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Shakuntala Devi, nota come “il computer umano” (Bangalore, 4 novembre 1929 – Bangalore, 21 aprile 2013), è stata una bambina prodigio famosa per le sue capacità di calcolo mentale.
Il suo talento le ha permesso di entrare nel Guinness dei Primati nel 1982, per aver calcolato in soli 28 secondi il risultato di una moltiplicazione i cui fattori erano composti entrambi da 13 cifre Come scrittrice, Devi ha scritto numerose opere, fra cui romanzi e saggi su numerologia, giochi matematici e astrologia. Ha inoltre scritto il saggio The World of Homosexuals, testo considerato pioneristico nell’ambito dell’omosessualità in India.
Shakuntala Devi (Kannada: ಶಕುಂತಲಾ ದೇವಿ; 4 November 1929 – 21 April 2013) was an Indian writer and mental calculator, popularly known as the “human computer”. A child prodigy, her talent earned her a place in the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records.
As a writer, Devi wrote a number of books, including novels as well as texts about mathematics, puzzles, and astrology. She wrote the book, “The World of Homosexuals”, which is considered the first study of homosexuality in India. She treated homosexuality in an understanding light and is considered a pioneer in the field.
Life and career
Shakuntala Devi was born in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India, to an orthodox Kannada Brahmin family. Her father rebelled against becoming a temple priest and instead joined a circus where he worked as a trapeze artist, lion tamer, tightrope walker and magician. He discovered his daughter’s ability to memorise numbers while teaching her a card trick when she was about three years old. Her father left the circus and took her on road shows that displayed her ability at calculation. She did this without any formal education. At the age of six, she demonstrated her arithmetic abilities at the University of Mysore.
Devi travelled the world demonstrating her arithmetic talents, including a tour of Europe in 1950 and a performance in New York City in 1976. In 1988, she travelled to the US to have her abilities studied by Arthur Jensen, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Jensen tested her performance of several tasks, including the calculation of large numbers. Examples of the problems presented to Devi included calculating the cube root of 61,629,875 and the seventh root of 170,859,375. Jensen reported that Devi provided the solution to the above mentioned problems (395 and 15, respectively) before Jensen could copy them down in his notebook. Jensen published his findings in the academic journal Intelligence in 1990.
In 1977, at Southern Methodist University, she gave the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in 50 seconds. Her answer—546,372,891—was confirmed by calculations done at the US Bureau of Standards by the UNIVAC 1101 computer, for which a special program had to be written to perform such a large calculation.
On 18 June 1980, she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers—7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779—picked at random by the Computer Department of Imperial College London. She correctly answered 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730 in 28 seconds. This event was recorded in the 1982 Guinness Book of Records. Writer Steven Smith said, “the result is so far superior to anything previously reported that it can only be described as unbelievable”.
Devi explained many of the methods she used to do mental calculations in her book ‘Figuring: The Joy of Numbers’, that is still in print. See the Works section below.
Book on homosexuality
In 1977, she wrote The World of Homosexuals, the first study of homosexuality in India. In the documentary For Straights Only, she said that her interest in the topic came out of her marriage to a homosexual man and her desire to look at homosexuality more closely to understand it.
The book, considered “pioneering”, features interviews with two young Indian homosexual men, a male couple in Canada seeking legal marriage, a temple priest who explains his views on homosexuality, and a review of the existing literature on homosexuality. It ends with a call for decriminalization of homosexuality, and “full and complete acceptance—not tolerance and sympathy”. The book, however, went mostly unnoticed at that time.
She returned to India in the mid-1960s and married Paritosh Banerji, an officer of the Indian Administrative Service from Kolkata. They were divorced in 1979. In 1980, she contested in the Lok Sabha elections as an independent, from Bombay South and from Medak in Andhra Pradesh. In Medak she stood against Indira Gandhi, saying she wanted to “defend the people of Medak from being fooled by Mrs. Gandhi”; she stood ninth, with 6514 votes (1.47% of the votes). Devi returned to Bengaluru in the early 1980s.
In addition to her work as a mental calculator, Devi was an astrologer and an author of several books, including cookbooks and novels.
Death and legacy
In April 2013, Devi was admitted to a hospital in Bengaluru with respiratory problems. Over the following two weeks she suffered from complications of the heart and kidneys. She died in the hospital on 21 April 2013. She was 83 years old then. She is survived by her daughter, Anupama Banerji.
On 4 November 2013, Devi was honoured with a Google Doodle for what would have been her 84th birthday (http://www.google.com/doodles/shakuntala-devis-84th-birthday).
Lo disse… Nietzsche
Lo disse… OSHO
Lo disse… NEWTON
Lo disse… Diogene il Cinico
Lo disse… Joseph Pulitzer
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