Excerpt: 'Embracing the Wide Sky'

Delve into the secrets of the human brain.

ByABC News via logo
January 13, 2009, 3:59 PM

Jan. 16, 2009— -- One of the world's 50 living autistic savants, Daniel Tammet shows genius that has astounded researchers. His mental feats include memorizing and reciting 22,514 digits of pi and learning the Icelandic language in a week.

Tammet joined "Good Morning America Now" to debunk many of the myths surrounding savantisim in his latest book, "Embracing the Wide Sky. " You can read an excerpt of the book below.

"How did you do that?"


"How did you do that?"

The scientist was looking at me with a puzzled expression. We were not in any laboratory, nor was he asking me about any of my memory, linguistic, or numerical skills. We were standing on a lawn outside the research center where I had come earlier in the day for a variety of cognitive tests. Next to him was my mother, who had accompanied me on the trip from London. We were in the process of having our photo taken together, when after a few moments in front of the camera I relaxed and started to step away. How, the scientist wanted to know, had I been able to perceive the photo being taken when, standing right next to me, he had not heard a click or seen any flash. Was my brain really that extraordinary?

Well, yes, but not for the reasons that the scientist imagined. Though the camera had indeed made no noise when the photo was taken, it had produced a pinprick of blurry red light. My autistic mind -- wired in such a way that I am able to spot tiny details that most other people often miss -- had perceived it effortlessly. After I explained this to the scientist, he asked for another photo to be taken. By looking carefully where I told him I had seen the red dot of light appear, he was able to see it, too.

For the record, I will confirm that I have no telepathic relationship with cameras, nor any extrasensory perception for knowing when a photo has or has not been taken. Rather, what I had done that day was simply an extreme form of an everyday act: to see. We rely heavily on our eyes to provide much of the information we obtain about the world around us, and it is for this reason that a significant portion of the human brain is devoted entirely to visual processing.

The scientist who thought I had perceived the photo being taken with the aid of some unknown power had arrived at a wrong but surprisingly common conclusion: that individuals with very different minds must use them in some fundamentally different, almost magical way. As one of the world's few wellknown autistic savants, I have received all manner of strange requests: from being asked to predict the following week's winning lottery numbers, to requests for advice on building a perpetual motion machine. Little wonder then that conditions such as autism and savant syndrome remain poorly understood by most people, including many experts.