Different ways of knowing | Daniel Tammet


I’m a savant, or more precisely, a high-functioning autistic savant. It’s a rare condition. And rarer still when accompanied, as in my case, by self-awareness and a mastery of language. Very often when I meet someone and they learn this about me, there’s a certain kind of awkwardness. I can see it in their eyes. They want to ask me something. And in the end, quite often, the urge is stronger than they are and they blurt it out: “If I give you my date of birth, can you tell me what day of the week I was born on?” (Laughter) Or they mention cube roots or ask me to recite a long number or long text. I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t perform a kind of one-man savant show for you today. I’m going to talk instead about something far more interesting than dates of birth or cube roots — a little deeper and a lot closer, to my mind, than work. I want to talk to you briefly about perception. When he was writing the plays and the short stories that would make his name, Anton Chekhov kept a notebook in which he noted down his observations of the world around him — little details that other people seem to miss. Every time I read Chekhov and his unique vision of human life, I’m reminded of why I too became a writer. In my books, I explore the nature of perception and how different kinds of perceiving create different kinds of knowing and understanding. Here are three questions drawn from my work. Rather than try to figure them out, I’m going to ask you to consider for a moment the intuitions and the gut instincts that are going through your head and your heart as you look at them. For example, the calculation: can you feel where on the number line the solution is likely to fall? Or look at the foreign word and the sounds: can you get a sense of the range of meanings that it’s pointing you towards? And in terms of the line of poetry, why does the poet use the word hare rather than rabbit? I’m asking you to do this because I believe our personal perceptions, you see, are at the heart of how we acquire knowledge. Aesthetic judgments, rather than abstract reasoning, guide and shape the process by which we all come to know what we know. I’m an extreme example of this. My worlds of words and numbers blur with color, emotion and personality. As Juan said, it’s the condition that scientists call synesthesia, an unusual cross-talk between the senses. Here are the numbers one to 12 as I see them — every number with its own shape and character. One is a flash of white light. Six is a tiny and very sad black hole. The sketches are in black and white here, but in my mind they have colors. Three is green. Four is blue. Five is yellow. I paint as well. And here is one of my paintings. It’s a multiplication of two prime numbers. Three-dimensional shapes and the space they create in the middle creates a new shape, the answer to the sum. What about bigger numbers? Well you can’t get much bigger than Pi, the mathematical constant. It’s an infinite number — literally goes on forever. In this painting that I made of the first 20 decimals of Pi, I take the colors and the emotions and the textures and I pull them all together into a kind of rolling numerical landscape. But it’s not only numbers that I see in colors. Words too, for me, have colors and emotions and textures. And this is an opening phrase from the novel “Lolita.” And Nabokov was himself synesthetic. And you can see here how my perception of the sound L helps the alliteration to jump right out. Another example: a little bit more mathematical. And I wonder if some of you will notice the construction of the sentence from “The Great Gatsby.” There is a procession of syllables — wheat, one; prairies, two; lost Swede towns, three — one, two, three. And this effect is very pleasant on the mind, and it helps the sentence to feel right. Let’s go back to the questions I posed you a moment ago. 64 multiplied by 75. If some of you play chess, you’ll know that 64 is a square number, and that’s why chessboards, eight by eight, have 64 squares. So that gives us a form that we can picture, that we can perceive. What about 75? Well if 100, if we think of 100 as being like a square, 75 would look like this. So what we need to do now is put those two pictures together in our mind — something like this. 64 becomes 6,400. And in the right-hand corner, you don’t have to calculate anything. Four across, four up and down — it’s 16. So what the sum is actually asking you to do is 16, 16, 16. That’s a lot easier than the way that the school taught you to do math, I’m sure. It’s 16, 16, 16, 48, 4,800 — 4,800, the answer to the sum. Easy when you know how. (Laughter) The second question was an Icelandic word. I’m assuming there are not many people here who speak Icelandic. So let me narrow the choices down to two. Hnugginn: is it a happy word, or a sad word? What do you say? Okay. Some people say it’s happy. Most people, a majority of people, say sad. And it actually means sad. (Laughter) Why do, statistically, a majority of people say that a word is sad, in this case, heavy in other cases? In my theory, language evolves in such a way that sounds match, correspond with, the subjective, with the personal, intuitive experience of the listener. Let’s have a look at the third question. It’s a line from a poem by John Keats. Words, like numbers, express fundamental relationships between objects and events and forces that constitute our world. It stands to reason that we, existing in this world, should in the course of our lives absorb intuitively those relationships. And poets, like other artists, play with those intuitive understandings. In the case of hare, it’s an ambiguous sound in English. It can also mean the fibers that grow from a head. And if we think of that — let me put the picture up — the fibers represent vulnerability. They yield to the slightest movement or motion or emotion. So what you have is an atmosphere of vulnerability and tension. The hare itself, the animal — not a cat, not a dog, a hare — why a hare? Because think of the picture — not the word, the picture. The overlong ears, the overlarge feet, helps us to picture, to feel intuitively, what it means to limp and to tremble. So in these few minutes, I hope I’ve been able to share a little bit of my vision of things and to show you that words can have colors and emotions, numbers, shapes and personalities. The world is richer, vaster than it too often seems to be. I hope that I’ve given you the desire to learn to see the world with new eyes. Thank you. (Applause)

100 Comments

  1. skyout

    July 27, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    i know how to say "toaster" in 7 languages therefore i speak 7 languages

  2. Evan Bunch

    July 31, 2017 at 4:22 am

    I wonder what it would be like to be high with this guy. He'll love those colors

  3. బొక్కిసం Bokkesam बोक्किसम ボッキサムకిరణ్కుమార్ Kiran किरण キラン

    August 6, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Just kind of nailed it in the end.

  4. Daren Willcock

    September 12, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Bullshitter

  5. Voddgreen

    September 17, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    So cool. I think of a serious version of "Ali G" (Sacha Baron Cohen) when hearing and seeing him for some reason, haha.

  6. Michael Marshall

    September 18, 2017 at 11:13 am

    I've learned nothing… :-/

  7. John Walsh

    September 19, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    Nice chap. Britain cherishes eccentrics.

  8. Aston M.

    September 21, 2017 at 9:32 am

    This is not a math genius, he just knows how to memorize things extremely well. When I heard of him the first time, I assumed he actually calculated 22.5k digits of pi, but he just memorized them. Disappointing.

  9. Keith Knott II

    October 11, 2017 at 6:39 am

    why doesn't this fellow write the book of Pi? or part of the story…perhaps as far as 22514 digits…

  10. Robbiec52

    October 14, 2017 at 3:30 am

    Faker. Read moonwalking with einstein to find out why. Hes using stanard techniques with memory and maths.

  11. Jeannie Devereaux

    October 22, 2017 at 6:45 am

    Thank you, this is a wonderful presentation

  12. Furkan Çekiç

    October 24, 2017 at 4:21 pm

    I believe that he is on the right way. Better perception, better creatures…

  13. v1m30

    October 26, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    Much easier when you know the difference between sum and multiplication.

  14. sam333

    November 4, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    strange he says he sees numbers like colours i see musical notes like colours and memorise music for piano easily almost like a photograph

  15. Ariadne

    November 13, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    I just found out I have synesthesia too, only it has never helped me with calculations, it's actually kind of distracting like when an answer to a math question is really ugly I really don't want to do another one so usually I just give up because I can't focus anymore…

  16. FiliZ Karatepe

    November 15, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Türkçeleştirir mi birisi ne diyor?

  17. gamingradeon

    November 16, 2017 at 10:06 am

    young lawrence krauss

  18. Suzette Wright

    December 10, 2017 at 12:19 am

    When I listen to BACH I see and feel numbers.

  19. PlanetRockJesus

    December 12, 2017 at 6:28 am

    And he's humble enough to believe in the one and only true God of the Bible.
    http://optimnemblog.blogspot.com/2006/08/on-being-christian.html

  20. Ignatius

    December 16, 2017 at 3:46 am

    This guy is a complete fraud. Read Foer's "Moonwalking with Einstein." He basically gets exposed through some basic tests. He's a professional mnemonist.

  21. Hugh Jones

    December 18, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    This is great. He has great perception. Thanks for sharing.

  22. 22KPAR1X Cyberdyne

    December 23, 2017 at 4:44 am

    4444vividbLueDiamond

  23. I DeathSinger I

    December 30, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    This seems pretty much useless in the real world.

    Deep thought and pure detached intellectualism.

  24. Paul T

    January 15, 2018 at 6:10 am

    Wonder if he would like to go Las Vegas?

  25. obewise

    January 18, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    I watched a documentary about Daniel years ago and I can say this about him. Though his math and language skills truly are remarkable, his most remarkable accomplishment, in my opinion, is how he has learned to overcome his aversion to human interaction. It used to be that he barely looked at you while speaking and certainly would never have stood in front of a group to lecture.
    He was born with his abilities to do math and learn languages…that required little to no effort on his part. However, he has put tremendous effort into being able to relate to others as any ordinary person can to the point that you would never know that he used to struggle with it.
    Working with gifts that we were born with is easy. Overcoming stumbling blocks that we were born with and turning them into strengths…that is the true accomplishment.
    Good Job, Daniel.

  26. Robert James

    January 22, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    Help if anyone knows! Thing with 64 * 75 is that it's very obvious that 64 is a square number and that 75 could equate to 75% of anything so visualising 3 quarters of a simple square works perfectly. How would this be useful if it was say 79*85? Surely then this fitting shapes into other shapes is rendered useless/pointlessly difficult? Or am I missing something? Same point being if for eg. he sees 5 meaning blue and 7 meaning green, by multiplying 5 by 7 how does he compute remember a colour for 35?? Or indeed say 4*12*39 – how does this work with colours or not at all?

  27. Mohan Parameswaran

    January 24, 2018 at 12:51 am

    what kind of strategies does a professional gambler use to become one?
    do they have to be savanths?

  28. RODRIGO LARA

    February 3, 2018 at 2:35 am

    He is hot

  29. Stephen Rodgers

    February 3, 2018 at 7:56 am

    This is literally me when I smoke weed xD lol

  30. TodayI Teach

    February 4, 2018 at 8:59 pm

    I believe the Icelandic word's heaviness didn't resonate with the audience because they're American and it has the word 'hug' in it.

  31. burt591

    February 5, 2018 at 3:16 am

    What he said didn't make the slightest sense to me

  32. Blessing Sleep

    February 7, 2018 at 6:17 am

    Each patch is defined as a decimal number.One kind of shape mean one number: https://www.google.com.tw/search?q=%E5%BC%A6%E8%AB%96&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwisuu7rkJPZAhVDmJQKHW4TDlYQ_AUICigB&biw=1907&bih=987#imgrc=KXd72jkqTfcncM:
    ,This shape can be understood as a number.

  33. Bro Hymn

    March 5, 2018 at 11:26 am

    This guy is a total fraud under the guise of a "synesthete."

  34. Joel W

    March 14, 2018 at 5:12 pm

    Til the very end – like a good symphony

  35. Celevision _

    March 22, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    So it's kinda like Ultra Instinct… I believe i'm getting there.

  36. Craig B

    April 3, 2018 at 7:28 am

    down to Ted talks. Pathetic.

  37. pauz

    April 3, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    He is over proud and over reaching, I don't see a gift to others when he speaks.

  38. Bajkal Surgut

    April 16, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    196 dislike, √196 is 14 😉

  39. mercster

    April 18, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    Great talk.

  40. Jasey Kat

    April 24, 2018 at 5:56 am

    What number does Daniel see when he looks at the Mandelbrot fractal…Pi?

  41. Zelios

    April 28, 2018 at 2:56 am

    i wonder if he was able to memorize that speech

  42. fhhsvnggbh

    May 1, 2018 at 10:16 am

    im a saavwaaant and im hubting wabbbittsss

  43. Dominique Z

    May 6, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    DANIEL YOURE MY HERO

  44. David Wilkie

    May 12, 2018 at 4:50 am

    Synesthesia.., because of the development process of mind-body brain function, in an information environment of the Quantum Fields Mechanism, in the Universe occurrence and locally observable Anthropic regional pulse correspondence. (?)

  45. Mike Preston-Engel

    May 14, 2018 at 11:24 pm

    I also am a synesthete. It's more common than it's made out to be.
    There are several types. I have some of each.
    It's not a disorder, it's an "extra ability".
    I am often asked how I manage to live with synesthesia. Although I'm aware of it to a degree, I have very little to compare it to, as I grew up thinking everyone else was the same as I was.

  46. Jonathan Tiong Hoe Chin C

    May 30, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    Erm if anyone still think this guy is a savant think twice lol. He's more of a liar. There are multiple evidence that suggests this – the most famous one being the book written Joshua Foer. First he's a mnemonist, you can check that out on http://www.world-memory-statistics.com/competitor.php?id=106 (he changed name btw). Not admitting to using memory techniques as a source to his knowledge is an utter disgrace. Oh and he claims to be a savant just because he can tell you the day of the week, calculate a 3 digit x digit multiplication and identifying prime numbers less than 10,000? All these can be done with enough practice. There's a formula to calculating date against day… 3*3 multiplication can be done easily by any person that learnt abacus to a decent level. (If he can do 8 digits by 8 digits in 1-3 secs then maybe he's a savant). And there are only like a 1000 of those for him to memorize. (any person competing in the memory championship can easily do it with the major system or PAO or any new invented methods that follows closely to the idea of imagery). w

  47. MassDynamic

    June 23, 2018 at 1:48 am

    64*75 = (8 8 3 5 5) = 40(120) = 4800

  48. Alto's Music Lab

    June 24, 2018 at 1:14 am

    he didn't laugh or joke once…

  49. PhanTom Gaming

    July 16, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Web5ngay đã đưa tôi đến đây

  50. ConspiracyTub

    July 28, 2018 at 8:24 pm

    The way you visualise maths is exactly the way I taught myself. I'm also a bit autistic

  51. Bouncybon

    July 28, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    Daniel grew up somewhere in London, writes beautifully about his difficult childhood experiences and now lives in France. The French love him and he speaks perfect French. He did learn to speak Icelandic in a few days – enough to be interviewed on Icelandic television. He did recite all the numbers of Pi in Oxford years ago under test conditions. Some here have called him a fraud. That is very insulting and unjust. It's true that he has been able to plan and develop his career very skilfully and must now be seriously rich. Maybe that is what results in these unfair and bitter comments. It's not often we can describe an autistic person as ASTUTE in his dealings with the public. But he really is.
    Is that what makes some people doubt his self-description as sincere?

  52. System Records

    August 10, 2018 at 3:53 am

    This guys is a true inspiration, not only is he incredibly smart, he's also well spoken and a genuinely good person. Just a jewel of a human being.

  53. Lý Dịch Phong

    August 13, 2018 at 7:35 am

    0:15

  54. Frank Sevilla

    August 21, 2018 at 8:51 am

    Men el titulo esta en español y el video en ingles

  55. Kristin S.

    August 22, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    Gucci Mane is >

  56. granskare

    August 23, 2018 at 4:18 am

    I hope the big professors will be able to learn much from this guy.

  57. ivan carlson

    August 25, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    why hold the water bottle throughout

  58. TheJamon74

    August 26, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    probleme de sous titrage en français sur la réponse à l'opération à 7:29 il dit "forty eight hundred" et non 4000

  59. Jason Smith

    September 3, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    64*75 = 4800. I did my own version of 'synesthesia', and came to roughly 4785. How? Breaking down the 64, and 75 into a square number: 50*50 = 2500. From there, I scaled up, based on feeling, and intuition…how much bigger is 64 and 75? vs. 50 and 50. less than 50%, but greater than 25%. And then, there's the 60*70 = 4200. Factor that into the guestimate.
    I guesstimated. No where near as capable as a savant. Based on past experience, I arrived at 4785. Now, a mind like Tammet's that deals with numbers on an astronomical level, he can fine-tune like no other…he can remember a lot more.

  60. Exodus 820

    September 6, 2018 at 4:06 am

    It’s like he sees things half a dimension higher than us.

  61. Duy Gaming

    September 12, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    You go sub

  62. Apricots

    October 16, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    And what is Zero, to you Daniel, that of which is nothingness that precedes everything to come.

  63. Ander Naugle

    October 17, 2018 at 12:10 am

    Like if this was an assignment/recommended because of TOK

  64. David Ronson

    November 14, 2018 at 2:32 am

    what did he say exactly???

  65. James Bra

    December 11, 2018 at 3:55 pm

    His brain wires himself to do sequential information processing tasks with a variety of perspective, but this has an inverse response on the emotional wiring which causes him to lack social bonding capabilities.

  66. Joubert Giannechini

    December 16, 2018 at 4:39 am

    Can you analyse the lyrics of rapper's delight please?

  67. Some Name

    December 27, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    This man should be designing school curriculum to help rid us of the god awful common core

  68. James Graham

    January 14, 2019 at 2:12 am

    As much as he tells me to look at numbers in colours, I cannot see it even if I try. I think that means I do not have that ability in my brain unfortunately. I wish I could, not sure if I would love math in the end, though.

  69. Thilo von Hindenburg

    January 14, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    The Buddha of science

  70. Hoàng Tấn Nguyễn

    January 21, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    ok

  71. Susmit Sarkar

    February 5, 2019 at 11:32 am

    as soon as i got 64×75 i did three quarters of 64 times 100

  72. Pelger

    February 8, 2019 at 4:04 am

    everybody said happy and he said "the majority of people say sad"

  73. pferdebert

    February 10, 2019 at 4:37 am

    But how many digits of tau can he memorize?

  74. The Power of Zen

    February 10, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    I’m really puzzled. Daniel is not calculating the answer in traditional methods. So how on Earth is he finding the correct values?!!! Daniel is visualising the answer not calculating it. I’m completely baffled.

  75. Han Myohset

    February 18, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    I can feel Maths. I’m sure it’s “Love”. But I also wanna feel individual numbers.
    I think we can learn how to see numbers (64 example is a brilliant one! Thank you Daniel). I really want to see not just the numbers, but also combinations of them. I really want to feel the resulted No.3 when No.9 is being added with No.-6

  76. Henry Hogwash

    February 24, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    the thing that spins me out most about him is that hes a Christian,
    hes one of the preeminent geniuses in the world and he believes utter nonsense

  77. Bodragon

    March 5, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    (6:10) – I still can't understand the 64 x 75 problem solved graphically with those squares.
    I've even drawn it out on squared paper but am getting nowhere.
    .

  78. Bodragon

    March 5, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    (7:50) – Almost the whole audience said "hnugginn"" was a "happy" word and Daniel just continued as if they had said "sad".
    Lost some respect for Danny there.
    I mean they all said "happy"
    He didn't even appear perturbed that they guessed wrong and just ploughed on, kind of ignoring the audience.
    Well, not just ignoring the audience, but continuing his lecture as if they had all actually, had said: "sad".
    I played along as I was watching the video and I said "happy".
    Sounds like a happy word to me.

  79. Shikhar Srivastava

    March 8, 2019 at 11:08 pm

    While his skills are exceptional when compared to an average person. They are quite average compared to memory champions. His history at memory championships is also quite average.
    I would just like to point out that there are some question marks if this man is stating the truth about the source of his abilities.

    The reason he is famous is because he describes his ability to do these remarkable memory feats to be different than others who use certain memory techniques.

    (Yes i have seen the documentary too; very fascinating but even in that documentary nothing conclusive was actually said by the people who studied him.)
    He is exceptional in his ability, the question mark is over what is the source of those abilities and is he is stating the truth about them.
    I would really recommend to anyone interested, to read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer who also interviewed him.

  80. Carlin Lemon

    March 20, 2019 at 5:44 am

    If Seth Green sounded like Ali G…. and was a mathematical genius. This man is truly impressive.

  81. Nobel J

    April 8, 2019 at 5:12 am

    I’ve watched this about 100 times and still don’t know how 6:47 works

  82. bigbad123321

    April 17, 2019 at 3:27 am

    The happy/ Sad question didn't go as planned

  83. grahampson

    April 21, 2019 at 1:43 am

    ironically, he doesn't seem too enthusiastic about his work. but that's the price you have to pay

  84. Ugandan Sonic

    May 12, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    This is wikkid man, west coast!

  85. Akinjide Agboola

    June 4, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Uninterestingly interesting and delightful …

  86. luis leon

    June 18, 2019 at 9:28 am

    He used the word “Hare” instead of rabbit because he’s writing in a 3-5-3 Haiku poem. Meaning the first line has 3 syllables the second line has 5 syllables and the last line has 3 syllables. If he used the work “Rabbit” instead of hare, it wouldn’t fit. Rabbit is a 2 syllable word.

  87. 700 Megabytes

    July 8, 2019 at 1:44 am

    Humans can be so amazing and inspiring

  88. Indy

    July 25, 2019 at 6:24 am

    ok so this guy perceives colors with numbers. big fucking deal. why doesn't he give a talk about the mysteries of the universe ? Hes talking to us as if we are all idiots.

  89. Jeff E.

    August 4, 2019 at 1:29 am

    He sounds like G Ali with a GED.

  90. deden saputra

    August 11, 2019 at 11:25 am

    wowww 64*75 seems a whole lot more difficult now

  91. Rickety Cricket

    August 21, 2019 at 7:10 am

    Remembering those chess plays? Nothing any of us can do. So did what you’re suggestion means. You or I can’t do it

  92. Joshua King

    August 23, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    i could really do with some peanut butter right now

  93. NlHILIST

    August 30, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Unimpressed. Everyone can do something someone else can't. Every mind a unique world unto itself.

  94. De George

    September 16, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    You can hear in his accent that this man speaks many languages.

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