Beautiful Mind

Saturday Stories
January 12, 2019


The poet E.E. Cummings once wrote: "The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else." There is a great sense of freedom in being authentic, in accepting who you are. I think life is too short and too precious for pretensions. So I accept that I enjoy (and prefer) being alone most of the time. Some people may use words such as "loner" or "antisocial," but those are their labels, not mine. I like my fellowmen (in a general sort way), but I need solitude more than most people, and I'm fine with that. I'd rather be alone than to be with those whose idea of friendship is gossip, or whose idea of fun is making fun of others.


I'm even more inspired to be myself because of Daniel Tammet, a soft-spoken young man from England, when I read his memoir Born On A Blue Day. Daniel has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism which makes it difficult for him to socially interact with people. Some of the other signs are the desire for routine, attention to detail and a heightened ability to focus. He also suffered severe epileptic seizures as a child, yet he was not afraid nor embarrassed to admit them, and I respect him for that. He has another rare condition called synaesthesia which made him perceive numbers and letters in a more intuitive and multi-sensory way, with colors and tones and texture.


This extremely rare combination of synaesthesia and Asperger's seems to have caused another rare condition called Savant Syndrome. In simple terms, Daniel can be a bit socially awkward and obsessive compulsive, but he is also a genius – in a profoundly gifted way. Once he was asked to divide 13 by 97, and in less than a minute, he gave the answer by up to 100 decimal places. A computer was needed to check his answer because even a calculator cannot, and Daniel was correct. He speaks ten languages, and he has appeared in a live talk show in Iceland speaking fluent Icelandic, one of the most complex languages in the world, which he has learned in just a week.


Daniel is unique even among geniuses. He is very articulate, and can say what is going on in his mind when he calculates complex mathematical equations. I first saw him on YouTube last year in an episode of David Lettermen's show. He was promoting Brainman, a 2005 documentary about how science is trying to unlock the secrets of superior mental abilities. In 2004, he raised money for an epilepsy charity by reciting the value of pi, the infinite decimal that express the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, by up to 22,514 digits – 3.14159265358979 ... ad infinitum. His work with scientists and his non-fiction books are revolutionizing the fields of neuroscience and brain research. Daniel is sharing his gifts to make this world a better place, and, for me, that is true genius.

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