Yesterday, instead of doing anything "productive," I pretended that I was at a TED Conference. I had recently figured out that I could stream TED talks on my Roku and that was essentially to be the end of things as they were. I am now hooked. During this particular orgy of ideas, I must have watched twenty talks, and each one of them blew my mind. I want to share this one in particular with you. This speaker, David Tammet, is an autistic savant and writer, describing his linguistic, numerical and visual synesthesia—a way of knowing that is starkly different from how the rest of us navigate the world. Numbers for Tammet have colors that exist not in the mind's-eye but in the external world.
This is bizarrely different, and yet I find that I can relate to large parts of what he says. I don't have synesthesia, but I am deeply familiar with the experiences he is describing with the written word. And these things seem not only natural to me, but obvious. So I begin to wonder: to what extent is some version of this the brain of a writer? Do you also have to write in a quiet room so that you can hear the rhythm of the syllables count out upon your brain? Do you, without analysis, understand that "hare" might be a superior choice to "rabbit" in a poem that you write? Or, for some of you, is the meaning itself all that is important, rather than the taste, rhythm, and texture of the word? And, if you are a musician, a scientist, a mathematician, is there something for you in what he says?
How do you know about the world?