Brain Pickings is one of the most fascinating websites I’ve stumbled upon in a long time – it’s a collection of articles on all sorts of interesting, unusual, mind stimulating subjects. In the words of of Maria Popova, it’s editor, the site is “about curating interestingness — picking culture’s collective brain for tidbits of stuff that inspires, revolutionizes, or simply makes us think. It’s about innovation and authenticity and all those other things that have become fluff phrases but don’t have to be.”
I found her description to be spot on – here you’ll find everything from articles on Arabic Street Art , to a funny, insightful three minute cartoon on Kant’s life and work, to the coolest BBC short films on Earth’s secrets to, and here’s where I’d like to stop for a bit, stories of amazing people – people like Daniel Tammet.
Daniel is a so called “autistic savant”, a person with an unusual propensity for numbers – which, to him, are like intimate friends – unlike people, with whom he finds it more difficult to relate.
What makes Daniel exceptional however is not his unbelievable ability to make huge calculations in his head, nor his prodigious memory, nor his almost surreal ability to learn foreign languages (he learned Icelandic in one week!!!!), not even his synesthesia, that makes him experience sounds as colors and numbers as distinct shapes in his head. What makes him truly exceptional is his ability to analyze and speak about his inner world – something that turns him into a treasure for science.
Daniel’s autism is not as debilitating as that of other people with similar extraordinary capacities (but, sadly, with equally debilitating disabilities), such as Kim Peek, the autistic savant who inspired the famous movie “Rain Man”, featuring Dustin Hoffman.
Peek was perhaps the most famous case of this kind in the world – he died at 58, after a life of disability (he couldn’t button his shirt, nor operate a light switch) and brilliancy (he had one of the most prodigious memories in the world, being able to recount historical facts, figures, dates and countless other information. He practically remembered everything he read (and was able to read at a blinding speed of 10-15 seconds/page, using his eyes to cover two pages simultaneously).
However, as amazing as Kim Peek has been, there is one thing he could never offer science – that is an recount of his experience as a “savant”. His autism prevented him from communicating properly, so the unbelievable capacity of his brain remained a secret as yet unexplained.
Here is where Daniel Tammet’s uniqueness lies – his mild autism allows him to communicate normally and coherently, to relate to other people and to have a very clear insight into his own mind’s experiences, which he is more than glad to share with the world. He wrote two books so far – “Born on a Blue Day” (a personal autobiography) and “Embracing the Wide Sky” (a recount of the lessons his own experience holds for normal people like us, an attempt to teach “normal” people how to make more of their own amazing brains).
I invite you to watch the wonderful documentary about Daniel – I hope it will make the same deep impression on you that in made on me and make you reflect for a moment on the wonders of the human brain. I truly believe that we all have, to some extent, that sort of amazing capacity hidden deep within us and that it is a shame to go through life without at least attempting to access it.
I wish you an inspiring mind journey and look forward to your thoughts on Daniel’s story and how it connects with your own.