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See Inside Scientific American Volume 309, Issue 1

Recommended: Thinking in Numbers

Books and recommendations from Scientific American


Thinking in Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math
Daniel Tammet
Little, Brown, 2013 ($26)

Tammet is famous for his unusual brain: he possesses the extraordinary number skills of an autistic savant with very few of the intellectual limitations associated with autism. Because of his gifts, neuroscientists have spent time with him to gain deeper insight into the autistic mind. He is also a best-selling author, and his new book is a collection of beautifully wrought essays about numbers, which he experiences as shapes, colors and textures. Here Tammet ruminates on the number 9 (he hails from a nine-sibling family outside London), the probability of finding life in outer space and, in one of the book's highlights, describes how it felt to recite by memory the digits of pi to the 22,514th decimal place, a process that took more than five hours. He writes that he memorized the numbers in much the same way a painter takes in a beautiful landscape: by sifting light particles (or digits in Tammet's case) “by intuitive meaning and personal taste.”

This article was originally published with the title "Thinking in Numbers."

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