The true inbuilt potential of human memory can be seen in any mentathlete. Never mind synaesthesia. Tammet's feats are nothing special in the world of memory, see the following:
(Original post by Oldboy5745)
I find that synaesthesia definitely gave me a slight advantage in terms of an inbuilt memory device and mental calculator. The true potential of synaesthesia can be seen from the prodigious feats of Daniel Tammet.
When it comes to numbers and letters though, I don't associate them with colours or textures, but rather attribute a distinct personality to each number. I'm not sure if that qualifies as synaesthesia but pretty much every number up to 1000 has a distinct personality and after that it gets a bit hazy, with the numbers taking on a mix of characteristics from their components. The single digit numbers have the more vivid and complex personalities of course, with 5 being humble, trustworthy and simple-minded, 6 is sly abnd yet beautiful, 8 is plain and jealous of 6, 9 is tall, silent, shy and in love with 8, etc... It even works in reverse sometimes, to the extent that I associate people with a particular number.
Whether or not Tammet is a true synaesthete is up for debate, he may have it. Or he may be lying, but Josh Foer writes of 3 separate meetings he had with Tammet where he asked him to describe the same number each time, and each of Tammet's answers were different.
I believe that Daniel Tammet is nothing but a liar and a fraud. In the world of mnemonics, Tammet's achievements are not spectacular and are actually incredibly mediocre for a trained mnemonists - probably one of the reasons he denies it.
The following quotes come from Daniel Tammet's website (in 2001), which he has now deleted a long time ago. But shards of it still remain. The following quotes come from here.
Tammet denies ever having any mnemonic training, he claims his gifts are entirely natural and began when he had seizures as a child. He also achieved B's in his A-Levels in French and German, pretty rubbish for someone with a supposed 'natural memory' so powerful he can master Icelandic in a week, dontcha think?
My own interest in memory and conversely Memory sport was sparked by my casual acquaintance with a children’s book on broad memory concepts for better exam performance at the age of 15. The following year I passed my GCSEs with some of the year’s best results and subsequently performed well at A-level, mastering French and German along the way with the help of these tried-and-tested techniques.
Despite his defiance that he never studied mnemonics, despite him showing a clear interest in memory sport and technique. He competed in the World Memory Championship in 1999, placing 12th, and then again in 2000, placing 4th.
Further contradiction to the idea of Tammet being a prodigious savant right there.
Thereafter, my obsession with the sport grew, and following months of strenuous training and hard work I climbed into the World’s Top-5 rated Memory sportsmen. My performance at the 2000 World Memory Championships earned me a discipline gold medal and two more event medals, the highlight of one performance being where I bested the World Champion’s time by a fraction of a second, with the successful memorisation and subsequent perfect recall of an entire shuffled deck of cards in a time of 1 minute 11.69 seconds. In another round, I achieved a new personal best memorising 1,460 digits backwards and forwards in 1 hour, one of the largest amounts of digits ever memorised within that time frame in the Championship’s history.
Not only that, but on his website it says he taught English in Scandinavia for a while. Some definitions of Scandinavia include Iceland with our Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish brethren. Some don't. So it's possible that he learned Icelandic during his year there, and the story of "Genius Boy Learns Icelandic in a Week!" is bull****. On top of which, he was able to answer some questions of a host. Not exactly a test of conversationalism, let alone fluency.
His other skills of "quick mental calculation" and "being able to recall what day it was on ANY calendar date" are also achievable through training. On the BBC documentary that made Tammet famous, he multiples 2 three-digit numbers together with ease. He describes what he sees when multiplying numbers as the 2 images those numbers represent fuse together to create the answer, but if you watch, you can see him doodling on the table in the same fashion that a mental athlete would do when performing mental calculations using carefully worked out algorithms. You can see a "mathemagician" perform much more complex calculations than Tammet here (includes the calendar date trick). You can do a bit of googling on the subject, the kind of calculations done is something anyone can learn to do.
Recalling what day it is on a calendar date just requires the following of algorithms, another skill anyone can learn. Especially someone who's been interested in memory sports for 12 years before the documentary was made.
Take the headline in the German magazine der Spiegel saying "British Savant Learns German in a Week". It describes Tammet having learned German in only a week, although having done basic German at school (so much for mastering the language, huh?). But not only that, he's been running an e-learning course, Optimnem, which teaches French and Spanish, which has been running for more than 10 years now! Long before appearances of 'mastering languages' in mere weeks. Here is Tammet advertising his e-learning service back in 2001. I want to draw your attention to this:
He struggled at school, despite having 'mastered' 2 the language of 2/3 of his A Levels? Not only that, I have to reiterate.
He claims his memory is natural. But look at that quote, quite clearly saying he has trained his memory.
People always ask me if I was born with this ability. The short answer is no. I struggled at school the same as everybody else. Over the years I’ve studied a lot and the things that I have learned have literally transformed my way of thinking and increased my mental capabilities dramatically.
Now, there have been numerous studies done on Tammet. Back in 2001 he participated in a study of mnemonists to see what's happening in their brain when they memorise things.
Daniel was found to use his brain the exact same way as the other mnemonists who took part in the study.
Daniel has also agreed to have his brainwaves examined by scientists at the Institute of Neurology in London.
About his savantism being diagnosed, taken from his Wikipedia page:
It wouldn't be hard for Tammet to lie to psychologists, what particularly draws my attention are two things. "mnemonic strategies could also explain savant memory abilities" and of course "Conversely, test results showed his memory for faces appeared to be impaired, and he scored at the level expected of a 6-8 year old child"
In another study, Simon Baron-Cohen and others at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge tested Tammet's abilities in around 2005. He was found to have synaesthesia according to the "Test of Genuineness-Revised" which tests the subjects' consistency in reporting descriptions of their synaesthesia. He performed well on tests of short term memory (with a digit span of 11.5, where 6.5 is typical). Conversely, test results showed his memory for faces appeared to be impaired, and he scored at the level expected of a 6-8 year old child in this task. The authors speculated that Tammet's savant memory could be a result of synaesthesia combined with Asperger syndrome, while noting that mnemonic strategies (such as the method of loci) could also explain savant memory abilities.
Hmm, he struggles to remember faces? Why then is it that he came 1st place in the competition for memorising names-and-faces in the World Memory Championship (I'm not sure if he accomplished this in 1999 or 2000, I think it was 2000), even beating the 8-time world champion, Dominic O'Brien?
Another quote from a 2005 article in The Sun promoting his 2006 documentary:
Note that this 2005 article was written before the "British Genius Learns German in a Week" article.
Daniel speaks French, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, and Esperanto and he remembers the face of every person he has EVER met.
From Joshua Foer's 2011 book, Moonwalking with Einstein, pg. 230:
See his event-winning score here. 108.5 names to a face memorised in 15 minutes.
When Baron-Cohen tested Daniel’s memory for faces, he performed abysmally, leading Baron-Cohen to conclude that “his face memory appears impaired.” That sounds like just the sort of thing a savant might be bad at. And yet when Daniel Corney [Daniel's birth name] competed in the World Memory Championship, he won the gold medal in the names-and-faces event. It just didn’t make sense.
pg. 10 of Baron-Cohen's paper in Science:
One from Tammet in a TV interview in 2007:
Thus, his short-term memory appears normal, his face memory appears impaired, whilst his number memory is superior.
At one time he's saying he can remember everyone's faces, even winning a competition for being the best in the world at it, next he thinks normal people are geniuses 'cause they can remember faces and he can't?
There are many things that I can't do that most people can.... When I look at someone who's hosting a party and they can talk to 100 people and they can remember all their faces, they can do eye contact and communicate flawlessly and fluently I think of them as a genius.
Final point is his memorisation of pi from his 'synaesthesia and savant abilities' and the way the numbers 'intuitively come to him'. He is said to know pi to over 22,000 digits. In the 2006 documentary, it even shows him reciting them at an official reading.
However a quick check of the world records shows that he started making mistakes after the 2964th digit, landing him 36th. You might say that is still impressive, but it is something is easily achievable with mnemonic techniques. You have to understand that that competitors at the World Memory Championships can memorise thousands of random digits in only 1 hour, and they all learned to do it through training. If they can learn that many digits in an hour, beating Daniel's record of 2964 with as much time as they like to prepare would be an easy feat. A quick check of the current world records shows that Wang Feng was able to memorise 2660 random digits in 1 hour at the 2011 World Memory Championship.
2660 digits memorised; one hour. Daniel Tammet's claim to fame? 2964 digits memorised; an entire lifetime to memorise them.
Anyone can learn to do better than what Tammet ever has. He has done nothing but make bucketloads of money from lying to people with all his 'natural genius' hype.
Mythbusting like a pro.
Last edited by Hype en Ecosse; 18-04-2012 at 18:31.