Daniel Tammet has savant syndrome. He can recite the numbers of Pi to over 22,500 decimal places. He can learn a new language in a week. He also has Asperger’s – a particularly high functioning form of Asperger’s which allows him to communicate and interact socially, though it is difficult for him to do so at times. Lastly, he has synesthesia, a condition of the nervous system that causes cross-sensory perception. In his case, he sees numbers in color, size, shape, motion, texture, and more. This book is his memoir and a record of how he came from being an awkward, lonely child to an independent functioning adult.
I heard about this book years ago because of Tammet’s synesthesia. I have synesthesia myself, though my kind is far more common than his. They say about 20-25% of the population has it. I have color-grapheme synesthesia, which means that I see numbers and letters in color. I also sometimes periodically see music and people in color as well. The color patterns on numbers and letters have been there ever since I learned my ABCs and 123s. They are unchanging and automatic. They aren’t associative (meaning I don’t picture a specific color because of a specific item – like some people will associate the color red for A because in grade school A always has a red apple next to it). Ask me any word, and I’ll tell you what color it is. It’s a completely automatic response. 🙂
I didn’t know I had synesthesia until a few years ago. I knew I saw things in color (as did my brother and one of my sisters) and that others didn’t, but I thought it was something I could teach them. I was never embarrassed by it as other people with synesthesia say they are. I talked about it with anyone who would listen. My sister and I used to lay in bed at night and argue over what colors each of the letters were. We had very different alphabets. A few years back, an ex-boyfriend and I met up via MySpace, and he told me he’d learned about synesthesia in school. He remembered me trying to teach him to see in color. I was so excited to learn about this neurological condition! I’ve been soaking up books and information ever since. I could go on for pages and pages about my synesthetic experiences and about synesthesia in general, so I’m going to try to reign myself in here and just say that it was my interest in the subject that first led me to Mr. Tammet.
This book was so wonderful to read. At first it was hard – in the very first paragraph, Tammet describes 9s as blue, which is SO WRONG in my head. He kept talking about the various colors he sees things in, and it was jarring because my colors are so different from his. I had a hard time imagining it – my own colors kept interfering. Fortunately, and in some ways unfortunately, he didn’t spend a lot of time on the color portions of his synesthesia. The book turned out to be much more about Asperger’s and savant syndrome, which isn’t what I expected, but I nevertheless enjoyed.
I don’t know why, but I felt an automatic kinship for Tammet. Maybe it’s because his birthday and mine are both made up of a bunch of primes: his is 1/31/1979 – mine is 3/1/1979. Maybe it’s because he was born exactly 29 days before me (also a prime, for those who would notice). Maybe it’s because I was also a very socially awkward child and used some of the same coping techniques that he did. Not that I have a brain anywhere near as impressive as his, nor do I have the same social issues to the same degree as him. I am a mere fraction both ways. But I could see. I could feel what he was saying, and he just had so many interesting things to teach me! And not just about the way the brain works, but about the ability of people to overcome obstacles. Despite his difficulty connecting to people on an emotional level, Tammet found love with his then-partner, Neil. He began a web business that helped him earn an independent living. He learned to travel all over the world despite his anxiety. He can look people in the eye when he talks to them. He has overcome.
Tammet has his own Wikipedia page, where I found out that he has two other books published. One concentrates on savant syndrome, the other on his conversion from atheism to Christianity.
I really enjoyed this book. If you do read it, make sure to keep in mind the way that Tammet thinks and connects to the world. It’s very logical and factual rather than emotional, and often goes off on mini-tangents. Because I’m sort of a split-personality on the way I connect with things – sometimes in logical, cold ways and sometimes intensely emotional, but never both at the same time – I was able to read this and relate to it, but some might have trouble with the way he writes. I think it’s worth the read, though.