BORN ON A BLUE DAY by Daniel Tammet
Subtitle: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant. And, yes. Tammet’s mind is indeed extraordinary.
Tammet is actually very high-functioning, on the Asberber’s end of the spectrum. The Blue Day of the title is the day on which he was born, Wednesday, which are, for him, blue. He is a synesthete, and I have always been fascinated by synesthesia. I think I have synesthetic tendencies, because I wrote a story when I was sixteen–some day I’ll find it, I suppose–about objects falling out of the back of a truck on the Beltway which turned into solid sounds and colors that blocked the road, and which everyone experienced in the same synesthetic way. One aspect of synesthesia–and someone correct me if I’m wrong–is that sounds, days of the week, whatever, are always consistent in sound or color or smell. However, if some of my circuitry is thus wired, it is not much; I am not anywhere near what is described as a true synesthete.
For Tammet, numbers have the characteristic of color, or sometimes other qualities. He says, “I can recognize every prime up to 9,973 by their pebble-like quality. It’s just the way my brian works.”
He was born in 1979, and has had an active and interesting life. It helps that he can learn new languages very quickly, usually in a week. He recognised early that he was gay, and has lived with his partner, Neil, for many years.
He set a new world record for reciting digits of pi, which was to 22,514 digits without error in ffive hours and nine minutes. When asked why he learned this, he said: “Pi is for me an extremely beautiful and utterly unique thing. Like the Mona Lisa or a Mozart symphony, pi is its own reason for loving it.”
In LIGHT MUSIC, Su-Chen was an Asperger’s girl born on the moon colony. When the rest of the colony vanishes, she and an adult, Io, return to an Earth very much changed in the previous decades.
Io hears what she has always called “the music of the spheres;” Su-Chen can actually play it. Io decides that this ability is heritable.
In THIS SHARED DREAM, I have a thirteen-year-old musical prodigy who “hears” people whom she loves, and develops a notation to express this, and plays them. (I’m a big fan of From The Top,” an NPR show featuring highly skilled young musicians who consistently amaze me.)
At any rate, I’ve always been interested in how the brain works, how the brains of those who are different than most of us work, and why they are different. I will put this on my shelf next to THINKING IN PICTURES by Temple Grandin.