Shakuntala Devi (1929-2013) was a mathematician who was not formally educated, and was far from exceptional in cognitive tests, and yet she could perform calculations with large numbers in a few seconds, sometimes instantly.
What were her skills?
- It began with extracting cube roots of large numbers in her head, which she could do in her head rapidly while still a child in the 1930s.
- She calculated the 7th root of 455,762,531,836,562,695,930,666,032,734,375 (answer 46,295) in 40 seconds.
- At Imperial College on June 18, 1980, Shakuntala Devi was asked to multiply two 13-digit numbers: 7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779. She got the answer in 28 seconds — 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730.
Where did she learn these skills?
- By all accounts, Shakuntala Devi was entirely self-taught. Daughter of a circus performer, she travelled with her parents since she was three years old, and is said to have cultivated her calculating abilities while performing card tricks.
- Once she began to extract cube roots rapidly in her head, she became a performer exhibiting her skills. By the time she was a teenager, she was already travelling around the world, usually before audiences in colleges and universities.