How does a human calculator work?

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MALAYSIAN ‘human calculator’ Yaashwin Sarawanan (pix) finished second in the finals of Asia’s Got Talent 2019 competition recently.

We are all fascinated with his astounding feats of mental agility. The “ordinary” human like us wants to know how, but sadly the geniuses can only offer fragments of insight into how they function, and the scientists who have studied them rarely offer a definitive answer.

Researchers have tried to link problems with the brain either through trauma or malformation to extraordinary mental abilities – one of the theories being that damage to one area prompts compensation in another. Brain scientist Dr Allan Snyder has suggested that everyone may possess such abilities but be unable to access them.

A mathematic genius, Lemaire explains that what he does is about transforming raw numbers into other structures so he can “see” the answer to the problem.

“When I think of numbers sometimes I see a movie, sometimes sentences. I can translate the numbers into words. This is very important for me. The art is to convert memory chunks into some kind of structure.