Log in

No account? Create an account
The Boy With The Incredible Brain -- Critiqued - The Adventures of a Confounded Spinning Ball [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
The Adventures of a Confounded Spinning Ball

[ website | Gliya ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

The Boy With The Incredible Brain -- Critiqued [Jan. 25th, 2008|11:27 pm]
The Adventures of a Confounded Spinning Ball
Lately I've been encouraged to make more of my posts unlocked. I only do that under certain circumstances, but I feel this is an important occasion because I believe I have spotted a hoax and that I am unusually qualified to unmask it.

I just watched The Boy With the Incredible Brain, a video that spoonless posted in his journal. Given the buildup, I was expecting to see something I'd never seen before, but I was very surprised -- the "savant" Daniel is much slower than I am at all the computations. Not a little slower. A lot.

That's fine. I know I'm an oddball as a "lightning calculator", so I'm not all that disappointed that Daniel can't beat me at a calculating contest. What I'm disappointed with is my perception of the whole video -- with both him and the scientists who are studying him. I smell grant money at the end of somebody's rainbow.

Before I go any further, I need to debunk the spectacular nature of the computations he was given. They are, to build an analogy, lightly tossed softballs, meant to be hit out of the park by somebody who spends a lot of time swinging at softballs.

He's given 37 to the power of 4. Here's how it's done: 37 squared is 1369. Somebody like Daniel (and me) knows this much by heart. I knew the squares of all two-digit numbers by heart when I was 11 just because I had practiced the process so much, looking for simpler and simpler methods for working with numbers.

37 to the 4th is 1369 squared. Well, that's not all that bad actually. I taught an 11 year old how to do it in just a few minutes that other day. That very number in fact. There are several ways to go about it, but one is to square 1370, then note that
1370^2 - 1369^2 = (1370 + 1369)(1370 - 1369) = 2739.
Squaring 137 is not that hard:
137^2 = (100 + 37)^2 = 100^2 + 2*37*100 + 37^2 = 10000 + 7400 + 1369 = 18769.

The next problem is dividing 13 by 97. This is a trick that I developed in middle school, and I loved it so much that I included it in my first book. I'll show 1/97, which will best demonstrate the effect:
1/97 = 1/100 + 3/100^2 + 3^2/100^3 + 3^3/100^4 + ...
Since 97 = 100 - 3, I was able to cleverly rewrite 1/97 as an infinite geometric series. Now the computations are simple:
1/97 = 0.01030927835051546391752577319587...
I can spit those digits out as fast I can pronounce them, which is much faster than Daniel did it. The key is to work with the digits in pairs, multiply each pair by 3, then adding 1 for each 1/3 of 100 we result surpasses. For instance, 13/97, we start with 13*3 = 39 and add 1 because 39 is more than 1/3 of 100:
0. 13 40
Now, we multiply 40*3 to get 120. We already used the 1 to add to 39, so we ignore it. So, we now have
0. 13 40 20
Next, 20*3 = 60, plus 1 because 60 is between 1/3 and 2/3 of 100:
0. 13 40 20 61
Next, 61*3 = 183. We ignore the 1 in front and add 2:

Once you have the hang of the method, producing more digits is quite simple. Daniel says he might be able to go up to 100 digits. I can go up to infinity digits, discounting time constraints. I could spit 100 out before the first minute was up.

But it does sound more dramatic to say 100, and it keeps the cards hidden if you're playing the game that I'm playing -- computing using a convenient series. You can't say you can spit out infinitely many, or somebody will catch on.

That's okay, I think I caught on anyway.

27 to the power of 7? Well, that's 3 to the power of 21. I knew the powers of 3 by heart back when I worked so many contest problems. No big deal. But, I don't remember 3^21 now, though I'm confident I can compute it quickly for several reasons, the biggest being that I still remember 3^10, which is 59049. That's an easy number to square:
3^20 = (59000 + 49)^2 = 59000^2 + 2*59000*49 + 49^2
Multiplication by another power of 3 is in fact the hardest part by far, but still not so bad. After all, we're not all that impressed by people who can multiply by 3, even if it's by ten digit numbers, right?

Even if I didn't recall 59049, it's not hard to get there. I could square 3^5 = 243. I could just multiply by 9 several times over. After all, 9 = 10 - 1:
6561*9 = 6561(10 - 1) = 65610 - 6561.

31 to the power of 6? Not that hard. 31 squared is 961. Now we can use binomial expansion on (100 - 39) to dramatically simplify the computation. The calculation is no harder than cubing 39 ultimately.

There might be methods for any of the above problems that I did not explore. Each of these methods came to mind literally within the first second that I heard each problem, which should display that they are just a matter of training. Just reflexes.

And they don't involve shapes and colors.

Note that they never once asked Daniel to multiply 7139 times 41562. Why did I pick a problem like that? Because there's very little special about the numbers, except that they don't contain the shortcuts inherent in every one of the problems Daniel worked in the documentary. They’re not even particularly easy to factor, so there’s no quick reconstruction to save the day.

It seems to me that the only reason not to test Daniel with such computations is that he is using methods like mine -- not seeing shapes and colors or whatever weird method he claims.

I also noticed that during the very first problem in the video, Daniel moves his fingers in a useful way. I don't believe he's "playing with shapes and colors" or something like that. I recognize those finger movements. Not precisely, but back when I was learning mental arithmetic (when I was only about as good at it as Daniel is), I would move my hands more than I need to now. It's a lot like what the Chinese kids working on the mental abacus. It's a mental image of real calculation. Those finger movements give the game away. Perhaps not alone, but along with everything I saw in that video, I have to conclude that Daniel's explanation of "spontaneous computation" from "shapes and colors" is a sham.

Note that the hard-drilled Chinese children can multiply any two four-digit numbers. So why is Daniel hailed, at the end of the video, as "one of 50" such high level savants in the world?

Perhaps because somebody wants a research grant?


So the guy memorizes digits of pi. That's just what he puts his mind to doing. Lots of people do it. Memorize 7 digits a day, which is just a phone number, and in ten years you'll know as many digits of pi as he does. Particularly if people pat you on the head a lot along the way. It is, after all, mostly a matter of motivation. Since more people started paying attention to the record, the record has grown very very quickly. I know just a couple of years ago a Japanese guy hit 100,000 digits. Oddly, it's a common obsession, and all kinds of people from around the world have shown an ability to memorize thousands of digits of pi.

I did find it impressive that he could learn a new language in a week, but I remember studying for the first semester exam during my first year of German. I learned hundreds of words in a couple of days, including verb conjugations and noun genders. German was the first language in which I learned a several hundred word vocabulary outside of English. I imagine that if I'd learned several languages, I would better be able to learn a new one. Particularly if I could clear my mind and focus on nothing else. I feel quite confident that were I focused more on languages, I could teach children to learn languages quickly -- particularly while immersed in the country that speaks the language, walking around with a trained tutor.

Also, 10 minutes to memorize a chess board?! That's a whole lot of time. I bet I know plenty of people who can do that. I'll bet that I can do it. I bet when I was 12 I could do it in under a minute. In fact, I suspect I could have trained myself to do it in 10 seconds.

Once, when I was in middle school, the drama teacher, Mrs. McCord (sp?) asked everyone in class their birth date. When she was done, she asked everyone to name the birth date of the last person who spoke. Around half the class remembered the birth date of the person before them. When it came my turn, I recited every one of them, which was 24 total birth dates.

I can't do that anymore, but I have plenty of witnesses to similar events. I think that the primary reason my memory no longer works that way is that I've trained myself to focus on other things. I focus on processing information, not storing it. Information is cheap after all -- why focus my brainpower on it?

I don't think such feats of memorization are particularly spectacular. I was one of eight players in an exhibition against Vivek Rao in which he played us blindfolded and beat us all. Most of us were pretty good players too (tournament players). Granted, I told him beforehand what opening I planned to play, but still. Isn't that a lot more impressive?

I found an a discussion of Daniel's Pi memorization process:
Daniel studied the sequence – a thousand numbers to a page.

"And I would sit and I would gorge on them. And I would just absorb hundreds and hundreds at a time," he tells Safer.

This strikes me as exaggeration. He doesn't "aborb hundreds and hundreds" of digit in the sense of memorizing them all at once. If he could do that, his 22k+ digit memorization display would be small change. The constant sense of exaggeration in Daniel's story erodes an enormous amount of credibility in my mind to his explanations of his ability.


That junk about the blackjack -- pure quackery. That's an experiment that can be repeated and he'll lose with those split 7's -- over and over again for each win. That seals the deal on my opinion that he's overstating his abilities. What's happened is that he's given up on trying to count numbers. He hasn't practiced, and the conditions are not ideal. So he just starts bullshitting. Who knows what didn't get filmed or didn't make the final cut.

He'd need to train to count cards, just like any other person with some number skills. The researchers or documentary makers were reaching on this one. They fell flat and probably don't realize how flimsy the rest of his abilities appear at this point, at least in regards to what Daniel is claiming about "shapes and colors".


This is where the story goes from silly to insulting my intelligence. There is nothing scientific about what's going on in that test. Daniel clearly has a good memory, that's all. They'd have gotten the same result from me and many others. It's insulting because they present this test as if it should be regarded as some kind of "final proof" of Daniel's ability to see numbers as shapes and colors.

Notice that Daniel never said, "Um, 242 isn't just one color, and it's cobalt blue, with streaks of silver and green polka dots." Amazingly, all the numbers happen to be single colors that are all represented in a standard play-doh kit.

Now, I'm not going to say that's "an intentionally sham experiment designed to reach for research dollars." I won't say it. It...just...might...be...that...God made the universe so that Daniel's brain sees in play-doh-vision.

It also strikes me that the way I tend to memorize numbers has a lot to do with context. If somebody gave me play-doh and told me to build numbers, I bet I'd come up with a method using prime factorizations. You could ask me five years later, and I'd recall that method. So it's not even an amazing feat of memory. It's just matter of the fact that understanding prime factorizations -- one of the truly obvious methods for organizing values of integers that is just beyond the mental reach of observers -- turns the problem into swinging at another big softball. Pow!

Anxiety Over Pi

And so what that he has anxiety when shown a pattern that deviates from his familiar mental picture of pi? That's not a "mean" test -- it's at best meaningless beyond the fact that Daniel has great affinity for pi, and at worst a softball served up to make Daniel look really mathy.

Here are my takes on a few choice quotes in the piece:

"His childhood holds a dramatic clue." (7:53)

I love this line. The drama is not the clue, but the effect of buildup the line itself has on an audience, talking the audience into believing whatever conclusions are conjured by the end. But really, Daniel's childhood betrays the real story -- that a kid who focuses on numbers develops special abilities for working with them.

That is in fact the premise of my career as a math teacher. It's that simple. I know because I've taught the methods I used above to dozens of children.

"By most measures, Daniel is autistic, but he's also picked up enough social skills to blend in." (14:41)

This quote really struck me. It's true that Daniel is interesting in some regard. While I've bashed his computational abilities, that's mostly because I think his "shapes and colors" story is nothing more than a cheap grab at attention (for which I feel only pity). Daniel's social skills are not horrible, but they're not par either.

Although I am more social than Daniel is, I see a great deal of similarity between our social abilities. I think mine are more well-developed due to necessity, but that’s another story. I post this quote partially because I am still unsure as to whether or not I am a high functioning autistic. I blend in well, and always have, but if Daniel is autistic, that makes me think that I probably am too.

"…his symptoms are not really interfering, currently, with his life."

My opinion on the matter of my own autism goes back and forth. By checklist, I am certainly high functioning autistic, but I feel like autism is particularly poorly described by symptom (as disorders are defined) – we need to find a way to describe how the clockwork in us is different.

I believe my clockwork is much like Daniel's. I can see it in his every move. If he is autistic, then I am autistic.

"One day you'll be as great as I am." (28:12)

Superb line, and probably helps with the charade that Daniel and Kim are alike in some way. But I don't buy it at all.

The greatest similarity between Kim and Daniel is intense memory. but Kim's is far more intense. He concentrates more wholly on his savant abilities. Of course, Daniel is more social, which may itself explain some of the difference. But overall, it's not clear that Kim is capable of less intensity, though Daniel certainly is.

”I’m very much a big skeptic of this.” (32:30)

Azoulai stuck me as one of the least skeptical scientists I’ve ever witnessed. His body language is of a person who wants to be impressed. But truthfully, I’m taking my shot at him here because the tests I saw in this documentary were so flimsy that I can’t respect him as a scientist.

"It was something that you just can't fake. These are the things specifically that are showing me that he's not bullshitting and he's not scamming. Even the mistakes that Daniel makes are the mistakes that are telling me 'you know what? This is legit. A faker wouldn't be doing this.'" (39:39)

A faker wouldn't do this? That's a scientific opinion? I thought science was about testing a hypothesis. I can test the hypothesis. I have. I've taught middle schoolers to do nearly all the "amazing" things Daniel did in the video.

But I have a strong opinion about this quote. I can't prove it, but it's the kind of quote that comes out of somebody's mouth when they're staging something. The whole video seems to have this defensive quality to it. This fits of course with my opinion that the computations are staged.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not accusing the researchers of staging the actual moments of computation. They’re just throwing him softballs.

"This could be the linchpin that spawns a whole new field of research. (40:56)

I find it utterly amazing that Daniel's shapes weren't put to any rigorous testing. I bet I could debunk them in 5 minutes. A researcher just says, "Wow, I'm blown away" as Daniel looks away, looking anxious.

This line, with lack of all credible backing, does nothing but support my case.

"The line between profound talent...and profound disability seems really a surprisingly thin one." (46:18)

That sounds to me like something somebody might say if they've gone through life playing mental games, never doing anything productive, finally deciding to play their cards in hoax, hoping for something good to happen. Hoping perhaps for a little fame.

"The bigger question is whether we all have some of those abilities within us. And that is what I refer to as the little rainman within us." (46:43)

Wow, that's so warm and fuzzy it makes me want to puke.

It is an interesting question, but the answer is plain: there are far more than 50 people with the abilities described in the documentary. There aren't a lot of people like "the real rain man", but Daniel isn't like that either, even if he wants to act like he is. Daniel is just a guy with a pretty high IQ who claims to squash shapes and sizes together to computer numbers.

Further Evidence and Questions

I would be interested in knowing how all these shapes and sizes mash together when Daniel divides one integer by another.

If Daniel's abilities are so abnormal -- if he uses shapes and sizes to compute in ways he can't explain...why is his primary profession as a tutor?

In the Wikipedia article on Daniel Tammet, his synaesthesia is explained as such:
In his mind, he says, each number up to 10,000 has its own unique shape, color, texture and feel. He can intuitively "see" results of calculations as synesthesic landscapes without using conscious mental effort, and that he can "sense" whether a number is prime or composite. He has described his visual image of 289 as particularly ugly, 333 as particularly attractive, and pi as beautiful. 6 apparently has no distinct image.

If you’re doing mental computation, 17 is an ugly number to work with. Unless you couple it with another number, like 6 (to make 6*17 = 102), it’s hard to find a nice way to multiply by 17. 17 squared is 289. Now, when doing large computations, you have to pair 17 with “nice” numbers twice to perform well. So, if 289 is involved, the computations are “ugly” to try to do mentally. It makes for a nice excuse if you miss those problems: “The squiggles in my head were ugly this time – hard to read.”

On the other hand, multiplication by 333 is extraordinarily easy because 3*333 = 999 = 1000 – 1.

Powers of 10 are, as I have alluded to already, the key to quick mental computation. It strikes me as convenient for Daniel to have picked a power of 10 to stop at for “seeing” numbers as shapes, colors, and textures. If I wanted to script a story like his, that’s exactly what I would do. It would make all the crap I made up easier to remember anyway.

Edit: I just came across post 463 in which somebody points out that the "Pi landscape" story contradicts Daniel's stated method of memorizing sequences of digits.

Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
[User Picture]From: rws1st
2008-01-26 09:26 am (UTC)


Clearly you need to make some videos.

Really, both of you doing some calculations and of you Teaching.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: aznphatso
2008-01-26 10:56 am (UTC)
There was a fantastic piece in Scientific American about chess pros recognizing chess board in chunks. I'm a pretty average chess player by the community's standards, and I'm pretty confident anyone w/ a year or two of chess experience could memorize a LEGAL chess board position within 10 seconds -- random pieces would take a bit longer, but nowhere near 10 mins.

If you ever follow up on this post I would definitely like to be in the know. Very interesting, Matt!
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: d_l_leonine
2008-01-26 03:19 pm (UTC)
I typically "burn" critical positions of turnament games into my memory just in the course of studying them.

I'm always amazed at how, after a game, I can reconstruct 4 or 5 positions acurately without refering to game notation.

...but yea, I can memorize legal board positions fairly quick.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: btripp
2008-01-26 03:11 pm (UTC)

Editorial comment from a "word guy" ...

My brain boggles at this high-level math stuff, but one thing that stood out in your post was the line: "So why is Daniel haled ..." I'm assuming that this is a simple typo that fell into that ever-more-common trap of spell-check recognition, with the obviously intended word being "hailed" (acclaimed) rather than "haled" (compelled to go).

I do find it amusing that the lack of an "i" stood out so clearly amid all the stuff that I wasn't getting (things like "3^20 = (59000 + 49)^2 = 59000^2 + 2*59000*49 + 49^2") at all!

heh ...

Visit the BTRIPP home page!

(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: infopractical
2008-01-26 04:16 pm (UTC)

Re: Editorial comment from a "word guy" ...


I finished this post at about 3 in the morning. I'm surprised there aren't more typos all over it.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: blipangel
2008-01-26 05:03 pm (UTC)
You made a C in German. :P

(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: infopractical
2008-01-26 07:02 pm (UTC)
I did not. I made a B.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: yechezkiel
2008-01-26 06:29 pm (UTC)
IIRC, there's evidence to show that many people with synaesthesia "force" associations, that natural synaesthesia is more chaotic than how they tend to describe it from mental habit.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: infopractical
2008-01-26 07:38 pm (UTC)
I buy that.

Here's where Daniel's story really bothers me. He is suggesting that he's not actually calculating the way we understand calculation. He's suggesting that the shapes are doing the computations.

If he said, "I'm a great human calculator, woo hoo, and I have this synaesthesia going on in my brain that makes me see shapes and color when I do it, then I'd have no problem with his story.

But then researchers probably wouldn't tout him as a "linchpin" to further research were that the case.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: baphometmoon
2008-01-26 06:47 pm (UTC)
wow! that was quite a thorough debunking. i must admit that when i saw the video on him a while back, it seemed very impressive. it is impressive to us non-math guys, but so is all the stuff you can do. the color and shape synaesthesia is what seemed the coolest, but it does make sense that he could just be representing that to differentiate himself. we should make a video where our scientist friends test you while you claim that you see numbers as fantasy creatures like unicorns and dragons. it wouldn't be a bad idea to construct a parody video that is funny while deconstructing his claims. if we could get a good camera, that might be kinda fun. later.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: infopractical
2008-01-26 07:04 pm (UTC)
That's actually a pretty funny idea. I could pull it off cooler "effects" too. Maybe Criss Angel it up a little.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: infopractical
2008-01-26 09:44 pm (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: luvrhino
2008-01-27 01:50 am (UTC)

you humble me, sir

My problem is subtracting 3+ digit numbers and adding 4+ digit numbers if I don't have them written. I don't have cause to do it very often, so i have trouble keeping the digits lined up in the right.

I could still do 374. Like you, i'd start with 372 = 1369. That one I do have memorized, though I don't know one's like 342 off the top of my head (though i can calculate it in 2 seconds).

Because of my distaste for four-digit addition, i'd do the equivalent of:

1372 = (150 - 13)2 = 1502 - 2*13*150 + 132

In reality, i'd use a trick i discovered where i know that the (1502 - 2*13*150) part is the same as 3*(137 - 75)*100. [1]

So, the 1372 would take me another 5 seconds. Sadly, the subtracting (1370 + 1369) from 1876900 might take me 15 seconds, including the double-check to make sure all my places were correct. This is especially sad since the 6900 part ends in 00, so i'm given the 61 for free.

You lost me on the 1/97 part. The expansion i recognize is just something i don't know. What i'm more curious about is how you keep the track of the carryover of terms from the hundreds digits and above from future terms. IOW, knowing the expansion i could get to 0.010309278350, but how do you keep track of stuff much beyond that?

[1] For numbers between 326 and 374 (not divisible by 5), I will do (300 + x)2 or (400 - x)2 rather than use 350 because adding the 3- or 4-digit x2 part is easier than subtracting 175 and multiplying by 700.

Similarly, i'll do (500 + x)2 for numbers between 476 and 589. I'd have trouble squaring most numbers much more than 600, not that i've tried.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: dogofjustice
2008-01-27 06:06 pm (UTC)

Re: you humble me, sir

You lost me on the 1/97 part. The expansion i recognize is just something i don't know. What i'm more curious about is how you keep the track of the carryover of terms from the hundreds digits and above from future terms. IOW, knowing the expansion i could get to 0.010309278350, but how do you keep track of stuff much beyond that?

Turns out you don't need to keep track at all... just act as if the final (with all carryover applied) previous two digits, are the entire previous term. Fun exercise: prove this works.

For 1/97, you start with 01, 03, 09, 27, 81 becomes 83 from carryover, 83*3 mod 100 = 49 which becomes 50 from carryover, 50*3 mod 100 = 50 which becomes 51 from carryover, 51*3 = 53 which becomes 54 from carryover, etc. (The only tricky part of the calculation is noting that 33 becomes 34 from carryover, and similarly for 66.) Practice this a bit and you should be able to quickly dump the entire decimal expansion of 1/97 (it's a repeating decimal, after all) and many similar fractions.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: sonorandreamer
2008-01-27 04:56 pm (UTC)
Synesthesia is a well-described psychological phenomenon, but I've never heard of anyone having this with numbers in this way before, and I've certainly never heard of anyone finding it so helpful. I met someone who has synesthesia with misspelled words--in that misspelled words leap off the page to her in different colors. More often than not, though, it's just super annoying, because stuff is misspelled everywhere.

Also, Mathew, you are most certainly not autistic in any medical sense of the term. Autism is a disorder of communicating with and emotionally connecting to the world outside oneself. There are high-functioning autistics who do have surprising abilities in another field (often music, or mathematics,) but this ability does not define their disorder. There are many geniuses out there in many fields who also have surprising abilities, but don't have autism, in that they have no disability in interacting with the world.

I wouldn't look so hard for much science in a documentary like this. Real scientists, after all, don't spend their time making movies.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: infopractical
2008-01-27 05:10 pm (UTC)
Also, Mathew, you are most certainly not autistic in any medical sense of the term.

How do you know? I fit the entire DSM profile for high functioning autism. I relate to people well, but to be completely honest, that's an act, learned out of necessity, taken with great pain and anxiety. Had I not suffered many beatings for being socially "in a hole" as a young child, I would probably behave in a more classically HFA manner.

There are other examples of people who have "recovered" from autism to various degrees. My friend Sarah Stehli has an autistic sibling whose story of recovery is chronicled in Sound of a Miracle.

But recovery is only symptomatic in nature. That's probably all it will ever be until we have exception gene therapy techniques in place.

In social situations, I'm always drawn to people with Asperger's and HFA, and communicate much more easily with them. I can usually pick them out of a crowd very quickly.

There are high-functioning autistics who do have surprising abilities in another field (often music, or mathematics,) but this ability does not define their disorder.

Yes, I am well aware that savant-like abilities do not define autism. A set of symptoms defines autism, but that's not ideal. Ideal would be if we knew enough about the human clockwork to define disorders according to the root defect. That's where I believe I am similar to Daniel and other autistic's I have met.

When the genetics of autism are more fully explored, I suspect I will be found to have similar gene combinations to people with Asperger's Syndrome. Though maybe I'm wrong.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-01-28 02:25 am (UTC)


Thanks for the great and motivating post! I fully agree with you. Do check out http://www.subconscious-mind.org, they have a whole host of interesting and helpful articles.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: infopractical
2008-01-28 02:31 am (UTC)

Re: mind

Thanks for the great and motivating spam! I fully agree that you belong chained to a tree as entertainment for children. Do check out the freckles on the knuckles of my right fist.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: spoonless
2008-01-28 05:53 am (UTC)
Very interesting!

I had no idea you could do arithmetic calculations that fast. I'm terribly slow myself, even for simple things like calculating tip. I don't know what I'd do without my calculator.

There are several things I have to say about this...

While watching the video myself, I also noticed the defensiveness of it which seemed strange. I never would have questioned it if they hadn't been defensive about it... other than that, everything seemed reasonable (albeit amazing) to me and is in line with a lot of other things I know about synesthesia (both from personal experience and from what I've read). Given that they were defensive, it did make me go "hmmm... could this be some kind of hoax?" but my conclusion based on watching it was that it was almost certainly not. The only thing that seemed bogus to me was the blackjack--but that I assumed was just the producers trying to add in something stupid on top of the legitimate stuff. In light of what you say here, I'd have to modify that conclusion somewhat. But I think calling it a "hoax" is probably an exaggeration. I think the truth is probably somewhere between what you're saying here and what I originally thought.

First, if I haven't mentioned this before... I claim to have both mild autism and mild synaesthesia. Like you, I could easily identify with Daniel... he's similar to me in ways, and even more similar to friends I have who have also suspected they have mild autism. I'm not sure how you were able to judge "how socially inept" he was since they didn't show much, and interacting with someone as a friend is very different than watching them on camera. I used to be very socially awkward, but in college I went through a couple years where I spent videotaping myself and adjusting various physical quirks, tics, and ways of speaking and eye contact... in order to conform to social norms so that I could pass for a neurotypical. Nowadays I pass very easily, and most people have no idea that I'm not normal.

At some point I made a chart which displays the colors of all of my numbers and letters... but right now I don't have it on hand to link to. At any rate, I experience the numbers 0 through 9 each as a distinct color. And for instance if I see 2-digit numbers (or visualize them) then they will be a combination of the two colors making up each of the digits. A lot of synaesthetics also see textures and shapes. A few of my letters have textures, but not the numbers. Concepts also take fairly concrete shapes, textures, and colors for me, but they're more nebulous and harder to describe.

My only point of mentioning this is to say that from my own point of view, what he's claiming seems reasonable... at least the synaesthesia part. I guess one question though is: what exactly is he claiming? I think it's very possible that the producers of the video are the ones who did the misleading... that they are trying to exaggerate his abilities and cast them in a light they've chosen to put them in, to make the whole thing seem more sensational. For some reason, I feel like it's less likely that Daniel himself is lying, but I won't deny the possibility. I guess I would wonder what motivation he would have for lying about the way he does calculations.

So he can only do certain numbers by using tricks... but that doesn't mean he isn't doing it by manipulating colors and shapes. Maybe he uses similar tricks to the ones you are using, but instead of seeing the numbers he's seeing the shapes. One thing that doesn't make sense about your theory that Daniel is the one who is bullshitting is: surely they must have tested him on a lot of different numbers, not just the ones you can do tricks on. So they would have found out that he only can do certain ones. But then they still chose to present only those which he could do in the video... this tells me that the misrepresentation is on the part of the producers, not on his part.

continued in next comment due to livejournal assishness...
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: spoonless
2008-01-28 05:53 am (UTC)
So in the end, what I deem "most likely" is that he is synaesthetic, and that he performs calculations in whatever the simplest way he can think of doing them is (and sometimes it would involve the sorts of tricks you're talking about) but he is probably a bit less conscious of how he does it than you are. In some sense, that means that you would be more of a "lynchpin" for new research since you can do everything he does plus you are aware of how you do it and can explain how it's done to others clearly. I must say that I'm amazed by anyone who can raise a 2-digit number to the 7th power, even if it is by using the tricks you're talking about.

And incidentally, I also happen to know pi out to 70 decimal places... I memorized it when I was a kid. But I can't really imagine going as far as he went. I agree with you that a large part of his ability seems to be having an extremely good memory. But synaesthesia is known to be correlated with having a good memory... it helps specifically because you can store very abstract things in a concrete form that you can see in your mind.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: infopractical
2008-01-28 06:15 am (UTC)
First, thank you for your thoughtful contribution to this discussion.

I can understand why you would question my use of the word "hoax", and hesitate to pass judgment. I went back and forth as to whether I felt there was blame until the end of the video when I saw the second set of calculations (and became convinced of the "softball theory").

I'm not sure if you've read through the comments, but I flesh out my criticisms there a little more. Daniel, in the video, claims that he doesn't know how the shapes and colors are giving him the answers to arithmetic problems. They just are.

I buy that the rest of his abilities are just a matter of intensity, and I don't deny that they are real. His memory and language acquisition skills are clearly sharp.

As for motive, well, he has published memoirs, an education company to promote, and it seems he's become something of a minor celebrity lately. Who knows what other benefits he might reap. It may also simply be that he wants to feel more special. Who doesn't?

I find your story about training away your ticks interesting. I have worked to train away many of the possibly autistic traits that were natural to me as a child -- staring in space away from somebody who is talking to me, rocking back and forth, choosing not to pay attention to somebody who is trying to talk to me (as opposed to just continuing with my own thoughts), constantly testing everyone's limits to offense, obsessively counting everything, obsessively computing everything, obsessively factoring car tags and telephone numbers, etc.

One thing that doesn't make sense about your theory that Daniel is the one who is bullshitting is: surely they must have tested him on a lot of different numbers, not just the ones you can do tricks on. So they would have found out that he only can do certain ones.

When I was growing up, I realized at some point that my ability to calculate shocked some people, and I enjoyed shocking people. I would bait people into testing me, just for the fun of it. At first, I was not much better at it than Daniel is, so I would intentionally steer people toward calculations that I could do. 90% of the time, once I steered people in that direction, they were more than happy to play along.

That other 10% frustrated me, so I did eventually practice well enough to multiply any two four to six digit numbers together, an ability that I have since lost due to the need for intense practice (though it may be that I can still find ways to perform around half of the possible combinations of such large numbers relatively quickly).

What I'm saying is this: If Daniel's abilities have holes due to the fact that it's not really a matter of shapes spawning shapes, then he would need to steer people toward the problems he can solve. My Bayesian sense of reasoning is that 4 softballs out of 4 happened for a reason, and the simplest explanation is that he does arithmetic like I do, not using Play-doh-vision.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: luvrhino
2008-01-29 03:20 pm (UTC)


While you're correcting things in your original post, you need to fix your calculation for 13/97 since you skipped the first pair:


The first pair just takes the addition adjustment. You could also be more precise on your adjustments since 65 goes to 67 (since 65*(3/97) > 2).
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: infopractical
2008-01-29 04:54 pm (UTC)

Re: pedantry

Thanks. Fixed.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: malathion
2008-06-06 07:18 pm (UTC)
Also, 10 minutes to memorize a chess board?!

Can you get a screenshot of the position he was told to memorize (or a timestamp for when it occurs in the video)? I've been playing tournament chess at the strong amateur level for about 8 years, and I can tell you that if it's a common position with typical arrangements that occur even occasionally (but more like an actual game than absolute randomization), then there are hundreds of thousands of people on Earth who can memorize that position in less than three seconds. Ten minutes is an enormous amount of time to memorize the position of a chess game.

Very strong masters at the professional level automatically memorize entire games they've played or studied and can often go over them in their heads years later. Like a musician memorizing a musical piece, it's an effortless process once you've done it that much, and like most things it's more a function of hard work and relentless training than any extraordinary mental ability.

As a side, I suspected for a long time that autism/aspberger's syndrome produces the appearance of extraordinary mental powers to a significant degree just because aspberger's sufferers find topics like mathematics, dates, train schedules, or chess or whatever, so damn interesting that their study and practice is automatically relentless and effortless just because they enjoy it so much. Developing and memorizing mathematical techniques like you described here is obviously a lot of fun for you, whereas I find it to be grueling work.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: malathion
2008-06-06 07:29 pm (UTC)
Found it. They had him memorize a random position, which is good, and it explains why the club player couldn't beat him. They gave him five minutes, which seems like a lot of time, but if a position is scrambled like that it would be difficult.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>