Saturday, March 10, 2012

There WAS a synaesthete in the Routes to Remembering study!

I am so embarrassed!
I do apologize to my readers. I've read the Routes to Remembering study by Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapur. I've also had a good look a the book Superior Memory by Wilding and Valentine at a local academic library (can you believe that my local state public library network doesn't stock this important book in any public or state library?). Both the study and the book are old, so there's been plenty of opportunity for anyone interested in the scientific study of superior memory performance to have studied these important documents backwards and forwards and upside down. I had read about the case of superior memory described in the book Superior Memory who was given the anonymous clinical name "TM" in the book, and had noted that he is clearly a synaesthete, is an unusual man, reminds me a bit of myself, and was compared with the famous synaesthete mnemonist Solomon Shereshevskii by the book's authors. I'm not sure from the limited book preview available at Google Books whether the authors identified TM as a synaesthete. I'm quite sure that I had photocopied some of this book and made notes, but I now can't find them. I have quite a collection of photocopies of interesting things that I would like to write about, but don't have the time to. This is only a hobby of mine.

So, I had noted with interest the characteristics of TM when I read the book, but I can't figure out why I didn't check the mention of TM as one of the two individuals (TE and TM) with superior memory who were previously studied by the study authors, who were included along with the World Memory Championship participants as study subjects in the Routes to Remembering study. TE and TM are both in the book and also in the study.

So, the way that many commentators have interpreted the Routes to Remembering study is that it shows that people with superior memory are like that due to training, not due to any inborn peculiarity or mental gift. But we know that there is for sure at least one superior memorizer in that study who is a synaesthete and also a psychologically unusual person, based on the description in the book by those same authors. There is also another superior memorizer in that study in the WMC participants group who later came out to the world with claims that he is a very interesting case of synaesthesia, and was later given a clinical diagnosis of Asperger syndrome and was also declared a case of savant syndrome. His name is Daniel Tammet. He is very famous these days. Oh yes, they are just regular guys who trained their memories!

There do seem to be plenty of reasons to believe that Daniel Tammet is not the person he claims to be. Many people believe that he is more of an impostor than the autistic synaesthete savant that he and others claim him to be. Given the fact that Daniel has been a co-participant in a study along with the study subject TM, who is/was a genuine synaesthete and something of a social outsider with superior memory ability, which the book authors admit could have been natural in origin, I've got to wonder whether "DT" is like an impostor of "TM".

There's another puzzling aspect of the Routes to Remembering study. Daniel Tammet competed in the WMC in 1999 and 2000 under his original surname of Corney. The WMC records are consistent with this being true. I think it was Joshua Foer in his book Moonwalking With Einstein who identified 2001 as the year in which Daniel changed his surname to Tammet from Corney. There is ample evidence that this name change was legal and not merely informal. The Routes to Remembering study was first published online on December 16th 2002. Daniel was selected as a subject in that study because he had been a successful WMC competitor, so presumably the study researchers knew Daniel by the surname Corney. But if the study was conducted in 2002, which seems probable, this would have been after Daniel's legal name change. So I wonder by what name did the researchers know Daniel, and if they knew about the name change, did they think it eroded Daniel's credibility?

Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. (1997) Superior memory. Psychology Press, 1997.
[see page 106...]

Maguire, Eleanor A., Valentine, Elizabeth R., Wilding, John M. & Kapur, Narinder (2002-3) Routes to remembering: the brains behind superior memory. Nature Neuroscience. Volume 6 Number 1 January 2003 p.90-95.
Published online: 16 December 2002 doi:10.1038/nn988
[According to info about Tammet in an article by Dr. D. Treffert published at the website of the Wisconsin Medical Society and also info that was published in 2004 at the website of the National Society for Epilepsy in the UK, Tammet was one of the World Memory Championship (WMC) competitors studied in this study by UK researchers including one researcher from the Institute of Neurology in London. Tammet competed and did very well in the WMC in 1999 and 2000, before he changed his surname in 2001 (Foer 2011), so his records for the WMC are under the name "Daniel Corney". A quote from pages 90-91 of the "Routes to remembering" study: "The superior memorizers were not exceptional in their performance on tests of general cognitive ability..." This includes Tammet. In his 2009 book Tammet claimed to have an IQ of 150. It is hard to imagine how an individual capable on attaining an IQ score of 150 could have gone unnoticed in this study of only ten superior memorizers and ten matched normal controls.]

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