Tammet speaking in 2016 (MontrÃ©al)
|Born||Daniel Paul Corney
31 January 1979
How any person decides to emphasize strengths and mitigate weaknesses is something people have to figure out for themselves. I'm wary of the self-help literature that suggests there are certain rules. I'm very happy for people to look at my story and say it's possible to achieve many things.
I feel traveling certainly does broaden the mind. In my case certainly I feel more confident. It gives you a new perspective on the world.
We will always have more to discover, more to invent, more to understand and that's much closer to art and literature than any science.
Life is going to be complex, and the only way we're able navigate our way through it at all is by living as best we can and absorbing those experiences and somehow making intuitive responses in future situations that resemble them in some way.
I would play with numbers in a way that other kids would play with their friends.
From 'Embracing the Wide Sky', I went to the States, to Canada and to different parts of Europe as well. I gave interviews in several languages.
I found maths very easy, but I still enjoyed discovering things. You have to have the necessary information. For example, what's the difference between the mean and the median? Probability fascinated me. You have to think very carefully about things, which is the way my mind works anyway.
I'm not sure I'm the only savant with high IQ or with an above average IQ. Again, it may just be that we don't know very many of the others.
Six is the hardest number for me to experience, the smallest. It's the absence of something – it's cold, dark, almost like a black hole. If someone tells me they are depressed, I might imagine myself in the hole of a six to help me empathise.
37 is a lumpy number, a bit like porridge. Six is very small and dark and cold, and whenever I was little trying to understand what sadness is I would imagine myself inside a number six and having that experience of cold and darkness. Similarly, number four is a shy number.
Even the greatest mathematicians, the ones that we would put into our mythology of great mathematicians, had to do a great deal of leg work in order to get to the solution in the end.
Logic obviously is important. You need to be able to figure things out, to go to the end of a particular problem. But intuition is very important because it references things that logic alone cannot.
Reading and discovering fiction has taught me how to empathise, understand falling in love and all those complex relationships that people have to deal with.
I was incredibly lucky that my first book found a large and loyal readership. It changed my life – from being a very withdrawn adult to living in Paris as a full-time writer. It has also given me enormous confidence.
I have never played the lottery in my life and never will. Voltaire described lotteries as a tax on stupidity. More specifically, I think, on innumeracy.
There is no such thing as an average person. They really are guidelines for people to grapple with the unknown, and we can always surprise expectations.
Fischer, the great American chess champion, famously said, 'Chess is life.' I would say, 'Pi is life.'
I know from my own experience that there is much more to 'intelligence' than an IQ number. In fact, I hesitate to believe that any system could really reflect the complexity and uniqueness of one person's mind, or meaningfully describe the nature of his or her potential.
What I do find surprising is that other people do not think in the same way. I find it hard to imagine a world where numbers and words are not how I experience them!
Every culture has contributed to maths just as it has contributed to literature. It's a universal language; numbers belong to everyone.
I think if I ever stopped pushing myself, I would revert quickly to quite repetitive, restrictive behaviour. But in pushing myself and concentrating on what I can do, I think I can contribute to society. And that gives me the desire to keep pushing, to see what I'm capable of. The thing to do is not to stop.
I do read a lot, and I think in recent years the ratio between the amount of non-fiction and fiction has tipped quite considerably. I did read fiction as a teenager as well, mostly because I was forced to read fiction, of course, to go through high school.
Aesthetics – rather than reason – shapes our thought processes. First comes aesthetics, then logic. 'Thinking in Numbers' is not about an attempt to impress the reader but to include the reader, draw the reader in, by explaining my experiences – the beauty I feel in a prime number, for example.
In my mind, numbers and words are far more than squiggles of ink on a page. They have form, color, texture and so on. They come alive to me, which is why as a young child I thought of them as my 'friends.'
I'm very comfortable with the idea of there being late bloomers, and for me, of course, there's no difficulty at all in the way that I think of talent and achievement and so on.
One of the lines from my books is about having respect for different minds, and if I had to have an epitaph at this point in my life, that would be it.
There are estimated to be fewer that 50 prodigious savants worldwide. If we were brought together, it would be disappointing in the sense of us having different abilities. One thing that would make me feel united with them would be the sense of us having grown up in isolation.
Squaring numbers is a symmetrical process that I like very much. And when I divide one number by another, say, 13 divided by 97, I see a spiral rotating downwards in larger and larger loops that seem to warp and curve. The shapes coalesce into the right number. I never write anything down.
I certainly have routines in my day-to-day life that are important to me and still give me feelings of security and control, but the capacity to break out of them every so often as I travel has given me a second wind.
Someone who copies a Van Gogh does not therefore become Van Gogh, and the same would go for Mozart or anyone else who contributed something that was original. Certainly in the way that I described visualizing numbers in abstract, meaningful shapes.
Of course creativity is a mystery. We don't know what drives it or what constitutes it. It's one of those things, like genius, you know it when you see it but it's impossible to define.
My autism is a very mild form. It was diagnosed at the age of 25, partly because it wasn't diagnosable as a teenager (this is Asperger's syndrome, specifically). But there were certainly traits within that condition, within the autism spectrum in general, especially at the high functioning end, that I think are best looked at as pluses.
My family supported me. I wasn't hot-housed at all as a young child; I didn't go to any kind of gifted school. They didn't exist in the very poor parts of England when I grew up in the 1980s. I had a great time to learn, had access to libraries and teachers who were patient and enthusiastic when I showed ability in some subjects.
I recited Pi to 22,514 decimal points in five hours and nine minutes. I was able to do this because of weeks of study, aided by the unusual synaesthesic way my mind perceives numbers as complex multidimensional coloured and textured shapes.
I can well imagine that certain writers, even writers that we'd consider today very great writers, may not necessarily have tested highly on IQ just because of their numerical skills, or maybe they may not be very good at memory, and are not particularly good at these kinds of tests.
When I achieved the European record for reciting pi in 2004, this captured the imagination of Professor Simon Baron-Cohen in Cambridge, and he finally diagnosed me with Asperger's that year.
My first memory – at about four – was of numbers. The doctors who study me think a combination of mild autism and seizures I had when I was three have made me experience numbers the way I do.
My mother is not a model. She is not perfect. That awareness is part of learning to love someone. Predicting the actions of someone is an act of love. We persist, even when we get it wrong. That's the beauty of love.
Retaining a sense of control is really important. I like to do things in my own time, and in my own style, so an office with targets and bureaucracy just wouldn't work.
When I multiply numbers together, I see two shapes. The image starts to change and evolve, and a third shape emerges. That's the answer. It's mental imagery. It's like maths without having to think.
If when we are taught English we are just taught the rules of grammar, it would take all our love of our language away from us. What makes us love a subject like English is when we learn all these fantastic stories. Feeding the imagination is what makes a subject come alive.
Our thoughts and our feelings, of course, are not wholly objective, they're inherently subjective. And that's the danger, and I think as long as we're aware of it and can push back against it, I don't think that these two views are necessarily incompatible.
There is this mythology that says that when people are born, their brains are essentially fixed very early on and they're not able to change their connections. I was aware that was a myth and that people could learn new skills.
I consider social skills a bit like learning a language. I've been practising it for so long over so many years I've almost lost my accent.
When things don't come so naturally to you, you want to persevere, you want to keep pushing yourself to overcome obstacles that prevent you from having the kind of life that you want to have.
There are always things I find difficult – being in crowds, remembering faces. I do like routines. I always travel with someone. My life in Avignon is a very quiet one. I have an apartment that looks over the whole city. I can drop into town, but a lot of the time I write from home. In some respects I still live a very quiet, simple life.
The way that I approached numbers, think about them, the same as for language as well-acquiring vocabulary, understanding the grammar, the structures of languages, the rhythm, the music and so-on – these things obviously evolved.
I did have a very restricted, regimented life. There was a kind of happiness there, a contentment, but it was a small happiness within very clear and delineated borders.
Growing up, I would have to watch the other children and learn from my mistakes. I would have to push myself to overcome the things most people don't have to think about. Brushing my teeth was very difficult because of the noise of the brush.
Working with the doctors is a fascinating two-way process. I am interested in what they suggest about why I'm the way I am. But if they could make me 'normal', I wouldn't want that. I've been like this for so long, it's what makes me .
Often autism is portrayed in the media as a very negative condition, as something that prevents somebody from communicating or from socializing or from being able to have any kind of normal, happy life.
I was desperate for a friend, and I used to lie in bed at night thinking about what it would be like. My younger brothers and sisters had friends, and I used to watch them playing to try to work out what they did and how friendship worked.
I've got a quiet voice. I think it's because as a child I didn't speak very much. I used to put my fingers in my ears to feel the silence, which was like a lovely trickling motion in my head.
It was hard for me to find my voice because I was, for so long, absorbed in my own world.
I love music. I have a fondness for Chopin, and I very much like his 'Raindrop Prelude.'
It was a gradual process, realising I was different. I remember at primary school getting a worksheet with sums printed on it. I thought that they must have run out of the right colour inks and sizes for the numbers, because they were all the same, which isn't how I experienced numbers at all. To me, nine is big and blue.