Daniel Tammet in Scientific American

There’s a fascinating interview with Daniel Tammet, an autistic savant best known for reciting 22,514 consecutive digits of Pi. Tammet, though, seems to spurn his categorization as savant, and finds other classifications of intellegient as a poor indications of how people really think:

When I was a child, my behavior was far from being what most people would label “intelligent.” It was often limited, repetitive and antisocial. I could not do many of the things that most people take for granted, such as looking someone in the eye or deciphering a person’s body language, and only acquired these skills with much effort over time. I also struggled to learn many of the techniques for spelling or doing sums taught in class because they did not match my own style of thinking.

I know from my own experience that there is much more to intelligence than an IQ number. In fact, I hesitate to believe that any system could really reflect the complexity and uniqueness of one person’s mind or meaningfully describe the nature of his or her potential.

The bell curve distribution for IQ scores tells us that two thirds of the world’s population has an IQ somewhere between 85 and 115. This means that some four and a half billion people around the globe share just 31 numerical values (“he’s a 94,” “you’re a 110,” “I’m a 103”), equivalent to 150 million people worldwide sharing the same IQ score. This sounds a lot to me like astrology, which lumps everyone into one of 12 signs of the zodiac.

Tammet also refers to an interesting ligustic bit, on the gendering of language:

Another finding, by cognitive psychologists Lera Boroditsky, Lauren A. Schmidt and Webb Phillips, might also offer a useful insight into an important part of learning a second language. The researchers asked German and Spanish native speakers to think of adjectives to describe a range of objects, such as a key. The German speakers, for whom the word “key” is masculine, gave adjectives such as “hard,” “heavy,” “jagged” and “metal,” whereas the Spanish speakers, for whom “key” is feminine, gave responses such as “golden,” “little,” “lovely” and “shiny.” This result suggests that native speakers of languages that have gendered nouns remember the different categorization for each by attending to differing characteristics, depending on whether the noun is “male” or “female.” It is plausible that second-language learners could learn to perceive various nouns in a similar way to help them remember the correct gender.

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