What are the limits of the human brain? Although at times, mine seems pretty limited, some amazing feats of memory and cognition have been recorded over the years.
For example, Daniel Paul Tammet, who was born on this day in London in 1979, holds the European record for reciting pi from memory. Recall that pi (3.14) is considered an irrational number; its decimal never ends and never repeats in a pattern. Daniel has accurately recited pi to 22,514 decimal places, which took him five hours and nine minutes.
Daniel is special in more ways than one. He grew up autistic, epileptic, and with synesthesia, a rare condition in which a person has unique sensory experiences, which he has described as “a visual, emotional experience of numbers … [a] neurological mixing of the senses, which most commonly results in the ability to see alphabetical letters and/or numbers in color.” He has written several books, including a memoir: Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant (2007). Despite these conditions, he lives an independent life and can explain what is happening inside his head. His website, http://www.danieltammet.net/, describes him as an essayist, poet, novelist and translator. He is available to lecture.
Such are the wonders of the human mind. Certainly autistic savants are one of those wonders: people who are on the autism spectrum, yet display remarkable abilities or skills in one or multiple subjects. This seems like the ultimate contradiction. Maybe someday we’ll be able to understand just how these extraordinary minds work to the benefit of us all.
By the way, one of Daniel’s other books is How to be ‘Normal’ – Notes on the Eccentricities of Modern Life. Perhaps he’s the one who has figured life out.