Memory tips from autistic savant


18 Responses to “Memory tips from autistic savant”

  1. BBrodriguez says:

    Heres a documentary about this guy for anyone who’s interested

  2. Anonymous says:

    March 27, 2010 =
    (6+6+4+5)/7 = mod 0 which is Saturday.

  3. SamSam says:

    Saragorn: Is it clear enough that you can immediately see shapes made by the colored numbers in images like this?

    There’s also a whole battery of tests at, but getting to the tests seems difficult…

  4. Patrick Dodds says:

    Not heard of that one Chezzo; any good? When I was a kid the days of the week were definitely different colours to me – Monday was white, Tuesday green etc – I started a novel, Wednesday was Blue I think I called it – but the idea didn’t have legs and the half-finished draft is in a bottom drawer somewhere (well, on a floppy disk in fact, the equivalent of a bottom drawer on the Titanic now, but there you go). I can also remember lipsmackingacetastingmotivatingcoolbuzzinfasttalkingeverlivincoolfizzinPepsi from around the same time – no colour there though.

  5. saragorn says:

    I listened to a bit of his first book on tape this summer.

    I myself have synesthesia, as far as I can tell. (I’ve taken some tests, but I’ve never been “diagnosed”) That is, I see numbers, letters, days of the week, months, and music notes in colors. Whether it is something I’ve memorized or not, I feel very strongly towards my colors, and I feel the colors without thinking “Friday the 5th is red”. It just is.

    I highly recommend his book!

  6. Antinous / Moderator says:

    He’s also given quite a number of interviews about the challenges of having Asperger and being in a relationship.

    “Autistic people do fall in love,” he said. “They do have joy; they do have sorrow; they do experience ups and downs like everyone else. We may not have the same ability to manage those emotions as others have, but they’re there, and sometimes our experience of them is far more intense than the experience of other people.”

  7. Cupcake Faerie says:


    I’ve thought about Ï€ in the terms you stated. Endlessly fascinating. Deserves it’s own post at least. Ï€ is like the ultimate Turing machine. And any reality including uncountable parallel realities, could be simulated by Ï€’s numerical sequences.

  8. Emily (daturazoku) says:

    The way he talks about memory reminds me a lot of very early systems of memorization. In the book the Art of Memory there’s a lot of great information about them. Especially I always loved the city of the mind where you memorize things by associating them with a mental city map and attach a concept to a building and a coloured item within that building.

  9. Cupcake Faerie says:

    Question: I could recite a list of randomly selected of numerals for as long as I care, and it *would* correspond to an actual string of numerals embedded within Pi *somewhere*, is that correct?
    Another way of saying this….

    3.14 …[uncountably long string of numerals] … … 1234567890 …..[ more numerals ]= Pi

  10. maryr says:

    He’s also on NPR this morning… All Things Considered, I think? I’m not sure, we keep NPR Talk on all morning in lab and I wasn’t paying attention to the program. Whatever airs around 11 AM.

  11. Takuan says:

    any savant animators?:
    “In my mind, numbers and words are far more than squiggles of ink on a page. They have form, color, texture and so on. They come alive to me, which is why as a young child I thought of them as my “friends.” I think this is why my memory is very deep, because the information is not static. I say in my book that I do not crunch numbers (like a computer). Rather, I dance with them. “

  12. Brewtown says:

    There is a Science Channel documentary that features him and other savants called Brainman. It is replayed from time to time.

    Really incredible if you get a chance…

  13. M says:

    He is very clear about it, even if the people who write popular articles about it aren’t, that the Pi recitation is not a memory feat; it’s a spontaneous calculation somewhere in his brain that he doesn’t pretend to understand.

  14. chezzo says:

    I’ve read Born on a Blue Day, and would recommend it to pretty much everyone – it’s interesting, funny and heart-warming.

  15. SamSam says:

    @Cupcake Faerie: That would depend on whether Pi is Normal or not, I believe, which is an open question.

    Actually, I’m not certain about that. According to the linked articles, normal numbers are those for which any n-length string of numbers is as frequent as any other n-length string of numbers. So I guess it would be possible for Pi not to be Normal, yet still have every string of numbers (just that some of them would occur more frequently than others).

    I’ve always liked this notion: Pi is essentially the Library of Babel. If you make a very simple code, say 01 = A, 02 = B and so on, then every single string of letters will be in Pi. This meas that the entire history of the world, with the most minute details imaginable, from the color of my underwear to the thoughts in your head, are laid out somewhere in the numbers of Pi, written in the most beautiful, poetic prose imaginable. Every story told and every dream dreamed is somewhere hidden in the circle.

    Of course, there are also equally many renditions of the history of the world with lies and errors, written in LOLSpeak, so we may not want to take the time searching for all these stories…

  16. SamSam says:

    @Cupcake Faerie, again:

    Recite those ten random numbers to someone, and then, when challenged, find them in the first hundred million digits of Pi.

  17. SamSam says:

    He is very clear about it, even if the people who write popular articles about it aren’t, that the Pi recitation is not a memory feat; it’s a spontaneous calculation somewhere in his brain that he doesn’t pretend to understand.

    Whre does he say that? Do you think he’s actually calculating 2 * SUM(n!/(2n+1)!!) (or whatever method) in his head?

    It doesn’t sound like that to me at all. Instead, from his quote below, it sound like he’s doing the much more common technique of a) giving numbers shapes/colors/sounds/other multi-sensory attributes to allow better use of memory, and b) chunking numbers together to make the who string shorter. Some of his methods rely on pretty neat relationships between numbers (see below), which involve some simple calculations to see the relationship, but it certainly doesn’t sound like he’s calculating pi from scratch.

    If he were, I’m sure the NSA would love to have him come over and calculate a few nice big prime factors…

    From the article:

    Various studies have long demonstrated that being able to visualize information makes it easier to remember. In addition, my number shapes are semantically meaningful, which is to say that I am able to visualize their relationship to other numbers. A simple example would be the number 37, which is lumpy like oatmeal, and 111 which is similarly lumpy but also round like the number three (being 37 x 3). Where you might see an endless string of random digits when looking at the decimals of Pi, my mind is able to “chunk” groups of these numbers spontaneously into meaningful visual images that constitute their own hierarchy of associations.

    I have a much, much more basic method that allows me to memorize numbers up to 17-20 digits long, with such mnemonics as 1 = pen/paint brish/painting, 2 = swan or other bird … 10 = plate and knife (meal, etc), 11 = a road. The trick is to group these images together into a narrative of some kind, and make that narrative as richly multi-sensory as possible.

  18. MadFist says:

    Well, sound like it or not, that’s how he describes it in his book, how his researchers described it in the documentary, and how others with similar gifts describe their experience.

    Kim Peek (the basis for the movie ‘Rain Man’) for example can rattle off the day of the week, given any date, or give you the date by giving him the day of the week, and week of the year, for any year. Now, I’m a big fan of memorization, but I doubt if he’s looked at a calendar with every date in history; past and future.

    I don’t have this gift. I can multiply numbers in my head up to 11 digits each (no one can explain why that’s the cutoff), but I have difficulty remembering my own phone number. Short of using your trick of memorizing every possible answer to every possible question up to 11 digits in length, I just close my eyes and feel my way around. It’s not math, the way most people think of it. It’s just not something that I’ve found many people can understand without experiencing it.

    The research done with me was nothing like what Daniel Tammet went through. I was given a battery of tests that lasted 4 days and sent home with a diagnosis of “Hey that’s really cool. . .”

    I, too, see numbers with attributes, but mine are in the form of personalities. 1 is a wimpy man, 2 is a masculine woman, 3 is a funny lesbian, and so on.

    What can I say? I am every bit the oddity that every other $2 calculator from Target is. . . (With the exception that my eyes don’t blink with “EEE” if the number gets too big; I just go make a sandwich.)

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