Morley Safer, on the television program 60 minutes, met savant Daniel Tammet, who is called ‘Brain Man’ in Britain. Unlike most savants, he has no obvious mental disability and, most important to scientists, he can describe his own thought process. He may very well be a scientific Rosetta stone — a key to understanding the brain.
In March 2004, Daniel set a European record when he recited the famous mathematical constant Pi from memory to 22,514 decimal places in a time of 5 hours. He has been extensively studied by scientists at California’s Center for Brain Studies and at the Cambridge Autism Research Centre UK.
“So when I see a long sequence, I see numbers in my head as colors and shapes and textures. The sequence forms landscapes in my mind,” Tammet explains. “Every number up to 10,000, I can visualize in this way, has its own color, has its own shape, has its own texture.”
For example, when Daniel says he sees Pi, he does those instant computations. He is not calculating, but says the answer simply appears to him as a landscape of colorful shapes. “The shapes aren’t static. They’re full of color. They’re full of texture. In a sense, they’re full of life,” he says. Asked if they’re beautiful, Tammet says, “Not all of them. Some of them are ugly. 289 is an ugly number. I don’t like it very much. Whereas 333, for example, is beautiful to me. It’s round. It’s…” “Chubby,” Safer remarks. ‘It’s—yes. It’s chubby,’ Tammet agrees.