What practical uses can be garnered from studying a genius such as Daniel Tammet? The answer may be "very little", or perhaps we just don't know yet. What I do know is that Daniel Tammet is absolutely fascinating. Imagine being able to recite Pi to 22,514 digits! This is what Daniel did in 2004, sitting in front of three invigilators for over five hours reciting digit after digit without error. His story is told in a documentary entitled "The Boy With The Incredible Brain". Daniel is doubly unique in that not only is he an autistic savant, but he also is a very-high functioning autistic individual. Being high-functioning allows Daniel to share how he thinks and how his brain processes numbers. It is the way in which he processes numbers which I found so fascinating in the documentary. For example, he can perform very large number multiplications without using any traditional mathematical technique. He visualizes them as shapes and when one number interacts (i.e. multiplies) with another number, he visualizes two shapes and the gap in between forms a new shape and a new number. Perhaps further studies of Daniel's brain functioning will allow us unlock greater potential in ourselves and students.
One thing I have taken away from Daniel is his view on intelligence. In an interview with Scientific American, he says "I know from my own experience that there is much more to “intelligence” than an IQ number. In fact, I hesitate to believe that any system could really reflect the complexity and uniqueness of one person’s mind, or meaningfully describe the nature of his or her potential". He goes on to say "Even if we cannot measure and assign precise values to it in any “scientific” way, I do very much think that “intelligence” exists and that it varies in the actions of each person. The concept is a useful and important one, for scientists and educators alike. My objection is to thinking that any ‘test’ of a person’s intelligence is up to the task. Rather we should focus on ensuring that the fundamentals (literacy, etc.) are well taught, and that each child’s diverse talents are encouraged and nourished". It is this last sentence that struck a chord with me. As a math teachers, we surely want to ensure the math fundamentals are learned by our students, but as educators we should also strive to develop each students' own individual talents.