Friday, May 04, 2007

Daniel Tammet

Daniel Tammet is an amazing Briton, for many reasons. He’s a polyglot, having a mastery of several languages. He’s even invented a new one. Furthermore, Tammet can solve even the most complicated mathematical problems.

He’s a high-functioning autistic savant. An epileptic fit, at age three, altered his brain, causing synaesthesia. He can visualize words and numbers. This process allows him to solve complex mathematical problems; despite the fact high-functioning autistics are generally poor at “abstract” thinking.

Neuroscientists are interested in Tammet because he could be the key to unlocking “savant abilities”. It’s even been hypothesized that we all posses such savant potential and that it only takes the right event (i.e. brain alteration from an epileptic fit) to actualize them.

When I first heard of Tammet (I was casually searching through Wikipedia articles to find his) I wondered if he held any implications for the philosophy of mind. He does.

Tammet shows us that Qualia (“subjective experiences” like colour) do serve a function, hence aren’t epiphenomenal. This is so because, if it weren’t for his “qualitative experiences” of numbers, he couldn’t perform the calculations he does.

That's quite interesting. I knew nothing of savants until recently, then I learned what Rain Man was all about!
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