Daniel Tammet: Genius with ‘Sage Syndrome’ – Memorizes thousands of numbers but can’t drive

By | May 9, 2023

A mathematical genius with terrible mental abilities and a rare form of autism, he can learn a foreign language in a few days but he can’t use a cell phone or drive, and Daniel Tammet’s story is ripe for a movie script.

Daniel Tammet has been labeled the record holder for memorization, as his brain itself is a marvel and his accomplishments seem almost superhuman.

In 2004, he was awarded the European record for memorizing the number “p”, a mathematical constant defined as the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle while mentally reciting the staggering 22,514-digit number, a process that took five hours and nine minutes.

The man with memory, able to solve the most complex equations in less time than it takes most of us to type the numbers into a calculator, was hailed as a mathematical genius, but the numbers were just the beginning.

In the years since, Daniel, 44, has written nine books, in various genres, and will publish his tenth next year.

His books have been translated into more than 20 languages. His publishers could probably save some money if he did the translation himself, since he speaks 11 languages. One, an Icelander, found out within a week, writes the Daily Mail.

There is richness in diversity

But he points out that despite his achievements he does not feel superior. “No one should feel inferior. I felt inferior for a long time. I couldn’t do anything other kids could do. I couldn’t ride a bike. I was ten years old before I learned to swim, while my brothers knew how to swim at five or six Socially, I was useless. Everyone else had friends. I couldn’t make any friends.”

“I was like, ‘What am I missing? Why can’t I do this?’ To this day, I still can’t drive a car. But at some point in my life, I stopped feeling disadvantaged. However, I never felt superior,” Daniel clarified.

“I’ve gotten to a point where I realize that everyone is so different, and there’s a richness to that.”

The “Rain Man” and the Sage Syndrome

Daniel was diagnosed with autism at the age of 25 and has a rare “condition” called Savant Syndrome or Wise Man Syndrome, in which people with developmental disorders have extraordinary mental ability in a certain area.

The most famous Sawad is a product of the imagination. This is the character played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1988 movie Rain Man, co-starring Tom Cruise.

The character was based on a real person, Kim Peck, whose parents were once advised to commit him to an institution, told that a lobotomy would “cure” his incessant talking and all his idiosyncrasies.

Daniel, whose own parents knew something was “off” when he started banging his head against the wall and spinning around, met Kim in 2004.

He describes the meeting, the first time he met a soul mate who shared his love of books, facts and numbers, as “one of the happiest moments of my life.”

From London to Lithuania and Paris

Although Daniel was born in east London to a working-class family, he now lives in very different surroundings, in Paris with his partner Jerome Tabet, a 43-year-old photographer and artist whom he met while promoting his 2006 autobiography.

At night, he likes to follow the lights of the Eiffel Tower as they radiate predictable patterns on the walls. It may seem strange for someone who needs routine, order and familiarity to settle so far from home, but it has always been that way. When he was 18 years old, he went to Lithuania to study.

“I think there was an element of my illness that made me brave, in a weird way,” she says.

He says that when you never feel comfortable, even in your own head, then home can be anywhere. He laughs at what they thought in Lithuania, where the people he met saw the British character of him before the autistic features of him. “People in Lithuania used to tell me, ‘You’re so different, but you’re British, eccentric.’ It gave me a complete change of perspective, the idea that being on the spectrum is not just purely cognitive but almost cultural.”

“Technically, yes, I am disabled”

He may be a man with a prodigious memory—he doesn’t mind remembering all the passwords that modern life now demands—who can do equations seemingly without thinking and write beautifully elaborate prose (he’s been compared to Hemingway), but he can’t use a mobile phone. phone or drive a car.

“Technically, yes, I’m disabled,” he says, “but do I feel disabled or physically able? There are things I can’t do, things neurotypical people do without thinking.”

You like driving? “Yes. I took the theory test twice and got 100 percent each time, but the practical side was difficult. If I see a detail on a sign it can be distracting, or if the light is coming a certain way it can be distracting. When drive at high speed, this can be dangerous.

Just as I admire how he can multiply 384 by 6,943 (answer: 2,666,112) in his head in seconds, he admires other people’s ability to shift clutches without crashing their car.

“Neurotypical knowledge fascinates me,” he says, lighting it all up while speaking to the Daily Mail. “You can make split-second adjustments without even realizing you’re doing it, and you don’t even recognize it to yourself.”

“I want to fit in as much as possible”

The sad thing is that it took him so long to recognize his more unusual powers in himself. At school, like so many people with neurodivergence, Daniel was a strange kid who behaved strangely.

“For the teachers I was the perfect student,” he says. “But to the other kids I was just weird.” He was always the last to be picked in sports. He was the one with no friends and, no, he wasn’t happy to be in his little world, even if he was a genius world.

“I still want to fit in as much as possible. If someone had asked me as a child: “Do you want to be like the others?” She would immediately answer “Yes”. She wasn’t aware that what she had could be special. It was not a gift. I just didn’t want to feel left out, intimidated for being different.”

Daniel was the oldest of his nine siblings and a very difficult baby who cried incessantly. At the age of three he suffered from seizures (which may be related to autism). In school he just didn’t know how to communicate, which is great given how eloquent and emotionally fluid he is now. “I didn’t know how to talk to other kids. I did not have the language. I remember that we were vaccinated and someone said, obviously joking, that our hands would fall off. I took it literally. I was terrified.”

Following his intellectual triumph and a subsequent documentary on his life, a Los Angeles developer offered him his own television show. He turned it down because he didn’t want to be “an acting seal”.

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