Saturday, March 10, 2012

Who is TM?

Who is the man with the superior memory ability who was studied by memory researchers in the UK, and was given the anonymous clinical name TM, and was described in the authoritative book Superior Memory by Wilding and Valentine, and was one of the ten superior memorizers studied in the 2002 Routes to Remembering study by Maguire, Valentine, Wilding and Kapur which was published in Nature Neuroscience? Is TM in fact the taxi driver Tom Morton who was reported by BBC News in 1998 to have made some impressive but unsuccessful attempts at the British record for memorizing Pi?

Why do I think TM is Tom Morton? Take a look at the description of TM's life story on page 107 of the book which was published in 1997. It mentions TM's mnemonist stage show in which he recalls phone numbers from the Blackpool telephone directory. On page 106 taxi driving is listed as one of the jobs TM has done. In the 1996 French documentary titled Tom, an Amazing Memory a taxi driver named Tom has reportedly "learned the Blackpool telephone directory" and is memorizing the number Pi. The BBC News reported in 1998 that a taxi driver named Tom Morton had made some unsuccessful attempts at the Pi record. There is a thread of similarities running through these descriptions, enough for me to conclude that TM is Tom Morton.

If TM from the Routes to Remembering study is indeed Tom Morton, there are then double the reasons why the researchers who did that study need to give an explanation covering the many questions and inconsistencies regarding that study. I have already noted at this blog the apparent inconsistency between Daniel Tammet's self-reported IQ score of 150 and a quote from the study about the group of study participants which included Tammet: "The superior memorizers were not exceptional in their performance on tests of general cognitive ability..." Now there is also another apparently conflicting account of the cognitive ability of a person who appears to have been another study participant. BBC News has reported "Mr Morton boasts an IQ of 145". How can this report be reconciled with the reported lack of measured general cognitive exceptionality of the superior memorizers in the study, if Morton is indeed the TM who participated in this study? Something doesn't add up here. Please Explain!

In a previous post at this blog I have already noted the many interesting similarities between taxi driver Tom Morton's reported outstanding memory and calculating abilities and performances, and his reported IQ score, and those of Daniel Tammet. Are Morton and Tammet genuinely similar neurotypes, or has Tammet stolen Morton's persona for the purposes of creating an entertaining life story and a lucrative career?


Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. (1997) Superior memory. Psychology Press, 1997.
[a lengthy description of TM on pages 106-113...]

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
[TM was was one of the two superior memorizers studied who was not from the World Memory Championship, out of a total of ten superior memorizers studied. According to info about Daniel 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 eight World Memory Championship (WMC) competitors studied by UK researchers including one from the Institute of Neurology in London. Tammet may have then been known to the researchers by his original surname of Corney.]

[Basic details at a documentary website of a French documentary produced in 1996 about a taxi driver named Tom who "learned the Blackpool telephone directory by heart" and was attempting to memorize the number Pi.]

Memory man left Pi and dry.
BBC News. March 8, 1998
[About taxi driver Tom Morton with amazing mental abilities and his attempts to memorize Pi. Includes audio of an interview with Morton.]

Wilding, John M. and Valentine, Elizabeth R. (1994) Mnemonic wizardry with the telephone directory – But stories are another story. British Journal of Psychology. Volume 85 Issue 4 November 1994 p.501-509. DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8295.1994.tb02537.x
EBSCOHost Accession Number 9501113342
[about TM]

Parry, Simon (1995) 'When I recite some of these numbers, it hurts'. Independent. October 2nd 1995.

Memory man on TV-am - 1992. YouTube. Uploaded by TVamArchive on Oct 16th 2008.
[Tom Morton is interviewed and tested on TV]

The Amazing Human Telephone Directory. YouTube. Uploaded by bedsandbellies on Jun 11, 2008.

Pi World Record Contender. YouTube. Uploaded by bedsandbellies on Jun 11, 2008.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting - I'll see if I can get a copy of "Superior Memory".

I wouldn't read too much into the inconsistency with the high IQ scores. In most bookstores, right alongside the books on "how to improve your memory" are the books on "how to succeed at IQ tests". Anyone can improve an IQ test score by practicing the tests - indeed you get a small gain just from taking similar tests a couple of times.

More dedicated training (eg studying sample IQ test problems for hours every day for weeks) will give greater gains and distort the IQ test results further. That's not normally too big a problem for IQ tests, because not many people are the sort of people who would practice monotonous study material for hundreds of hours in an effort to convince the world that they are clever. But Daniel Tammet and Tom Morton are exactly that type of person - and they both were making a living on claiming to be clever.

For that reason, I consider the standardised testing in "routes for remembering" to be much more convincing than Tammet and Morten's self reported scores (which furthermore might well be the best of many attempts at the tests).

Mr Anon