Authors Citing this Book: Tammet (Daniel)
Back Cover Blurb
- A Memoir of Asperger’s and an Extraordinary Mind
- Daniel sees numbers as shapes, colours and textures and can perform extraordinary maths in his head. He can also learn to speak a language fluently from scratch in a week. He has Savant Syndrome, an extremely rare form of Asperger's that gives him almost unimaginable mental powers, much like the Rain Man portrayed by Dustin Hoffman. But he is virtually unique amongst people who have severe autistic disorders in being able to live a fully independent life.
- Touching and illuminating, Bom On A Blue Day explores what it's like to be special and in so doing gives us an insight into what makes us all human - our minds.
Amazon Book Description
- 'I was born on 31 January 1979 - a Wednesday. I know it was a Wednesday, because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number nine or the sound of loud voices arguing.'
- Like the character Hoffman portrayed, he can perform extraordinary maths in his head, sees numbers as shapes, colours, textures and motions, and can learn to speak a language fluently from scratch in three days. He also has a compulsive need for order and routine. He eats exactly 45 grams of porridge for breakfast and cannot leave the house without counting the number of items of clothing he's wearing. If he gets stressed or unhappy he closes his eyes and counts.
- But in some ways Daniel is not at all like the Rain Man. He is virtually unique amongst people who have severe autistic disorders in being capable of living a fully-functioning, independent life. It is this incredible self-awareness and ability to communicate what it feels like to live in a totally extraordinary way that makes Born On A Blue Day so powerful.
- Blue Nines and Red Words – 1
- Early Years – 17
- Struck by Lightning: Epilepsy – 37
- Schooldays – 59
- Odd One Out – 93
- Adolescence – 115
- Ticket to Kaunas – 143
- Falling in Love – 177
- The Gift of Tongues – 203
- A Very Large Slice of Pi – 219
- Meeting Kim Peek1 – 235
- Reykjavik, New York, Home – 257
→ Simon Baron-Cohen, Director, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University
- How rare is it to have synaesthesia? It occurs in less than 1% of the population. And how rare is it to have an autism spectrum condition? Again, less than 1% of the population has such a condition. In Daniel Tammet, these two states co- occur and if we assume they are independent, the probability of someone having both synaesthesia and autism is vanishingly small - about 1 in 10,0003.
- In this, his first book, Daniel tells ‘with engaging detail’ the story of his life, from his childhood when he always felt he was an outsider, to his adulthood, when among many other extraordinary achievements, he sets a British and European record for reciting the mathematical constant Pi from memory, to 22,514 decimal places. His other gifts include acquiring foreign languages with ease, and even having constructed his own language.
- Are his talents the result of his two rare syndromes coming together in one person? His synaesthesia gives him a richly textured, multi-sensory form of memory, and his autism gives him the narrow focus on number and syntactic patterns.
- The resulting book is a story of a life that is both remarkable and inspiring.
- The first few chapters (namely 1-5) are mildly interesting, but focus on the disabilities imposed by autism, with none of the savant advantages in evidence. His synaesthesia is introduced, but it has no obvious advantages during this period of his life.
- The book perks up in Chapter 6 when Daniel gets to senior school and interested in mathematics. He points out the counter-intuitiveness of probability and gives two examples, both of which show the importance of selection effects:-
It’s important precisely how these questions are put. There’s another of Bertrand’s paradoxes – the “Chord” paradox (Wikipedia: Bertrand’s Paradox) – that points this out. I might also note that I’m not sure if this is the sort of mathematics that savants are normally good at, as it’s nothing really to do with calculation, but a rather deep understanding.
- Siblings: If we know a woman has two children, and know that one is a girl, what’s the probability that the other is a girl. While the gender of each has (approximately) a probability of 0.5, in this case we’ve already ruled out the BB case, leaving the equiprobable GB, BG and GG combinations. This gives a probability of 1/3, as we can’t lump together the different birth orders.
- Three Cards Problem: We’re told that a bag contains 3 cards with the 3 combinations of red and white on their faces. If we select a card with red on its face, what’s the probability of the other face being red? The answer is 2/3, because the RR card has two red faces, so “counts twice” as it can be selected with either face-up initially – we are to think of them as labelled differently. He doesn’t mention this, but it seems that the puzzle is a variant of Bertrand’s Box Paradox – see Wikipedia: Bertrand’s Box Paradox.
- The development of Tammet’s language skills is described in Chapters 7 & 9.
- Chapter 10 is probably the most interesting from my perspective. Presumably there’s no real limit to the number of digits of pi that Tammet could learn and recite. He broke the European record in 2004, though the world record (of 70K, made in 2015) is held by an Indian, with an unverified counter-claim by a Japanese of 100k digits. Tammet’s method – visually synaesthetic, without a story or other wheezes – doesn’t have the limitations of artificial systems (see Wikipedia: Pi - Memorizing digits & Wikipedia: Piphilology for both claims), nor that of A.R. Luria’s mnemonist, who remembered lists by “writing” images on mental images of buildings and walls along his regular walk. A later chapter records how his digit-remembering span – 12 digit – based on 0.5-second flashes in sequence is – while twice that of the average – it not prodigious in the “pi” sense. Presumably there is insufficient time for the construction of the mental imagery.
- In the final chapter Tammet “admits” that he is a Christian. It’s odd that this is mentioned so late on, given that his conversion happened in 2002. It’s not said of what stripe. For most Christians of an evangelical stripe, their faith is the most important thing in their lives and is mentioned all the time.
In-Page Footnotes ("Tammet (Daniel) - Born On a Blue Day")
- Kim Peek was the real-life savant behind the Dustin Hoffman character in Rain Man.
- See Wikipedia: Kim Peek.
- This is the second Forward.
- The first is by Dr. Darold A. Treffert, the scientific advisor on Rainman.
- This is a rather feeble observation.
- “1 in 10,000” isn’t really “vanishingly small” (it’s not much different from my IQ, not that Tammet has any truck with such things). See the ISPE Telicom extract noted in Daniel Tammet.
- Baron-Cohen ought to know if these “conditions” are independent, but if not the combination would be even less exceptional.
- So, Tammet isn’t that exceptional on account of his synaesthesia and autism, but on account of savant syndrome: this is presumably related to the other conditions, but is much rarer.
Hodder Paperbacks (22 Feb. 2007). Paperback.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)