Thursday, February 27, 2014

The boy with the incredible brain

This documentary is about autistic savant Daniel Tammet. @41:45 you can see him learn Icelandic (language) in one week.

See also Another species, an evolution beyond man.


alpharivelino said...

great documentary. found you via heartiste.

Underachiever said...

There is evidence suggesting that Tammet, while very skilled at using mnemonic, is deliberately dishonest and not a savant.

Another man named Foer trained in mnumonics and eventually got 13th place at the World Memory Championship and 1st place in the US Memory Championship. He then wrote a book, which Bill Gates called "absolutely phenomenal" [1], concerning it and mnemonics in general called "Moonwalking with Einstein".

Wikipedia quotes the book as follows:

"Foer discusses how Daniel Tammet's index finger slides around on a table as he performs mental calculations in a documentary; mental multiplication experts and mnemonists that Foer speaks with imply that Tammet's claims, involving synesthetic morphing shapes and colors standing in for complex numerical feats, are questionable. World memory champion Ben Pridmore tells Foer that "[t]here are a lot of people in the world that can do those things....

Foer notes that Tammet, competing under his previous legal name "Daniel Corney", won the gold medal at the World Memory Championships' "Names and Faces" event. Tammet had tested poorly in facial recognition under Simon Baron-Cohen's assessment of synesthetic abilities; Foer states that poor facial recognition ability is a suitable indicator of inborn "savant" status, as opposed to "savant-like tricks [developed] through methodical training" [2].

Given Tammet's dishonesty concerning his abilities, his seemingly impressive language learning must be taken with a grain of salt. If you are interested in exceptional minds, I suggest researching Kim Peek, a savant with a truly exceptional memory [3].


dxie48 said...

Whether he is a savant or not is of minor issue since it is the "Memory Championship". Most of such people seem to have some sort of synesthesia to aid in mental process.

What he has appeared to be tactile synesthesia.

Another self proclaimed mathemagician seems to have auditory synesthesia, using sound to store and retrieve strings of intermediate mult-digits calculation, as he explained his method alouds in the demonstration from about 12:00 in the video,

dxie48 said...

Another using colors and shapes to visualize 5 dimensional space,

steve hsu said...

I was aware of all this, but he must be a special con man talent if he fooled the Icelandic language teacher and others so thoroughly :-)

chartreuse1737 said...

well he is a homosexual. but then so was maughm.

and what's his iq? if genuine he's an example of how in-credible ability even in usually g-loaded areas is not necessarily an indication of smartness.

pat said...

When I was in the army I memorized the page of distances for the pop up targets on the rifle range. I did this in about ten minutes. I never studied mnemonics but I had heard about it so I just made up a technique. The point of the story is that all the other troops were astounded. They though it was impossible and many refused to believe I did it at all. In fact it was easy and almost anyone could do - if they thought it was possible.
Richard Feynman tells lots of stories about mental tricks like this. (Trust me I'm no where near as smart as Feynman was.) When Feynman was at Los Alamos he was a 'computer'. Before electronic computers were available long calculations were done by guys who knew a lot of math tricks that allowed them to do 'amazing' calculations. Of course no one today - except possibly this guy - bother learning how to do such things anymore.
When I taught statistics I began each semester by asking the class if anyone was good at math. Some naïve guy - too gullible to see what was coming - would raise his hand. Then I would ask him to calculate the fourteenth root of 1,276 - or some other goofy set of numbers. Then I would do it on my pocket calculator and announce that my hand held device had the IQ of a paramecium. Maybe today the new ones have the IQ of a cockroach. In any case pocket calculators are not very smart. My point was that humans are never really very good at math. The best you can hope for is being better than the guy in the next cubicle.
So I'm not very impressed with a guy who can calculate better than a electronic calculator.

Slawomir P Wojcik said...

I posted here (tried to post actually - post was rejected) a while ago about abilities needed to throw a javelin into a deer and how much our contemporary hardware and software it would consume to simulate what a savage man (Neanderthal?) does instinctively. I'm trying now again. Consciousness is an evolutionarily recent phenomenon, speech and dialogue arguably even more so, Is an IQ of 70 a bunch of different things in different idividuals, but in most cases a lack of transmission between subconscious and conscious? A lack of means of proper transmission and articulation? Can we teach this? From which point of view it is worth teaching? On the other hand are some deeply autistic persons just enjoying vast world within with all the ease of generation and transformation. All this vast landscapes of "possibly imaginable" are constantly impinged in us by subconscious pruning of less promising alternatives in mental process. Equally huge amounts of our possible mental effort are regulated, to say the least, by social constraint. Aren't they, the autistic, happy to cut off as much of a link with the outside world as they can? Where is the golden ratio, and does it lay rather in social agreement allowing full spectre of mental profiles (from narrowly executive to wildly imaginative) with neither stigmatising nor undue rewarding (regulation - which is a rewording of Hobbes question).

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