Friday, February 10, 2012

Interesting forum discussions about Daniel Tammet

Language Learning Forum - Language Savants. - Daniel Tammet.

FACTS: Forum for Active Critical Thinking and Skepticism - Daniel Tammet - The Boy With the Incredible Brain.


The author said...

So you have found these discussions at last. I have known that Tammet has been criticised from the perspective that he is a professional Mnemonist for some time, but then I would know these things wouldn't I? Black belt in google fu :) There are (or were) also revealing posts from Tammet himself regarding his approach to the Pi competition.

For what it is worth the classic study of Shereshevsky, by A R Luria, which I am sure you are familiar with, as Shereshevsky is a surefire candidate for autism hein, shows that Shereshevsky too, was a professional mnemonist. It really stands to reason that you can't sort one out from the other when it comes to natural talent and aquired skill. If you have certain skills, it pays to work on them career wise, better to do what you are good at after all. Isn't that what musicians do, start out with talent and then work on it?

Nobody is ever quite what they seem to be, after all where are the 39 steps: Albert Memorial in London, Big Ben or some obscure riverside wharfe? I dunno can't remember.

Even that renowned linguist of the 19th Century George Borrow, borrowed from continental variants of the Romany language in compiling his dictionary that would have been somewhat incomprehensible to the British Romany contingent. All linguists know that of course don't they? just as every schoolboy knows that Gaul is divided into three parts :)

The discussions are there if you know where to find them. I don't know whether it was something in Cheltenham waters, or the educational system for the upper classes in 19th century Britain, but there were some remarkable linguist/explorers, including Richard Burton, translator of the Karma Sutra and collector of pornography, and Fred Burnaby, the one who got it in the neck when the gatling jammed, you know the one, breathless hush in the close tonight etc ....

Any other memes for the taking?

Lili Marlene said...

Back to the comments in a moment or two - kid hungry.

Lili Marlene said...

Re Tammet posting about his approach to the Pi thing (it was more a record attempt than a competition, but I guess that is competitive), I'd love to know at what forum this might have been posted. I have been able to find a quote from Tammet repeated in a number of media interviews in which he explained how he LEARNED the number over a few weeks, which seems more like memory training than mysterious savant mathematical insight. At least one huge fan of Tammet's appeared to be let down when he learned that Tammet doesn't have a natural ability to calculate Pi mentally. See my post dated Dec 2nd about Tammet:

Lili Marlene said...

Re Shereshevskii (that's how I spell it - every academic in the US adopts their own unique spelling of his name for reasons unknown), yes it is true that he has been identified by someone as possibly an autist - Lorna Wing and also some French journal paper author, and thus he is included in my big list.

I'd love to have the time to re-read Luria's book. I have had the time to critique one claim about S that has been made and widely believed based on that book:
I think S was an interesting case, but also consider that Luria's work has been vastly over-rated. It has been criticised by some for ignoring the importance of S's use of mnemonic techniques, mirroring the Tammet controversy. No one appears to have explored the possible influence of anti-Semitism on S's life, his social persona and the way he has been treated and described. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it is my understanding that Russia has a long history of anti-Semitism. If S was a bit of a social outsider, could this be why? Was Luria also Jewish, or was ethnicity a thing they did not share? It also annoys me that so many half-arsed ditzy commentators who reference Luria's case study fail to mention that S was married with kids, and did hold down a range of quite interesting jobs. He is othen described second-hand as barely functional in society, which simply is not true.

Did you know that S wasn't included in the Wikipedia's article on famous synaesthetes till I put him there? Some appear to regard S as a blot on the landscape of famous synaesthete role models.

Lili Marlene said...

"If you have certain skills, it pays to work on them career wise, better to do what you are good at after all."

THat is a very sound approach, and it also echoes a theory about the Flynn Effect that I think is endorsed by Prof Flynn. IQs are rising because ppl are building on their natural intellectual talents using modern education systems.

I've dicussed in blog comment discussions with Mr Anon the idea that autists and/or synaesthetes might go into training as menmonists to build on natural talents. Mr Anon seems to know a fair bit about memory comps, and he doesn't seem to think there's much evidence of this, but I think he's just as curious about the question as I am.

Lili Marlene said...

Can Tammet be described as a linquist or even compared with them? Has he studied linguistics at uni? Has he published any serious works on the subject as in dictionaries or journal papers? He has it appears made up a bogus foreign word and discussed it as though it is a real word:
Not very scholarly!

The author said...

If you want to read about how case studies have been exaggerated, distorted, and cherry picked in the support of the construction of various syndromes, I recommend Howard Kushners "A cursing Brain". Although that is about Tourette's you may find many parallels to that, to the history of autism. I guess historically it is hard now, to put Shereshevsky (I spell phonetically, no expert on Cyrillic I'm afraid) into the context of his times.

The definition of a savant that I go with is a familiar one of someone who can achieve a high degree of skill in some task without consciously having learned that or being aware of the processes, but it does not stop learning on top of that. Stephen Wiltshire, has been to art school for instance, but that does not diminish his phenomenal memory any.

I agree that there is something "fishy" about Tammet, but if someone wishes to become a showman, well they do what showmen have always done. WRT Tammet and Pi, if I recall what I read it was someone else reposting in a forum, what Tammet had originally posted (under his original surname), and I've not been able to regooglitate it. Incidentally are you aware that Virginia Woolf was a Synaesthete.

Lili Marlene said...

Woolf a synaesthete? I've just Googled up Richard Cytowic's recent article about her. If he says so, that has weight for sure. Another one for my list! Many thanks for the tip! It would be nice of some sane synaesthetes could be discovered, but thanks anyway. Any aditional info about V. Woolfe's synaesthesia would be welcomed.

That book about Tourette's - I think I've read parts of it. I recall it being a very large and smart piece of writing.

Re defining savantism - when you've got Treffert as the world authority on the subject, it's hard to take the whole thing seriously. One thing that I've noticed though, is that very superior perception seems to be the basis of most types, from which skills grow.

Best of luck with your regoogilation efforts. It sounds interesting.

The author said...

It is a problem when there is only one recognised authority on the Savant phenomenon, it suggests that it is an under researched area. I am not sure who is really responsible for the whole equation of autism = savant though, but the media has much to answer for. Perhaps it only goes back to the Rain Man, a movie that did have a sub agenda of it's own given the input of Bernie Rimland as an advisor. Then there is also the whole notion of mystic innocence and magic powers of autistic people, the indigo child thing that Jenny McCarthy bought into before she got into autism speaks and all that.

There are no 'magic' Touretters out there that I am aware of, so why autism?

It has led to all sorts of unfortunate exchanges whereby you are confronted with some absurd challenge to multiply huge numbers or calculate some date when you let it slip you are autistic. I am not sure where I read it, but in one account (it might have been Peter Howson) that the guy admitted whenever he was challenged to do that he would make up an answer, no-one would know the difference. Jerry Newport on the other hand is the real McCoy, though I am not sure whether I ought to challenge him with something nasty I came up with which results in 500 digit solutions. (for which there are not many resources to calculate out there on the internet, but they do exist)

I would love to have met Kim Peek and set him a few challenges. I have been trying to use google to confirm a quotation which I believe to have been from Lewis Mumford, trouble is every time I google I just come back to my own over confident quote. Google is way imperfect and if Kim Peek had read Mumford, Pevsner and the other likely suspects and he were still alive for me to ask him I could be more confident :)

I wouldn't be half so confident about asking Daniel Tammet about the 39 steps however. Buchan does give an explanation, but Mr Memory in the Hitchcock version was an invention.