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Tom Fuller - The Virginia calculator



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

The American Journal of Psychology XVIII April 1907 – Mathematical Prodigies – Frank D Mitchell

By a "mathematical prodigy" we shall mean a person who shows unusual ability in mental arithmetic or mental algebra, especially when this ability develops at an early age, and without external aids or special tuition. We shall use the word "calculator" in the sense of "mental calculator," as a synonym for "mathematical prodigy," and shall usually mean by "calculation" "mental calculation," unless the contrary is clearly indicated by the context. A "professional calculator" will be taken to mean a mental calculator who gives public exhibitions of his talent. "Computer," however, will be restricted to mean one who calculates on paper. All problems mentioned as solved by the mathematical prodigies will be understood to be done mentally, unless otherwise indicated.

Tom Fuller (1710-1790), "the Virginia calculator," came from Africa as a slave when about 14 years old. We first hear of him as a calculator at the age of 70 or thereabouts, when, among other problems, he reduced a year and a half to seconds in about two minutes, and 70 years, 17 days, 12 hours to seconds in about a minute and a half, correcting the result of his examiner, who had failed to take account of the leap-years.

He also found the sum of a simple geometrical progression, and multiplied mentally two numbers of 9 figures each. He was entirely illiterate.

Binet, op. cit., p. 5, notes that the harder problem was done in less time than the simpler one.

The source of the experience

Ordinary person

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps