Daniel Tammet's colorful world of numbers

"When I was a kid, I felt a lot like number 24." With synesthesia, emotions can feel like numbers, and words can have colors or shapes. Writer Daniel Tammet shares how he sees

Who is Daniel Tammet ?

“89 would be a darker blue than 4. And it’s sort of like snow falling. The first time I saw snow, I was a kid, obviously, in London, and of course, I said to my family: “Oh look, it’s snow.” But in my head, I said to myself: “It’s number 89”. Born with autistic savant syndrome, Daniel Tammet has synesthesia, a neurological condition that merges senses which aren’t usually connected. 

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As a multilingual writer, math genius, and fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in France, he uses this special connection to interpret the world around him in an extraordinary way. Only about one hundred people in the world, including Tammet, are prodigious savants with abilities this spectacular. Often he uses colors and numbers to understand and define emotions and how to react to aspects of life around him.

What is synesthesia ?

“Sometimes, I’ll be looking at a number and I’ll say “oh, yes, number 24.” So that’s 4 x 6, and 6 is sad but 4 is shy so that’s a really… 24, that’s, like when I was a kid, I felt a lot like the number 24 sometimes. I was both sad because I couldn’t fit in, I was different to the other kids, and I was shy, so I was a little bit like the number 24. Words are physical, tangible. They have lives like numbers do, and, when I’m writing a sentence, I have to weigh the words almost literally in my mind, making sure that the colors go together, the feeling, the shape, the texture… And what I love about writing is the idea that for the time someone spends in one of my books, they become synesthetic as well," Tammet tells Brut.

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“There was a writer before me called Nabokov, he famously wrote “Lolita”, he was a synesthete as well. He would see words and choose the words depending on the colors he saw. “Lolita”was like the wings of a beautiful butterfly. He loved butterflies. And it’s a similar experience for me”, says Tammet. 

Since his diagnosis of Autistic savant syndrome in 2004, Daniel Tammet has published several books, poems, and essays including Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller A Memoir of Asperger’s and an Extraordinary Mind (2006). He also currently holds the European record for most digits of Pi recited from memory without error with 22,514 decimal places said in a little over five hours. 

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