Brain-Op Prof Has Maths Cracked - at a Cost; Tumour Surgery Affects Ability to Play the Piano

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), February 7, 2009 | Go to article overview

Brain-Op Prof Has Maths Cracked - at a Cost; Tumour Surgery Affects Ability to Play the Piano


Byline: James McCarthy

DAVID WILLIAMS is a brilliant mathematician who was warned his talent could be destroyed by an operation on a golf-ball-sized tumour.

But the professor revealed for the first time yesterday how he was then able to solve a problem that had perplexed him pre-surgery for more than 20 years.

He was rushed into the operating theatre when doctors realised he was dangerously ill. Surgeons told him that if they removed the lump he could lose the numerical skills he had based his illustrious career around. But when he came to after the operation at Swansea's Morriston hospital he solved a problem that had eluded him for 22 years.

Instead, he has found that his beloved twin passion of playing the piano has been left damaged.

ProfessorWilliams, a former chair of mathematical statistics at Cambridge University, today holds a research professorship at Swansea University. The 70-year-old, from Reynoldston, near Swansea, told the Western Mail: "They made me sign a clause to say I understood my mathematics might be ruined by the operation but it did not affect at all the mathematics.

"It affected my piano playing. Most mathematicians are obsessed by music and I found it extremely difficult after the operation. I will never forget the first time I sat down and tried to play. I thought 'what's going on.' It was like I could hear someone else playing it. That's how disconnected it was, it was totally uncanny."

Prof Williams was devastated. He said: "I was virtually in tears, I could not play anything. My hands would not co-ordinate. I didn't think I was playing. I thought I was listening to someone else.

"I just tried to play things and keep on and gradually realised that things were getting rewired. …

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