I have trouble remembering my own telephone number, so feats like this are totally incomprehensible:
When he [Daniel Tammet] gets nervous, he said, he sometimes reverts to a coping strategy he employed as a child: he multiplies two over and over again, each result emitting in his head bright silvery sparks until he is enveloped by fireworks of them. He demonstrated, reciting the numbers to himself, and in a moment had reached 1,048,576 — 2 to the 20th power. He speaks 10 languages, including Lithuanian, Icelandic and Esperanto, and has invented his own language, Mantï. In 2004, he raised money for an epilepsy charity by memorizing and publicly reciting the number pi to 22,514 digits — a new European record. In addition to Asperger’s, he has the rare gift of synesthesia, which allows him to see numbers as having shapes, colors and textures; he also assigns them personalities.
That’s from a charming article in the NY Times today. Tammet is also the author of the surprise bestseller Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant. But I still can’t get over his ability to remember 22,514 sequential digits: such an ability seems to contradict the most basic facts of the human mind, such as our limited ability to process more than 7 (plus or minus two) bits of information at the same time. In addition to his absurd talent for retaining abstract numbers in working memory, Tammet has vivid experiences with these numbers that I can’t even begin to imagine:
The recitation [of pi] took place at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, lasted five hours and nine minutes and was monitored by students from the department of mathematical sciences at Oxford Brookes University. Mr. Tammet made no mistakes.
“I wanted to go as far into the other place as I could go,” he said, speaking of the world of numbers. “Having reached that point, I felt a kind of release because I could look back and in my mind’s eye I could see all the numbers — all 22,000 numbers in my head — and I actually turned around in my head and waved them good-bye, because I knew that I wasn’t going to see them again, I wasn’t going to do something like that again.