I was fascinated to read about Daniel Tammet in the Grauniad. He is an autistic savant with extraordinary mathematical skills. Here’s how he processes the numbers.
Tammet is calculating 377 multiplied by 795. Actually, he isn’t “calculating”: there is nothing conscious about what he is doing. He arrives at the answer instantly. Since his epileptic fit, he has been able to see numbers as shapes, colours and textures. The number two, for instance, is a motion, and five is a clap of thunder. “When I multiply numbers together, I see two shapes. The image starts to change and evolve, and a third shape emerges. That’s the answer. It’s mental imagery. It’s like maths without having to think.”
It really makes you wonder what the brain is capable of, and even makes me have philosopical questions about what’s really happening when we think we are doing maths.