The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, June 04, 2010

Daniel Tammet and the art of exaggeration.

Daniel Tammet is an unusual young man. He is an autistic savant with particular gifts in number, language and memory for same. However, I am struck by the exaggeration that creeps, at times, into his marketing.

Today, on Yahoo, there was a link to a video on Daniel Tammet. The write up beneath the video said Tammet could "memorize 22,000 digits in a single sitting."

No. He can't. In fact, if you have ever read interviews with him, he has spoken of the "weeks" he spent in "sessions" memorizing "great chunks" of pi. This is not the work of a single sitting, but the work of quite some time, spread over quite some time. Nevertheless, it is why the need to exaggerate it, until it becomes something legendary?

Daniel Tammet has a good memory. That is not in dispute. Few people have a memory as retentive as his. However, he does not have a perfect memory. Nor is it able to absorb vast information in one instant - as the Yahoo site would have us believe. Were it, in fact, so that he could memorize 22,000 digits of pi in one sitting, then it defies belief that he should stop at that, which is not, after all, a world record. He would have gone on to best the world record, were the memorization of pi so easy for him. He did not, because he could not. There were limits to his memory, to his diligence, to his patience, to his ability - in fact, that limit was 22,514 digits. That, for him, was enough. It took some effort, over a not inconsequential time - and he must have thought, after that time, that it was effort enough.

Kim Peek, on the other hand, could, perhaps, have memorized 22,000 digits of pi in one sitting. He, after all, could memorize entire books at a rapid reading. So, I am not saying that there are not people who could, possibly, ingest such a huge list of numbers in a short time. History has known, perhaps, a few of them. However, Daniel Tammet, from his own words, is not one of them. However, I do note that he tends to change his words and timescales, sometimes, when speaking of his feats. He is sometimes contradicted by his own written works. Make of that what you will. Perhaps he just doesn't remember what he wrote before!

So, please, those who are writing of Daniel Tammet, stick to the unusual facts. They are more than unusual enough. There is no need to go beyond them, and turn them into something both fictional and legendary. There is no need to make a comic book character out of Daniel Tammet's life. He is distinctive enough, without such fictionalizing.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

My Internet Movie Database listing is at:
Ainan's IMDB listing is at
Syahidah's IMDB listing is at

Our editing, proofreading and copywriting company, Genghis Can, is at

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited. Use only with permission. Thank you.)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:57 PM 


Blogger Mark C said...

Thanks for the heads-up. Yahoo is running a video from ABC news on the 22,000 digits. It seemed easy enough to believe, after seeing another young man fly around Rome in a helicopter and draw the city from memory. Now I wonder how accurate that story was, too!

I attributed Mr. Tammet's feat to (a kind of?) eidetic imagery, where he simply read off the digits off the "page". He did seem to be putting effort into the recall, which corresponds to what you said above.

5:48 AM  
Blogger Mark C said...

Oh! Another thing I wish were done more accurately is the oft-abused "languages spoken" claim, by the individual himself, by biographers, or by news reporters. For example, I've read at some point that John Von Neumann spoke five or so languages "fluently". What does "fluently" mean in a given case? It's easy to believe someone who probably learned three languages by the age of 9 or 10 could easily learn two more well, depending on his level of immersion. (The former condition, I understand, allows you to retain a child's ability to learn a language, i.e. to reproduce and synthesize speech. It doesn't replace the adolescent ability to draw upon experience and to analyze.)

But--for example--in the video of Mr. Tammet it is not disclosed the had a private instructor for the language, and to what degree he really learned the language.

I am not debasing his (or Von Neumann's) achievements. I am simply frustrated when the achievement is sensationalized and it becomes nearly impossible to learn how it exactly happened and to what extent. I think we could learn a great deal if the circumstances and methods were known.

6:15 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, it does take him effort. I do wonder where the exaggeration, in this particular instance, comes from: is it Daniel, himself; his "people"...or the show/yahoo?

9:20 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape