where biography meets neuroscience, where biography meets nonsense
I would be cautious about the hypothesis that Corney's name change to Tammet was part of a careful deceptive plan. Looking at the timeline of events:- In early 2001, he was already using the name Tammet at www.danieltammet.com, in which he was claiming to have a trained memory rather than savant abilities- The new passport (seen in the documentary) was issued in April 2002. But later than this, in August 2002, he made this internet post (http://tech.dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/wwbc/message/12452), saying things like "Mentathletes are *sportspeople*, who practise, exercise, train andemobdy the common virtues of discipline, dedication and commitment.", with no suggestions of savant abilities.So he doesn't have a consistent "savant" persona until well after the name change The first mentions of the word "savant" that I have found come with the launch of his optimnem website in October 2002.The name change does help Tammet to cover up his history as a memory competitor, but I think the facts suggest that as being something that was convenient, rather than being a careful plan hatched at the outset.I think the real "planning" probably came later, when in 12 months from March 2004 he went from unknown to having featured in a documentary, landing a book deal, and appearing on the David Letterman show - a fast pace of events that does suggest some behind the scenes work from his publicist to move things along.Mr Anon
"like a computer hacker whose unauthorized activities serve the function of hightlighting security flaws within established computer systems, the Daniel Tammet story has showed-up some very weak elements in the world of neuropsychological research."This is perhaps the most important point from the whole Daniel Tammet saga - it casts great doubt over the way that science is conducted in this area.I've been rereading some stuff on Kim Peek which on first reading I had accepted unquestioningly. But looking again at some of the more extreme claims about him (such as having memorise 12,000 books, or having the ability to read two pages simultaneously, one with the left eye, and one with the right), there is a conspicuous lack of citations to proper peer reviewed science. As far as I can tell, the support for many of the claims about Kim Peek, unquestioningly repeated in the press and scientific publications, come down to: - Kim Peek's dad says... or - A documentary says... or - Darold Treffert says...The Daniel Tammet story should be enough to teach us that these kind of sources are nowhere near good enough to support these kind of claims. I think it's time for the scientific community to reevaluate the consensus not just on Tammet, but also on other "prodigious savants" with reportedly superhuman abilities.Mr Anon
I've been looking over the early timeline of Tammet again. While I haven't seen any evidence of him using the word "Savant" until the launch of the Optimnem website in October 2002, there are some earlier stories that hint at the savant story, by saying that he "sees numbers in his head" and attributing his powers to epilepsy. These are from April 2002: 1) http://internettrash.com/news/getarticle.shtml?/news/2002/04/08/item4.html2) http://www.abc.net.au/rn/breakfast/stories/2002/532271.htmThe fact that this was picked up by Australian radio suggests the possible involvement of a publicist - it's not obvious how he would have found his way onto Australian radio at this time in his career. (It would be interesting to find out what the radio programme said!).Also very interesting in the first link is this sentence "Now, Tammet is coming to America to show off his unusual skill and is counting on landing a book deal so he can share his math calculating tips.". A trip to America also hints at the involvement of the US publicist Karen Ammond. It appears that this trip did not actually happen until 2004, as shown in the Brainman documentary. This supports the hypothesis that at least a broad plan was conceived a long time in advance. It's still important to note that his "savant" story does not appear to have been put forward consistently until at least a few months after this early press coverage.Mr Anon
It is a bit of a puzzle why Tammet was on Australian radio, as Breakfast is a news type show, not particularly about memory or science or psychology. Generally people are on it when they have a book to promote, or pollies promoting themselves. The idea of suddenly acquiring special powers following epilepsy does appear to be one of the earliest improbable claims by Tammet. Perhaps he got the idea from reading questionable stuff about synaesthesia, which can rarely be acquired following brain trauma, but I would confidently say the vast majority of synaesthetes are genetic and date back to early childhood and are not the result of epilepsy or brain damage. Tammet or his PR person could have been influenced by reading the book The Man Who Tasted Shapes by Richard Cytowic, a popular book about synaesthesia, and/or the book Seized by Eve LaPlante, about temporal lobe epilepsy. This is all interesting stuff. I wish I didn't have 101 other things that need my attention in my offline world!
"The man who tasted shapes" is a book that might well have influenced Tammet. For example, Tammet's illustration for his synaesthetic representations of digits (above the chapter headings in Born on a Blue Day) are similar in style to the "Form constants" illustrated in figures 7 and 8 of The Man who Tasted Shapes (page 123 in my copy of the book).Mr Anon
"I would be cautious about the hypothesis that Corney's name change to Tammet was part of a careful deceptive plan. Looking at the timeline of events..."Well, why do you think he approached KBC Media in 2001? Their version of events makes it appear that a plan was formulated early on. If they started with a non-deceptive plan to market Tammet as a memory expert, then surely they would have put his 1999 and 2000 WMC achievements to good use in promotions, but they do not appear to have done this. You will notice that the Radio National summary of their interview with Tammet does not mention the WMC, but it does mention epilepsy and it does compare Tammet with the mathematician John Nash, who has been diagnosed with schizoprenia, and has also been identified as autistic by one author. Tammet claimed in his second book to have a schizophrenic father and an epileptic paternal grandfather, and it was odd that schizophrenia wasn't explicitly mentioned in his first book, but some vague malady that didn't really fit any criteria for schizophrenia was describled in his father in Tammet's first book. The idea of brain pathology was a feature of the Tammet mythology from early on, and there is so much inconsistency in his own accounts and there is just too much pathology in his story for it to ring true as one coherent story.It's frustrating that we can't access a recording of the April 2002 interview on Aussie radio, because I'd love to confirm for sure that the WMC wasn't mentioned.
Just off to get a coffee before reaching over to my bookshelf. Anyone who pretends to be a synaesthete based on what they've read in Cytowic's book is taking a risk, because our knowledge of synaesthesia has moved on quite a lot since that book came out.
""The man who tasted shapes" is a book that might well have influenced Tammet. For example, Tammet's illustration for his synaesthetic representations of digits (above the chapter headings in Born on a Blue Day) are similar in style to the "Form constants" illustrated in figures 7 and 8 of The Man who Tasted Shapes (page 123 in my copy of the book)."Those form constants in Figure 8 are actually stuff seen under the influence of cocaine, a subject that I don't know anything about!As a synaesthete who has experienced many different types of synaesthesia including colours and visual forms, I can say that neither the form constants in Cytowic's book nor the squiggles in Tammet's first book have much resonance or familiarity to me. My own synaesthesia experiences disprove (to me) Cytowic's assertion that synaesthesia visuals are like form constants and are not like pictures or real life scenes. As a case study of synaesthesia I think I'm on safe ground asserting that his case is unlike any other described in the world of synaesthesia research and shared anecdotes. I was only ever willing to entertain the idea that his descriptions of his synaesthesia experiences were true on the assumption that his was an extreme case at the end of some type of spectrum. And there are some pretty extreme cases of synaesthesia, people whose experiences interfere with their normal perception (mine never do).
"If they started with a non-deceptive plan to market Tammet as a memory expert, then surely they would have put his 1999 and 2000 WMC achievements to good use in promotions, but they do not appear to have done this."Tammet's memory championship performances were not mentioned in Brainman and Born on a Blue Day, but they were hardly a secret either. Tammet's kept the following text on his own website, optimnem.co.uk, right up to the summer of 2006 (around the time that "Born on a Blue Day" came out):"As an example, following an invitation from organisers, Daniel attended the largest ever 'Memory Olympics' in London in 2000. He won a gold medal and was subsequently invited to London's Institute of Neurology to undergo tests for a landmark study of prodigious mental ability."http://web.archive.org/web/20060617022443/http://optimnem.co.uk/Intro.htmThis text was also quoted on Treffert's website. Treffert, Baron-Cohen and others missed Tammet's memory performances when writing up on Tammet, but that's not because Tammet had erased evidence of this through the name change - the evidence was always there, on Tammet's website, if they had only looked for it.Mr Anon
The way it's described is rather opaque and also not inconsistent with the savant scenario. There's no mention of 1999. The proper name of the event isn't given, so unless you know what "Memory Olympics" refers to you couldn't confidently identify the event given that info, and unless you knew that Tammet had a name change, and knew what his old name was, you'd never identify a record of his WMC record, beacuse that is under Corney, not Tammet. "....a landmark study of prodigious mental ability...." This is a misrepresentation of that study. I doubt it could be described as a landmark. The same team of researchers had already studied WMC participants. This can be found in the book Superior Memory. A study of prodigies? No. The word prodigious implies that the subjects were intellectual freaks of nature who showed talent at an early age. Nothing of a sort was found. I think Tammet was counting on the laziness of everyone to keep his past obscured. We was a good judge of human nature.
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