Daniel Tammet

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2 October, 2011 - 13:38
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I've been looking into Tammet's claims of being able to do mental calculations. I'd always assumed that, just in the way that he had trained himself to be extremely good at memory techniques, he'd also trained himself to be very good at mental arithmetic - he certainly looks good on the Brainman documentary. This is the conclusion that Joshua Foer comes to as well. But now I'm not so sure. In fact, I think it's quite possible that he can't do ANY complex mental arithmetic at all, and has simply memorised the answers to a small number of problems.

If we look at the calculations he does in the Brainman documentary, and describes in his book, they all fall into three groups:
a) Simple multiplications with only a few digits, like 51 * 131. These are so simple that they require no further explanation - anyone can learn to do them (mental calculations of this level of complexity are routinely taught at school in many countries).
b) Power multiplications, like 37 * 37 * 37 * 37. These are not especially hard to do with lots of training (for a sceptical expert view of how the pros do this stuff, see here http://infopractical.livejournal.com/77298.html ). However, I'm not even sure he has even done that much training. When you look at the number of questions he might be asked, it's entirely plausible that he's simply learned EVERY ANSWER, up to, say, 50 to the power of 6 (we never see him answer a larger number than that). That's the equivalent of learning a few hundred phone numbers, which is entirely possible for someone with his level of memory training (it would involve far fewer total digits to memorise than his Pi memorisation).
c) There's one more calculation he demonstrates on Brainman, which is dividing 13 by 97. There is a specific algorithm for dividing by 97 that makes it easy to reel off the digits, with training and practice. However, there is evidence which suggests he's not even used the simple algorithm. An excellent debunking here (http://myreckonings.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/LightningCalculator...) uses some detective work to suggest that Tammet has in fact memorised the 96 digits of 1/97. The digits of 13/97 are the same as the digits of 1/97, just starting in a different place; what gives him away is that he hesitates and loses his place at exactly the point that the digit sequence cycles back to the beginning.

In summary, the evidence suggests that all of the complex calculations that Tammet has demonstrated in the documentary or mentioned in his books can be explained by memorisation alone, with little or no actual calculations.

I would be interested if anyone has seen any evidence of him having tackled harder problems which could not have been memorised, which would suggest that he had developed at least some mental calculation skills beyond memorisation.

If this conclusion is correct, I would note that it wouldn't necessarily mean that Tammet has not been telling the truth - in his books, he does not explicitly claim to be able to solve a wide variety of problems (although it's presented in a way that hints at it). But it would cast doubt on the objectivity of the makers of the Brainman documentary. The evidence suggests that Tammet had demonstrated the ability to solve only a very small number of problems, but the documentary makers present him in a way that would lead just about every viewer to think that he could solve lots of complex problems, not just reel off answers from a small menu of memorised items.

2 October, 2011 - 18:06
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Thanks for the interesting links. I'm going to watch the documentary again and keep an eye out for the pause...

2 October, 2011 - 20:46
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Hi Josh, I'm rewatching it too. The narrator keeps talking about how unusual Daniel is as if he's special when actually it's because he is faking. The doctor says a diagnosis of P-S can't be made because of Tammet's social skills, the synesthete says that his synthesias is different because it is concrete shapes. And they just repeat Tammet's claims as if they were true. The only comment about his childhood was that his mom said he cried a lot up to age two! And that as a toddler he was soothed by rhythmic movement (just as any baby is). That's a very weak documentary unless it left out all the actual "proof". When he memorizes the pieces on the chessboard he actually tells the truth. He said he experienced the piece as numbers and the numbers as imagery which would describe having a system of numbers for the grid and images for the grid journey. While the random placement of the pieces on the board wouldn't hinder Daniel at all, it hampered the chessplayers who usually remember pieces through placement of natural moves and score average on randomly placed ones. It was a bit sacrilegious to present him as an equal to Kim Peek.

2 October, 2011 - 22:56
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The thing I find most astonishing about the claim that Tammet has memorised the digits for division by 97 is that it is so easy to work out the digits even without memorising.

Here's the digits for 1/97= 0.0103092783505154639175257731958762886597938144329896907216494845360824742268041237113402061855670 (recurring)

The pattern is to separate the digits into pairs; they multiply by 3 each time, so 01, 03, 09, 27...

It gets slightly more complicated now - you need to add 1 if the digits are from 33 to 66, or add 2 if above 66. So after 27 comes 27 * 3 + 2 = 83.

If you get to above 100, you just disregard the hundreds digit and apply the same rule, so 83 * 3 = 249. Disregard the hundreds to give 49. Add 1 because we are between 33 and 66. That gives 50.

Now repeat.

To do 13/97 like Tammet did, do exactly the same thing as for 1/97, except the first two digits are 13 instead of 01. Now you too can do the calculation that Tammet did, just as quickly.

So it's very easy to give these digits. The link above (http://myreckonings.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/LightningCalculator...) suggests that Tammet didn't do it this way and just memorised the digit sequence. Either way, his performance is very easily explained. Indeed, even doing it using full long division as taught at school isn't too hard. The presentation on the Brainman documentary (look, he can do more digits than a computer! it's amazing!) is fundamentally misleading.

3 October, 2011 - 11:12
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I curious: is Daniel Tammet mentioned in any neuroscience or psychology textbooks?

3 October, 2011 - 21:30
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3 October, 2011 - 22:22
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Tomasyi wrote:

This is weird:

Strange... is there any background info available?
1995?

4 October, 2011 - 01:46
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um...total WTF

4 October, 2011 - 15:18
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Josh Cohen wrote:

Strange... is there any background info available? 1995?

I can find absolutely no background info. I found this searching for "Tammet" on YouTube.

It's interesting that his distinctive voice and mannerisms are very recognisable.

4 October, 2011 - 16:57
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Maybe this video is from back in his psychic days.

4 October, 2011 - 17:36
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Daniel Tammet invents his own Siwu ideophone — The Ideophone
http://ideophone.org/daniel-tammet-siwu-pambalaa/

Tammet wrote,"1. Does the adjective 'pambalaa' in the Siwu language of Africa describe (a) a round, fat person or (b) an angular, thin person?"

Mark Dingemanse writes, "Now here's the funny thing: there is no Siwu word pambalaa. The word just doesn't exist."

Drip. Drip. Drip.

6 October, 2011 - 19:47
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Here is another article about Daniel Tammet from yesterday:
http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2011/10/three-quotes-about-famous...

6 October, 2011 - 22:01
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Has anyone read this study in detail?
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13554790701844945

It's USD $34, so I'm wondering if it's interesting enough to buy.

Here is another article from 2005:

Modest Daniel is one of only 50 such prodigies in the world. He shrugged: "I can't explain why I can do these things - it's natural for me. I grew up assuming everyone could 'see' numbers and words the way I do and was surprised when they thought I was odd."

Interesting:

HE remembers the face of every person he has EVER met.

7 October, 2011 - 09:46
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Thanks for the articles Josh.

I've been thinking a lot about how Tammet could have fooled the researchers. One researcher says that Tammet remembered the number 810 as a particular shape. So my first thought was that he had memorized shapes for 1000 numbers which is quite doable. Then I realized that he only had to remember the shapes for digits that he had already been asked about. The first time he said the shape he could make it up. Then he could remember what he had chosen and repeat that. So he might only have to know a few dozen shapes. That's why he told Foer that he preferred lab experiments instead of free form casual testing.

I'd like to see a side by side MRI of Pridmore and Tammet doing the same activities.

7 October, 2011 - 10:32
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It's true synaesthesia is a documented phenomena but it isn't clear that it has been shown to be a functional way to do mathematics. Do those shapes interact and give answers?

It's amazing to me that people like Treffert say that Daniel Tammet sees in a certain way as if it were fact, when it is entirely self-reported by Daniel Tammet.

7 October, 2011 - 14:12
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Josh Cohen wrote:

Has anyone read this study in detail?
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13554790701844945

It's USD $34, so I'm wondering if it's interesting enough to buy.

I've read this one - it's the one I by Billington, Bor and Baron-Cohen that I referred to in an earlier post, and that I criticised heavily. Highlights:
- It reports on a scan of Tammet's brain when he is remembering numbers. It finds that he does not activate the brain areas normally associated with synaesthesia; instead, the brain areas associated with trained, expert memories are activated. As Joshua Foer notes, rather than considering the obvious conclusion that he might not actually have synaesthesia after all, the authors speculate that he has a special form of synaesthesia (never before seen, as far as I can make out) that activates his brain in a different way. Hmmmm.
- The authors state he hasn't had memory training - presenting no evidence. Ironically, they unknowingly cite a paper which studied several memorisers - including Tammet - which stated that all of the subjects had studied memory techniques.

7 October, 2011 - 19:32
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Tomasyi wrote:

It finds that he does not activate the brain areas normally associated with synaesthesia; instead, the brain areas associated with trained, expert memories are activated. . . . The authors state he hasn't had memory training - presenting no evidence. Ironically, they unknowingly cite a paper which studied several memorisers - including Tammet - which stated that all of the subjects had studied memory techniques.

Thanks... That is what I'm looking for.

9 October, 2011 - 10:19
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Josh Cohen wrote:

I curious: is Daniel Tammet mentioned in any neuroscience or psychology textbooks?

I've found one or two mentions of him, in textbooks on autism ("The autism spectrum in the 21st century"), and ("The Cambridge handbook of intelligence"), where he is repeatedly cited as an example of an autistic savant.

31 October, 2011 - 20:01
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Here are two discussions on Reddit about Tammet:

From 1 day ago:
http://www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/luax7/til_that_autistic_d...

From 1 month ago:
http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/kp0s3/iama_request_daniel_tammet_t...

Some of the comments are interesting.

2 November, 2011 - 23:18
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Sorry to keep reviving this thread, but I just saw another analysis that was published a few days ago:
http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/2011/10/key-to-understanding-dani...

Daniel Tammet is "case study" number 5 at this website of a US marketing and promotions company: [kbcmedia.com] According to the KBC Media website, Daniel contacted them in the year 2001 to "help bring his knowledge and skills to the world". I think it is no coincidence that 2001 is also reportedly the year that Daniel changed his surname from Corney to Tammet (Foer 2011 p.219).

. . . one of the Associate Producers of the [BrainMan] documentary was Karen Ammond from KBC Media, which is the PR firm that Daniel approached and engaged in 2001, three years before the Brainman documentary was made.

I think it's worth reading the comments, since some of them question some of the conclusions:

I would be cautious about the hypothesis that Corney's name change to Tammet was part of a careful deceptive plan. Looking at the timeline of events:
- In early 2001, he was already using the name Tammet at [danieltammet.com], in which he was claiming to have a trained memory rather than savant abilities
- The new passport (seen in the documentary) was issued in April 2002. But later than this, in August 2002, he made this internet post (http://tech.dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/wwbc/message/12452), saying things like "Mentathletes are *sportspeople*, who practise, exercise, train and emobdy the common virtues of discipline, dedication and commitment.", with no suggestions of savant abilities.

There are some more posts here:
http://incorrectpleasures.blogspot.com/search/label/Daniel%20Tammet

EDIT: I attached a screenshot of the PR company's website that says that Tammet contacted Karen Ammond from the PR company in 2001, and that later she was one of the Associate Producers of the Brainman documentary.

23 November, 2011 - 03:54
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The author Daniel Tammet speaks about a photo exhibition of his number shapes, and his ideas on synaesthesia, savants, Oliver Sacks, thinking intuitively, chess, language, neuroplasticity and learning.

23 November, 2011 - 03:55
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9 December, 2011 - 05:44
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Scary, and kind of sad if this is all true.

28 December, 2011 - 04:07
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There were some insulting comments posted here that attacked forum users without addressing any specific points. I decided to go ahead and delete the post and the replies because it was just disruptive and didn't address a single specific point.

The user is now banned. If people are worried that I deleted information in some kind of "coverup", just send me a message and I'll provide you with the full text that was in the posts. It was basically along the lines of: you are all just sorry, jealous 'geek' wannabe's [sic] and fake 'Amazing Randis' who need a life. :)

People are welcome to register for the forum and post opposing viewpoints, but it should focus on the arguments being discussed -- no hysterical shouting.

28 December, 2011 - 04:08
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Sorry Spenen, I deleted her post and the replies right before you posted. :(

Your reply was well said though. I will leave it.

One other reason why I deleted her posts is that a quick Google search on her username seems to indicate that she doesn't have the two PhDs claimed, and it's going to be a permanent record of that.

I think the outburst was uncalled for, but I don't want to see someone, who doesn't seem to understand how the Internet works in that regard, shoot herself in the foot like that.

28 December, 2011 - 04:13
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b******, juding by your agressive tone you seem to have a very strong connection to this issue. Argumenting on the the internet works in the same way as in real life: if you scream all the time none will listen.

Try puting your intense feelings aside and make some objective claims on why this image of Daniel is wrong. Try making it in bullet form and put forward arguments why our arguments are wrong. If they are incorrect I think everybody in here are willing to change opinion. But none of us will do that just because you are trying to intimidate us and clame authority over us, that has the opposite effect.

None of us are jealous. I think I speak for everybody in here when I say that Daniel is a very gifted person. What we are questioning is if he really is a savant. If you check a snapshopt of his own homepage (http://web.archive.org/web/20010509154357/http://www.danieltammet.com/ab...) you can see that he doesn't mention anything about him being a savant. He clearly states that he uses ordinary memory techniques to achieve his goals. And the fact that there are hundreds of non-savant people who perform better than him in his best disciplins (memorizing numbers, mental calculation etc) makes one wonder if he really is that savant.

And the conclusion is: if he is not a savant and instead have trained his memory (like many of us here at this forum) that means he is a big fraud.

So I'll make it easy for you. If you disprove the following claims and give a more sound explaination at least I will change opinion of Dainel. And we don't care if you have a degree in astro physics, education or are Professor Balthazar himself, so spare us the "argument from authority" reasoning.

* If there are hundreds of non-savant persons that are more skilled than you in a particular subject you cannot be called a savant. You may memorize using synthesia, drugs or making links to different races of cats, but that alone doesn't make you a savant, just "special".

* Daniel didn't mention anything about him being a savant on his previous web site. He stated that he learned memory techniques and used those "tried-and-tested techniques".

So please be objective and put forward arguments to why those arguments are faulty. Personal attacks will not make us doubt the arguments. Proof will.

28 December, 2011 - 04:17
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No worries Josh :)

28 December, 2011 - 07:44
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Good move, Josh.

28 December, 2011 - 08:24
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sorry i have another thought too add. But the funny thing is that even on this very forum there are normal people who have better times than Daniel had in the world championship in the card memorizing.

28 December, 2011 - 08:25
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I looked it up to check for that possibility, and it appeared to be someone else (USA).

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