02/03/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Hodder & Stoughton. 294 page indexed small hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-340-96132-2.
check out website: www.hodder.co.uk
Author Daniel Tammet is a mathematical and word savant. Numbers to him are a thing of beauty to be savoured for their patterns and how he can reel off things like pi to 22,514 digits from memory or learn a foreign language in a couple days.
He makes a strong case that not all savant minds are autistic and as I haven't seen the film 'Rain Man' definitely haven't been influenced by such images myself. Certainly, Tammet doesn't have any kind of problems with putting his case over in this book.
'Embracing The Wide Sky' is more a look inside Daniel Tammet's own mind from his perspective of how he does such things as well as matching up to tests that show how the lesser mortals amongst us are fixated at a particular level. Although I'm not at savant level, I can see where he comes from when it comes to my own little gift of pattern recognition and problem solving in that it isn't your conscious mind that does the hard work but your unconscious mind processes.
One example he didn't cover is if you get stuck in a su-doku game, if you go and do something else like a crossword and then go back to it, you suddenly finish it off in no time flat. Well, at least I do. You might want to try the same. It'll prove the point of how much you can do on automatic.
The savant ability is more having that channel open all the time. Tammet's technique for learning foreign languages is a good technique. Rather than learn individual words, he learns from comparable sentences to what he might want to ask in English and builds his grammar and vocabulary out from that. His trick to remembering the words is finding their pattern and similarity creating a memory link that re-enforces the memory. Presumably he works from tapes of the language or pronunciation might be a problem. Although I doubt if many of you could learn as fast as he does, his approach is certainly sensible and anyone in that situation would gain insight from how he does it.
He gives a clear look at how scientists see the brain and how it employs memory. There are also clear indications that many of our most smartest people also had some level of savant ability combined with single-mindedness to work it all out.
The book is littered with simple tests that you can try on yourself to see how your mind acts. I found this book stimulating, insightful and intelligent. It might not gain you to many advantages but you might also come away with a better understanding of how you own mind works so you can let it do its work for you which can't be a bad thing.
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