# Becoming number 1

### By Karen Ann Monsy

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Published: Fri 23 Mar 2012, 9:10 PM

Last updated: Tue 31 Oct 2023, 3:21 PM

If someone asked you to calculate a two-digit number to the power of eight, chances are you’d hand them a scientific calculator and ask them to do the math. But when that question was thrown at 40-year-old Rudiger Gamm during an onstage demonstration at this year’s BOLDtalks community event, he simply stood still for a moment — eyes closed, feet apart, fingers dancing like they were crunching numbers in the air — and then returned the 16-digit answer almost instantly.

Of course, the quizzing didn’t stop there. The human calculator — as he is widely known — kept upping his own challenge till the audience finally thought they had him at 35 to the power of 30. Expectation was rife in the few extra seconds Rudiger took but by the time he’d accurately rattled off all 40 digits of the answer (3584859224085422343574104404449462890625, in case you were wondering), there wasn’t a person in the room that wasn’t struck by awe, inspiration or both.

“I could go up to the power of 200… but I’d need about 7-9 minutes to tell you the answer alone,” Rudiger later said half-apologetically to much laughter and applause.

You’d be forgiven if you thought the man must have been the crackerjack whiz kid of his school. But in an interview with wknd., the German-born math genius reveals that wasn’t quite nearly the case. In fact, he clarifies anything to do with numbers back then was an absolute nightmare. “It was terrible,” Rudiger recalls. “I failed school very often because of either Physics or Math. I’ve actually had a good memory for numbers since I was a child but interestingly, I discovered my ability for mental calculations only at the age of 21 — exactly two weeks after I left school.”

Using what he calls “a new dimension of the mind”, Rudiger was in town to demonstrate his unique ability to solve complex mathematical problems in mere seconds — all because he learnt to activate his entire brain capacity instead of just 20 per cent of it, as the average human is wont to do. “The human brain consists of two hemispheres,” he explains. “The left side is responsible for logic and the right, for creativity. Most schools only teach kids to use the left side of their brains but the key to unlocking the power of your brain lies in synchronising the two.”

For Rudiger, it all started with a table of squared and cubed numbers that he came across in a book of history. The next day, he realised he was still able to recall all the numbers in that table. It was, as he says, the beginning of everything.

He began training hard till he could calculate powers up to the power of 20 and higher. A few years ago, he says, he was able to memorise about 10,000 digits of Pi as well. He went from ranking at the bottom of his Math class to being called back to teach by the very same headmaster who had expelled him 45 years before. Apart from his numerical abilities, Rudiger can also speak backwards (in German) and calculate calendars with total ease. “If you ask me what the fourth of March 1834 was, for example, I can tell you it was a Tuesday,” he illustrates.

At first, scientists thought Rudiger was a savant, i.e. a person who displays brilliance in a specific area, especially one involving memory, but is otherwise mentally challenged. In 2007, however, savant expert Allan Snyder disproved that theory by concluding that Rudiger’s abilities had more to do with genetics than the savant syndrome.

Though Rudiger has lost count of the number of demonstrations he has since given and has yet to meet someone who can match his feats, his discovery didn’t turn out to be a total hit with everyone back home. “Most people in Germany respect what I do but there are people who are scared of me,” he reveals, adding there’s even a sect in his home country that “prays against” him because they believe his extraordinary abilities “come from the devil”.

The mathematical powerhouse remains convinced, however, that every person has a unique talent that just needs to be discovered and honed to attain the kind of success he has. “Anyone can do what I do today,” he states. “There’s no need to be afraid of Math. Learn to relax first. If you stress out, you’ll only be activating the left side of the brain and eventually cause burnout.”

Rudiger is unapologetic about his own “greatest ambition in life” — which is to become famous around the world for his unique capabilities. “Everybody wants to do something special in this life,” he says. “Most people forget their dreams eventually — but I’m going to keep on reaching for mine.”

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