Daniel Paul Tammet is a British high-functioning autistic savant gifted with a facility for mathematical calculations, sequence memory, and natural language learning. He was born with congenital childhood epilepsy. Experiencing numbers as colours or sensations is a well-documented form of synaesthesia, but the detail and specificity of Tammet’s mental imagery of numbers is unique. In his mind, he says, each number up to 10,000 has its own unique shape and feel, that he can “see” results of calculations as landscapes, 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. Tammet not only verbally describes these visions, but also creates artwork, particularly watercolour paintings, such as his painting of Pi.
Tammet holds the European record for memorising and recounting pi to 22,514 digits in just over five hours. He also speaks a variety of languages including English, French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Estonian, Icelandic, Welsh and Esperanto. He particularly likes Estonian, because it is rich in vowels. Tammet is creating a new language called Mänti. Tammet is capable of learning new languages very quickly. To prove this for the Channel Five documentary, Tammet was challenged to learn Icelandic in one week. Seven days later he appeared on Icelandic television conversing in Icelandic, with his Icelandic language instructor saying it was “not human”.