Mental calculator

Mental calculator

Mental calculators are people with a prodigious ability in some area of mental calculation, such as multiplying large numbers or factoring large numbers. Some rare mental calculators are autistic savants, with a narrow area of great skill and poor mental development in other directions, but many are people of normal mental development who have simply developed advanced calculating ability. A good many are also experienced scientists, linguists, writers, and so on.

Mental calculators were in great demand in research centers such as CERN before the advent of modern electronic calculators and computers. See, for instance, the 1983 book The Great Mental Calculators, whose introduction was written by Hans Eberstark.

The world's best mental calculators are invited every two years to compete for the Mental Calculation World Cup. On July 2nd, 2008, Alberto Coto García of Spain succeeded Robert Fountain of Great Britain as world champion.

Michael O'Boyle, an American psychologist previously working in Australia and now at Texas Tech University, has recently used MRI scanning of blood flow during mental operation in mathematical prodigies to display startling results. These math prodigies show increases in blood flow to parts of the brain responsible for mathematical operations during a mental rotation task that are greater than the typical increases (see Cognitive Brain Research, October, 2005).


Mental calculators from history

Mental calculators in fiction

In Frank Herbert's novel Dune, specially trained mental calculators known as Mentats have replaced mechanical computers completely. Several important supporting characters in the novel, namely Piter De Vries and Thufir Hawat, are Mentats. Paul Atreides was originally trained as one without his knowledge. However, these Mentats do not specialize in mathematical calculations, but in total recall of many different kinds of data. For example, Thufir Hawat is able to recite various details of a mining operation, including the number of various pieces of equipment, the people to work them, the profits and costs involved, etc. In the novel he is never depicted as doing actual academic mathematical calculations. Mentats were valued for their capacity as humans to store data, because computers and "thinking machines" are outlawed.

In Roald Dahl's novel, "Matilda", the lead character is portrayed having exceptional mathematical skills as she computes her dad's profit without the need for paper computations. During class (she is a first-year elementary school student), she does large-number multiplication problems in her head almost instantly.

Andrew Jackson "Slipstick" Libby is a calculating prodigy in Robert A. Heinlein's story Methuselah's Children.

In Haruki Murakami's novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a class of mental calculators known as Calcutecs perform cryptography in a sealed-off portion of their brains, the results of which they are unable to access from their normal waking consciousness.

In the Fox television show Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm Wilkerson displays astounding feats of automatic mental calculation, which causes him to fear his family will see him as a "freak," and causes his brother to ask, "Is Malcolm a robot?"

In Darren Aronofsky's film, Pi, Maximillian Cohen is asked a few times by a young child with a calculator to do large multiplications and divisions in his head, to which he promptly answers.

In the movie Little Man Tate, Fred Tate in the audience blurts out the answer during a mental calculation contest.

In the sci-fi thriller Cube, one of the prisoners, Kazan, appears to be mentally disabled but is revealed later in the film to be an autistic savant, who is able to calculate prime factors in his head.

In the 2006 film Stranger than Fiction, the main character, Harold Crick, is able to perform rapid arithmetic at the request of his co-workers.

In another Fox television show Fringe (TV series) the third episode of the third season Olivia and her fellow Fringe Division members encounter an individual with severe cognitive impairment who has been given experimental nootropics and as a result has become a mathematical genius. The individual is able to calculate hundreds of simultaneous equations simultaneously which he uses to manipulate to his advantage to avoid being returned to his original state of cognitive impairment.

Champion Mental Calculators

Every two years the world's best mental calculators are invited to participate in The Mental Calculation World Cup, an international competition that attempts to find the world's best mental calculator, and also the best at specific types of mental calculation, such as multiplication or calendar reckoning. The top three final placings from each of the world cups that have been staged to date are shown below.

First Mental Calculation World Cup (Annaberg-Buchholz, 2004)

1 United Kingdom Robert Fountain
2 Germany Jan van Koningsveld
3 Spain Alberto Coto García

Second Mental Calculation World Cup (Gießen, 2006)

1 United Kingdom Robert Fountain
2 Germany Jan van Koningsveld
3 Germany Gert Mittring

Third Mental Calculation World Cup (Leipzig, 2008)

1 Spain Alberto Coto García
2 Germany Jan van Koningsveld
3 Peru Jorge Arturo Mendoza Huertas

Fourth Mental Calculation World Cup (Magdeburg, 2010)

1 India Priyanshi Somani
2 Spain Marc Jornet
3 Spain Alberto Coto García

The Mind Sports Olympiad has staged an annual world championships since 1997.

MSO mental calculation gold medal winners

1997 United States Karl Galle
1998 United Kingdom Robert Fountain
1999 United Kingdom George Lane
2000 United Kingdom Robert Fountain
2001 United Kingdom John Rickard
2002 United Kingdom George Lane
2003 United Kingdom George Lane
2004 Germany Gert Mittring
2005 Germany Gert Mittring
2006 Germany Gert Mittring
2007 Germany Gert Mittring
2008 Germany/United Kingdom Gert Mittring/George Lane
2009 Germany Gert Mittring

The Mind Sports Organisation recognises three International Grandmasters of Mental Calculation: Robert Fountain (1999), George Lane (2001) and Gert Mittring (2005), and one International Master, Andy Robertshaw (2008).

See also

External links

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