Think of super powers and most of us are influenced by the comic book super-heroes – the strength and flight of Superman or the web-slinging skills of Peter Parker. But super powers don’t exist only in fiction. Back in reality, there are people with super abilities who walk among us, albeit that their skills tend to be more subtle than in the comics. What’s more, increasingly these individuals are catching the interest of psychologists. Each day this week, we’ll be posting a contribution from a person with a super ability or a researcher investigating an ability. The Digest’s Super Week accompanies this month’s “Super!” special issue of The Psychologist.
First up, welcome to Marc Umile – a calendar calculator who, with astonishing speed, is able to name the day of the week for any given date. Tomorrow we’ll meet a super-recogniser.
I have always possessed the gift of eidetic memory for recalling huge amounts of information and a knack for finding structured patterns in seemingly chaotic data. But such abilities have been instrumental in helping me to discover yet another talent I never knew I had until about three years ago – calendar calculating.
Not too many people on the globe can take any date, regardless of how far back in the past or in the future the date is, and immediately know what day of the week the particular date fell on or would fall on. But through an extensive period of experimentation, I had soon discovered that I can do this incredible feat myself.
At the present time my ability to perform calendar calculation has become almost second nature, and it has now become something that I do almost on impulse. Every time I look at a past or future date in a magazine, a newspaper, a history book, or some other line of text containing such a date, I am able to calculate the correct day of the week with the date in question almost instantaneously. As an example – I wonder how many people really know that the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 was in fact signed on a Thursday.
I have even drafted my own structured outline of how this can be mastered by anyone, and have shared it with some influential experts in the field of psychology, including Dr. Darold Treffert, the foremost authority and author on the subject of savant syndrome. I believe that it is possible that such extraordinary feats of memory and calculating ability – thought to be only within the minds of autistic savants – can be tapped into by any person of otherwise conventional intelligence.
Calendar calculating seems to make me all the more in touch with the passage of time. Am I a savant? That seems to be the big question. I seem to fall under the category of what is called “Normal Savant” or “Normal Genius”.
Marc Umile is a 47-year-old aviation fueler and package handler. In 2006 he memorized 15,314 digits of Pi, setting a North American record, in addition to memorizing 5,544 digits of the Square Root of 2 and 905 digits of “e”.
In 2009, we reported on research that compared the calendar calculating skills of autistic savants and neuro-typicals. The results suggested the two groups were using different strategies.