I read an interview in New Scientist with Daniel Tammet, a 29-year-old British man. He’s synesthetic, mildly autistic, speaks 11 languages (he learned Icelandic in a week!) and can remember pi out beyond 22,000 digits.
Being mathfully challenged myself, I was fascinated by the way he describes his relationship with numbers. It’s very intuitive to him, much like language is intuitive to most of the rest of us. He explains that we don’t see one word — we see a web of connected words. Like to understand the word ‘giraffe,’ we need to understand its relationship to ‘neck’ or ‘tall’ or ‘animal.’ And that’s how he sees interconnections and patterns with numbers.
He talks about his synesthesia in a way I love. He says all of his numbers have a texture, which immediately allows him to group, for instance, all the lumpy numbers together into their webs and patterns.
He says, “For me, the ideal lumpy number is 37. It’s like porridge. So 111, a very pretty number, which is 3 times 37, is lumpy but it is also round. It takes on the properties of both 37 and 3, which is round. It’s an intuitive and visual way of doing maths and thinking about numbers.”
Isn’t that great?
He attributes his ability to learn languages to his synesthesia too, in the same sort of way — seeing the interconnectedness of words.
In 2005, he talked to David Letterman about his recitation for charity of the 22,000+ digits of pi and his synesthesia. He tells Dave he looks like the number 117 — “handsome, tall, lanky, and a little bit wobbly.”
He’s written a couple of books, too. The newest is “Embracing the Wide Sky – A Tour Across the Horizons of the Human Mind” and a memoir, “Born on a Blue Day,” both available on Amazon. (Yay! Just in time for my birthday!)
Read the rest of the New Scientist interview here.
Are any of your numbers lumpy?