Science & Environment
11:02 am
Mon June 16, 2014

How A Severe Brain Injury Created a Mathematical Genius

Jason Padgett's rendering of how he sees his own hand.
Credit Courtesy of Jason Padgett

Jason Padgett got hit on the head, and now he’s a math genius. Seriously.

If Jason Padgett’s story weren’t backed up by scientific evidence, it would be almost unbelievable. Eleven years ago, he was mugged and severely beaten. Afterward, he suffered lingering health problems, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Here’s the amazing part: he also sustained a traumatic brain injury that actually activated an area of his brain. The result is a combination of synesthesia – the intermingling of senses – and acquired savant syndrome. In plain English, he now quite literally sees the world as math. Geometric shapes and complex equations are overlaid, or perhaps embedded, in everything from the water falling from a faucet to the spiral milk makes when stirred into coffee. A former college drop-out and self-described party boy, Padgett now talks about pi and relativity like old friends.

Padgett shares his amazing view of the world through incredibly detailed sketches. To demonstrate his understanding of pi, he creates spirals and circles out of triangles, the number of which is limited only by the thickness of his pencil tip.

Of course, there have been trade-offs. While Jason’s mathematical abilities have been elevated to the genius level, his writing skills have deteriorated. So he enlisted the help of fellow synesthete and journalist Maureen Seaberg to write his memoirs. The book is called Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury made Me a Mathematical Marvel. But (and, yes, I know I'm biased) this is really a story you have to hear for yourself.