Those finger movements give the game away. Perhaps not alone, but along with everything I saw in that video, I have to conclude that Daniel's explanation of "spontaneous computation" from "shapes and colors" is a sham.

Note that the hard-drilled Chinese children can multiply any two four-digit numbers. So why is Daniel hailed, at the end of the video, as "one of 50" such high level savants in the world?

Perhaps because somebody wants a research grant?

I've been thinking about some other things lately:

The synesthesia tests that the researchers gave Tammet look easily hackable by someone trained in memory techniques. Tammet was asked to make clay figures of 20 number shapes and was then surprise re-tested. I wonder if they knew that Tammet had been training for memory competitions where the purpose is to memorize a lot of abstract shapes.

It would be easy to create mnemonic images on the fly: "21 is going to look like Casper the Ghost, but orange". Then make a shape like Casper the Ghost, fix the mnemonic image for orange to it, and then attach it to the mnemonic image for 21. He may have synesthesia, but none of their tests has eliminated the possibility that all of the tests were passed solely with memory training.

Also, recognizing prime numbers should be easy with memory techniques. If he claims to have synesthesia up to 10,000 (by coincidence, the number of mnemonic images one would have if using a mnemonic system like the Dominic System), he wouldn't have to memorize many more than 1,000 primes:
http://primes.utm.edu/lists/small/1000.txt

One possible way to do it:
Take every prime number image and then set it on fire. 7043 for me is an axe chopping up a suit of armor. I could just set that compound image on fire. Then when asked if a number is prime, I could just check whether it had been set on fire. Repetition would cement the image modifiers...

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Re: Daniel Tammet

thank you for the post, it sure is interesting Laughing out loud, i read about him on foer's book and i have read "embracing the wide sky" which i got to know through the new scientist magazine and i was really impressed with it. now? not so much

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Re: Daniel Tammet
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Re: Daniel Tammet

I've been commenting on the Ted Talk, telling people how all the things he pretend to achieve without any techniques can easily be done usng memory techniques but some people are really hard to convince.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

Yan, i saw your comments Laughing out loud and i agree with you

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Re: Daniel Tammet

Interesting video and discussion...

His number colors (3 green, 4 blue, 5 yellow) are almost the same as mine. For me:

  • 3 is green because "three" rhymes with "tree";
  • 4 could have been blue because sailboat rides blue water, but I changed it to flag, so it's now black;
  • 5 is brown because seahorses are brownish... close to yellow.

Does anyone know his full color system?

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Re: Daniel Tammet

No offense, but that video was an absolute yawnfest. Can't stand listening to that guy.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

Josh wrote:
Interesting video and discussion...

His number colors (3 green, 4 blue, 5 yellow) are almost the same as mine. For me:

  • 3 is green because "three" rhymes with "tree";
  • 4 could have been blue because sailboat rides blue water, but I changed it to flag, so it's now black;
  • 5 is brown because seahorses are brownish... close to yellow.

Josh you must be a high functioning autistic savant! Wink

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Re: Daniel Tammet

Reinaruld wrote:
Yan, i saw your comments Laughing out loud and i agree with you

Thanks a lot for the support! Smile

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Re: Daniel Tammet

I was just reading the comments and some of those people are extremely ignorant when it comes to Mnemonic techniques and the possibilities of the human brain. This comment in particular made me laugh:

So what exactly is an “ordinary guy” who can consistently perform extraordinary feats? Write a book on that subject… if you can.

If only he knew that there are already books on the subject… and they’re written by “ordinary guys.”

I will not comment on Daniel T. myself, as I am unsure what I think about his abilities. I think some people feel very sensitive about this subject because they know people who have unusual abilities or different minds. That is a separate issue entirely. I believe savants do exist, but I’m open-minded enough to also realise that Daniel T may not be one. I think people also find it very intimidating to think that an “ordinary” person (like themselves) can achieve such extraordinary feats. I think some people would prefer to think that there’s something mystical going on, that the person is special, a genius. They don’t like to believe that people like themselves are capable of similar feats (even though, logically, it makes no sense to think that way.)

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Re: Daniel Tammet

I don't know what his story is, but it appears that he has never mentioned his memory training, especially when memorizing pi. When he was being tested by researchers to see if he was using mnemonic techniques, did he disclose to them that he practiced memory techniques and that he competed in memory competitions?

... test results showed his memory for faces appeared to be impaired, and he scored at the level expected of a 6-8 year old child in this task.

And:

I have difficulty recalling faces.

I read that he had previously beaten Dominic O'Brien at memorizing Names & Faces.

... Baron-Cohen, Bor and Billington investigated whether his synaesthesia and Aspergers syndrome explained his savant memory abilities in a further study. The authors state that the memory training used by other memory experts does not explain his abilities, as he had not had explicit training.

It is known that he had explicit training, so the story doesn't hold together.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

The case of Daniel Tammet should be pretty embarrassing for the scientific community. All of the signs have been there for years that his claims are doubtful, and that he is well trained in memory techniques; scientists and the media have shown nowhere near enough scepticism.

Take this example. Darold Treffert, consultant to the film Rain Man and often cited as the worlds leading expert on savants has a web page which extols Tammet's savant abilities, and in particular says Tammet was "...invited to London’s Institute of Neurology to undergo tests for a landmark study of prodigious mental ability. The summarized data, co-written by some of Britain’s leading brain scientists, appeared in the New Year 2003 edition of the highly prestigious Nature neuro-scientific magazine."

That sounds very impressive. But look closer, and the study in question turns out to give absolutely no support to him having unusual savant abilities, and in fact says exactly the opposite. The study is "Routes to remembering - the brains behind superior memory", by Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapur. It looks at 10 competitors in memory competitions, and explains their superior memory as being driven by training in mnemonics rather than exceptional intellectual abilities or brain differences. It states that all of the participants have trained using mnemonics for several years, and makes no mention of any of the participants saying they have synaesthesia (it does mention that one participant, presumably Tammet, had seizures as a child).

So the so-called leading expert in savants in the world has a web page citing a scientific study to say that Tammet is a savant, but he appears not to have bothered to actually read it and discover it says the opposite. Big fail.

As Josh Cohen mentions above, there is a study by Bor, Billington and Baron-Cohen that says that he hasn't had explicit memory training - suggesting these scientists have basically been taken in by false claims. Ironically, that paper actually cites the paper by Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapur (the one that studied Tammet and said his abilities were explained by mnemonics), but the authors seem to have no clue that Tammet was in that study, and quote it as a study of "the normal population with superior memories resulting from extensive practice".

So in the same paper that claims that Tammet doesn't use memory strategies, they have cited a paper that says he does use memory strategies, apparently without realising it (neither papers actually mention Tammet by name). The irony.

None of the scientists involved have ever offered any explanation of how a group of researchers who were specifically looking at explanations of superior memory, somehow failed to notice or remark upon an exceptional autistic savant who came in for their memory study. The obvious conclusion is that the scientists who said he used mnemonics were right all along.

If the scientists are gullible, the media are worse. Take the headline in the German magazine der Spiegel saying "British Savant Learns German in a Week". It describes his amazing ability at speaking German after only one week's study, (with his only previous knowledge of the language being some "rudimentary school German"). But looking at the facts, he learned German for six or seven years at school, then worked as a language tutor, and later ran a website selling German language materials for a further six or seven years - none of which is mentioned in the article. That's probably because a headline of "British Savant learns German in twelve years" wouldn't have had the same ring to it.

It's frustrating that despite all the evidence here - the stuff on the internet, the scientific studies - being publicly available for many years, scientists and the media are still writing such misleading stuff about Tammet. They love the "Rain Man" type story so much that they appear blind to the evidence that his abilities have been acquired through memory techniques.

To be fair on Tammet, I don't see him as necessarily having been particularly dishonest. His books make no mention of mnemonics, and he doesn't explicitly claim to never use them. And look at the situation he faced in around 2004 - he was a young man, with few qualifications, trying to make a living through his website but probably pretty broke. He had done well in the world memory championship, coming 4th, but that wasn't going to pay the bills. Then in comes world renowned savant expert Darold Treffert saying he's a savant (this is before he was actually diagnosed as autistic), and a TV company offering money and travel around the world. Being broke, why wouldn't he say yes to this opportunity of a lifetime?

And once he was doing the documentary, he would be under massive pressure to "prove" he was a natural savant - it would be pretty embarrassing if the documentary concluded he was normal. So basically, by being so eager for their savant story, the media and scientists together gave every incentive to him to exaggerate his abilities, and I think that they should take the main share of the blame for the situation.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

Thanks for your interesting research.

I think the best thing would be for Tammet to say something like, "Sorry, here are the complete details about my life that I forgot to mention before. I just got carried away." I guess that it's difficult to do after one has been doing things like selling watercolors of number-images for who knows how much money...

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Re: Daniel Tammet

I didn't quite read the whole thread, so I may have missed something, but synesthesia is a documented condition, and it's actually fairly common. It's also known to dramatically improve memory on the subject of the synesthesia (i.e. in Tammet's case numbers). Even if he's not really a savant, that ought to make some things easier for him. I don't think he's lying about experiencing the numbers the way he does - it is by no means unique.

In addition, if he were looking for fame and money, wouldn't it be better to claim that he has no savant talent, and rather has learnt everything. After all, that would seem to be more commendable. He is bragging about how he has learned to cope with his Asperger's syndrome, so if anything it seems less impressive that he just received his "savant" abilities without any effort.

@Josh Cohen "It is known that he had explicit training, so the story doesn't hold together."

Could you tell me how do you know that? Not that I don't believe you, I'd just like to know. He has written two books about his life. Have you read them?

I hope this didn't come off the wrong way, but I'm just saying I still think it's the simplest explanation that he's telling the truth.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

This is what he wrote on his old website from 2001:

My own interest in memory and conversely Memory sport was sparked by my casual acquaintance with a children’s book on broad memory concepts for better exam performance at the age of 15. The following year I passed my GCSEs with some of the year’s best results and subsequently performed well at A-level, mastering French and German along the way with the help of these tried-and-tested techniques.

Following teaching stints in Scandinavia and as a volunteer lecturer of English in Eastern Europe, I competed for the first time at the World Memory Championships in London in 1999, managing 12th place overall.

Thereafter, my obsession with the sport grew, and following months of strenuous training and hard work I climbed into the World’s Top-5 rated Memory sportsmen. My performance at the 2000 World Memory Championships earned me a discipline gold medal and two more event medals, the highlight of one performance being where I bested the World Champion’s time by a fraction of a second, with the successful memorisation and subsequent perfect recall of an entire shuffled deck of cards in a time of 1 minute 11.69 seconds. In another round, I achieved a new personal best memorising 1,460 digits backwards and forwards in 1 hour, one of the largest amounts of digits ever memorised within that time frame in the Championship’s history.

Compare that with 2009:
British Savant Learns German in a Week

Is it possible to learn German in just days? Linguistic savant Daniel Tammet managed to do so in the course of a week.

...last week [2009], Tammet took a linguistic stroll through German's convoluted sentences, had picnics in the genitive case and roamed through the language's myriad plural forms. He did bring some rudimentary school German along for the journey. Nonetheless, his coaches were stunned.

What happened to "mastering French and German. . .with the help of these tried-and-tested techniques"?

He might have synesthesia, but read Moonwalking with Einstein for more details about that...

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Re: Daniel Tammet

As Bear3 says, synaesthesia is well documented and not particularly uncommon. There are tests for the "genuineness" of synaesthesia (which mainly consist of checking that the descriptions of synaesthesia are consistent when asked a question once and then a second time after a time has passed).

Tammet has passed such tests, but Foer makes a good case that Tammet could be using memory techniques to pass them. There's a short piece in the "Brainman" documentary where this test is shown, and Tammet consistently creates the same shape from play-do for the number 58. As an aside, I noticed that the shape he created looks rather like a leaf. And in the "major system" of memorisation, which Tammet uses according to some old posts on memory forums, "leaf" translates to 58. That might of might not be a coincidence; it would be interesting to see what shapes he created for more numbers.

Then again, the synaesthesia might be genuine. Or he might have some small degree of synaesthesia which is exaggerated in his descriptions. It's basically not possible to know for sure what someone else sees in their mind's eye.

However, there are doubts even if he does have synaesthesia for words and numbers, whether that is really helping him with his memory.

For a start, evidence for any spectacular memory feats before he was an adult is very weak . In particular, he got "B" grades in languages at age 18, which is good but not exceptional - they were not even his best subject (that was history). That's consistent with him having learned and trained memory techniques later in life - if his synaesthesia gave him an incredibly memory for languages, why didn't this happen at an early age and get him excellent grades in these subjects at school?

Furthermore, his best event at the world memory championships was not the numbers events (which you would expect his synaesthesia to be very useful for), but instead the names and faces event, which he won. Tammet does not report any synaesthesia for faces - indeed, he says in his book he has great difficulty remembering faces, which is typical for autism. So it's extremely hard to explain his performance at that event by synaesthesia or other natural abilities, whereas the mnemonic techniques for remembering names and faces are widely taught.

Here's a further quote from Tammet from when he was promoting his "Optimnem" memory course in the days before he claimed to be a savant. ( http://www.epinions.com/content_15335919236 )

"Everybody’s memory capabilities are roughly the same, rather it is a question of HOW WELL someone uses their memory’s natural capabilities. A ‘Memory Master’ is not somebody with superior brain function or above-average intelligence (though they may not like to admit it!); all that separates them from most other people is that they have specially taught their memories to absorb data fully, quickly and accurately.

I’m a very good example of this. If you had met me ten years ago and given me a shopping list to commit to memory I would have really struggled. It wasn’t that I was stupid, I just didn’t know the right tools and techniques. My school didn’t teach me how to remember, so I studied by myself and gradually developed the Optimnem course for maximal memory and Mindpower development and performance."

No mention of amazing synaesthesia abilities here. And the "(though they may not like to admit it!)" aside is interesting!

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Re: Daniel Tammet

Tomasyi wrote:
...Tammet consistently creates the same shape from play-do for the number 58. As an aside, I noticed that the shape he created looks rather like a leaf. And in the "major system" of memorisation, which Tammet uses according to some old posts on memory forums, "leaf" translates to 58. That might of might not be a coincidence; it would be interesting to see what shapes he created for more numbers.

Yeah... That test can easily be passed using mnemonic number pegs.

Tomasyi wrote:
Then again, the synaesthesia might be genuine. Or he might have some small degree of synaesthesia which is exaggerated in his descriptions. It's basically not possible to know for sure what someone else sees in their mind's eye.

Even if he does, the story, "person with synesthesia who is trained in memory techniques performs at the same level as people without synesthesia who have training in memory techniques" is a completely different story. Smile

Tomasyi wrote:
Furthermore, his best event at the world memory championships was not the numbers events (which you would expect his synaesthesia to be very useful for), but instead the names and faces event, which he won. Tammet does not report any synaesthesia for faces - indeed, he says in his book he has great difficulty remembering faces, which is typical for autism.

Wikipedia:

Conversely, test results showed his memory for faces appeared to be impaired, and he scored at the level expected of a 6-8 year old child in this task.

Tomasyi wrote:
Here's a further quote from Tammet from when he was promoting his "Optimnem" memory course in the days before he claimed to be a savant. ( http://www.epinions.com/content_15335919236 )

"...I’m a very good example of this. If you had met me ten years ago and given me a shopping list to commit to memory I would have really struggled. It wasn’t that I was stupid, I just didn’t know the right tools and techniques. My school didn’t teach me how to remember, so I studied by myself and gradually developed the Optimnem course for maximal memory and Mindpower development and performance."

That pretty much settles the controversy...

Here is another quote from 2005:
http://www.ripoffreport.com/adult-career-continuing-education/optimnem-d...

Though I am able to explain my savant abilities to scientists and researchers, I nowhere state that I am able to teach my abilities to others.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

You both make some very interesting points.

Tomasyi wrote:
However, there are doubts even if he does have synaesthesia for words and numbers, whether that is really helping him with his memory.

I'm just basing this on the Wikipedia article on the subject, but according to it one of the diagnostic criteria of synesthesia is that it is highly memorable. Some of the other criteria also include a sense of location and emotion in the synesthetic sensations, both of which are also used in memory techniques (the method of loci and the fact that more emotional images are more memorable). Daniel Tammet also himself describes that each number produces profound emotions in him.

Here's one study on the effects of synesthesia on memory:
http://pss.sagepub.com/content/13/6/548

The one thing that makes me feel he's a scammer is the fact that you say he won the memory test for names and faces - not something an autistic person should easily do, especially since I saw an interview of him where he said he would forget a face in just a couple of hours. The only thing is this: at least according to Wikipedia, he's been studied at "California's Center for Brain Studies and the UK's Cambridge Autism Research Centre and have been the subject of several peer-reviewed scientific papers." Surely they would detect a fraud..?

By the way his last name in Finnish means "Oaks" Smile Also his own language "Mänti" seems to bear a strong resemblance to Finnish from the bits 'n' pieces I've read. I wonder if he ever published anything more on that language of his....

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Re: Daniel Tammet

bear3 wrote:
By the way his last name in Finnish means "Oaks" Smile

Do you know if the spelling "Tämmet" means anything different?

If he won Names & Faces at the World Memory Championships, why would neuroscientists later find that he recognizes faces like a "6-8 year old child"? How would scientists come to that conclusion if he had been honest with them?

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Re: Daniel Tammet

Josh Cohen wrote:

Do you know if the spelling "Tämmet" means anything different?

"Tämmet" doesn't mean anything, at least not in Finnish. Why?

Josh Cohen wrote:

If he won Names & Faces at the World Memory Championships, why would neuroscientists later find that he recognizes faces like a "6-8 year old child"? How would scientists come to that conclusion if he had been honest with them?

That does seem dubious. Do you know what name he was using when he participated? It seems he changed his name after that. Anyway, surely the neuroscientists should've done some kind of a background check on him?

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Re: Daniel Tammet

bear3 wrote:
"Tämmet" doesn't mean anything, at least not in Finnish. Why?

He spelled it like that on his website in 2001.

bear3 wrote:
Do you know what name he was using when he participated?

Daniel Corney.

bear3 wrote:
Anyway, surely the neuroscientists should've done some kind of a background check on him?

They should do it now. The tests they performed don't work on mnemonists.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

Quote:
bear3 Do you know what name he was using when he participated?

Daniel Paul Corney

I'm convinced Tammet has created a fiction around himself, but actually "what fun!". It's a funny ruse and one that would tempt most any memorizer--or at least me. He might in the end be doing the sport a favor. Every new area needs it's scandal. Smile
Dale

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Re: Daniel Tammet

bear3 wrote:
The only thing is this: at least according to Wikipedia, he's been studied at "California's Center for Brain Studies and the UK's Cambridge Autism Research Centre and have been the subject of several peer-reviewed scientific papers." Surely they would detect a fraud..?

Good question. To my knowledge, there are three peer-reviewed papers reporting first-hand on studies of Daniel Tammet. They give a mixed message - one suggesting that he is normal, one that he is a savant (with lots of caveats), and one that he is a savant without caveats.

The first paper done on him was called "Routes to remembering - the brains behind superior memory", by Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapur.", which studied Tammet and 9 other leading competitors in memory competitions. It doesn't mention Tammet by name, although Tammet himself has said he took part on his website, and some of the biographical details (epilepsy in early childhood) are completely consistent with him). As I mention further up the page, this study says all participants reported using mnemonics, and makes absolutely no reference to anyone in the study being a savant or having synaesthesia. In other words, Tammet was studied along with 9 other memory competitors and the scientists did not remark on there being anything special about him. Although it is a widely respected and cited study, it appears to me that later writers on Tammet were unaware that Tammet was one of the participants, as they don't cite the study as evidence on Tammet's abilities.

The second, the Cambridge paper, was carried out by Simon Baron-Cohen, a very respected autism researcher (and cousin of Sacha Baron-Cohen of Borat fame!). This describes his diagnosis of autism, based on descriptions of his condition from him and his mother (including his very poor performance in the face recognition task), and a diagnosis of synaesthesia (using a "test for genuineness"). So this is the main paper supporting his claims to be an autistic savant. It does however include the remark that he might be using mnemonics to achieve his memory performances.

The third paper is by Billington, Bor and Baron-Cohen, which states that he has not trained with memory techniques. This is the one (as I mention above) that ironically cites the "Routes to remembering" paper as a study of "normal" people, apparently without realising that Tammet was one of these "normal" people cited! I think the researchers ought to be embarrassed by this one.

Overall, from reading the scientific papers on him, the evidence for him having an amazing natural memory is nowhere near as strong as you would think from the media, the "Brainman" documentary, or the descriptions of him from scientists like Darold Treffert (a well known savant expert).

One reason for this may be in the use of the term "savant" by scientists and the media. My understanding is it doesn't have a very precise definition, but in general it is typically used to denote someone that is generally impaired in some way (often, though not always, with autism), but does better than would be expected given their condition in some fields. There is no implication that the "savant" has amazing abilities. For example, the most common type of savant is someone who is autistic, so has big trouble functioning in society, but who can play a musical instrument reasonably well (musical talent is the most commonly cited savant ability). Saying these people are savants does not imply that they are good musicians compared to other people - just that their musical ability is good compared to their other abilities. It also doesn't mean that the talent is necessarily inborn - the autistic savant who plays piano might have had the same piano lessons as any normal musician. So the bar for scientists to use the word "savant" is very low - it doesn't mean anything very special.

However, in the press and in the popular imagination people associate the word savant with a Rainman type character with virtually superhuman abilities, which just isn't justified.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

I think the term "prodigious savant" is the one that is used to describe savants with extraordinary abilities even for a normal person, while just "savant" means that the person is only extraordinary considering their handicap. So just being a savant may not be that amazing. But Tammet has used the term "prodigious savant" of himself.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

bear3 wrote:
I think the term "prodigious savant" is the one that is used to describe savants with extraordinary abilities even for a normal person, while just "savant" means that the person is only extraordinary considering their handicap. So just being a savant may not be that amazing. But Tammet has used the term "prodigious savant" of himself.

That's correct.

None of the studies of Tammet I cited above used the words "prodigious savant" or similar.

Darold Treffert, the savant expert who was a consultant on Rain Man, has described his talents as at a "prodigious" level. For example in the forward to Tammet's autobiography "Born on a blue day", he writes "Daniel tells us that his synaesthesia began after a series of childhood epileptic seizures. This, for me, puts him into the "acquired" savant category - people who develop savant-like abilities, sometimes at a prodigious level, following some central nervous system trauma."; I think he says something similar somewhere in the Brainman documentary.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

To follow up on my earlier post about what scientists say about Daniel Tammet, here's the full quote from Baron-Cohen's paper "Savant memory in a man with colour form number synaesthesia and aspergers syndrome". This was the study where his autism and synaesthesia were diagnosed, so probably the most important direct study on him.

"It is of course possible that savant memory could be the result of the application of mnemonic training strategies, such as the "loci" method, and without any effects of factors such as ASC [autism spectrum conditions] or synaesthesia. Whether it is possible to distiguish such "acquired" savantism from the kind shown by cases such as DT or others with ASC will be important to establish."

In other words, the scientists quite rightly say that they can't tell whether his "savant" memory is the result of standard memory training or not. However, this very important caveat is ignored in the later paper on Tammet, by Savant expert Darold Treffert, and in reporting Tammet's case in the "Brainman" documentary and the media.

From my reading of the evidence, the scientific evidence, taken as a whole, simply does not support the contention that Tammet is not using memory techniques.

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Re: Daniel Tammet

Tomasyi wrote:
From my reading of the evidence, the scientific evidence, taken as a whole, simply does not support the contention that Tammet is not using memory techniques.

I agree...

There is no question that Daniel Tammet uses standard memory techniques. He might have synesthesia or Aspergers, but those aren't related to how he is performing his memorization or calculation feats.

How could he recognize human faces "at the level expected of a 6-8 year old child" after his performances in the World Memory Championships? Does he mention those competition achievements in his books? If he couldn't recognize faces for his whole life and then became the world's #1 face memorizer in the World Memory Championship, isn't that worthy of a passing mention in his books? The more I find out, the more I disbelieve.

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