Man Becomes Math Genius After Getting Beat in the Head
Science & Tech| | By Lauren Boudreau
It sounds like the origin story for a superhero – man suffers injury, man develops super abilities. But this exactly what happened to one man from Tacoma, Washington. Jason Padgett, a former furniture salesman, was attacked by two men outside a karaoke bar. He suffered severe head injuries and a concussion. When he recovered, he noticed something was different. Padgett began to see shapes, not just any shapes, but complex shapes and angles and lines. He could see the geometry in everything.
“I see shapes and angles everywhere in real life,” Padgett told the Washington Post. “It’s just really beautiful.” What Padgett developed is rare condition called acquired savant syndrome. It rarely ever happens, but in some cases, when a person experiences a severe injury or disease, they develop magnificent abilities. In Padgett’s case, he developed mathematical abilities, but it can also come in the form of artistic abilities or memory. Padgett said he was never one for school when he was younger. In fact, he never made it past pre-algebra. “I cheated on everything, and I never cracked a book,” he said. But it’s all different now. In addition to being able to visualize math concepts and shapes, he can also draw them. Being able to draw out the concepts helped him understand pi and that there’s no such thing as a perfect circle. From the Washington Post:
“He describes his vision as ‘discrete picture frames with a line connecting them, but still at real speed.’ If you think of vision as the brain’s taking pictures all the time and smoothing them into a video, it’s as though Padgett sees the frames without the smoothing.”However, Padgett still didn’t fully understand what the equations represented. That’s when a physicist, who had heard about his abilities, encouraged him to receive mathematical training. Padgett is now a sophomore in college and training to become a number theorist. He also wrote a book detailing his experience called Struck by Genius. But scientists still want to know what caused his abilities. Brain scans showed a major increase in activity in the left hemisphere, which is where math and technical thinking are said to take place. Also in question was whether or not his abilities are here to stay. However, if his changes were structural, then they most likely are. While Padgett is no doubt talented, he also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and finds it difficult to go out in public. However, he loves his new abilities so much, he says he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s so good,” he said. “I can’t even describe it.”
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