CARMEL, Ind. – A violent attack that resulted in a serious head injury opened a whole new understanding of mathematics for a man who came down with what doctors called “sudden genius syndrome.”
What you see isn’t what he sees.
For Jason Padgett, it all started with a violent attack and a serious head injury.
“When you see something move, your brain is taking pictures (and) smooths out the picture frames,” said Padgett. “When that part of my brain was injured, I can (only) see the picture frames.”
And that’s how Jason has seen the world for nearly 20 years after being attacked in a robbery in 2002.
“The first time I noticed anything was coming home from the hospital,” Padgett explained. “The next day, I watched water go down the drain. Instead of going down smoothly, it looked like little tangent lines slowly spiraling down… Everything has a slightly pixelated look.”
“After being assaulted he had a perceptual change,” said Dr. Matthew Doll, Director of Outpatient Behavioral Health at the SSM Health Treffert Center in Wisconsin. “(He) has a particular kind of synesthesia where he sees lines, and for him that translated into a greater understanding of mathematics.”
In fact, it would make Jason something of a math genius, eventually drawing out the equations and mathematical patterns he was seeing in his head.
“They found I had conscious access to things most people don’t have conscious access to,” Padgett explained.
Dr. Doll calls it “sudden genius syndrome” or acquired savant syndrome.
“It’s a profile we’ve seen in our research, relatively rare, we have about 100 people who have reported these things,” Doll said.
“When this happened, I didn’t have a traditional math background,” said Padgett. “I didn’t even finish algebra in high school.”
But after going back to school, Jason says he sees math in everything from the clouds in the sky to the roads we drive. Every shape, every circle, is part of an equation we can all learn from.
“Math is literally everything. We are math, and everything that we experience is,” said Padgett.
And what an experience it’s been. Padgett has now been giving TED talks and news interviews around the world.
He has even co-authored a book, “Struck by Genius,” which describes his amazing life story.
“If you could see the world through my eyes, you would know how perfect it is,” said Padgett, reading from the introduction of his book.
But it hasn’t all been perfect. Like any life story, it’s been full of pluses and minuses.
“Like many of our savants, he’s also had this downside,” said Dr. Doll. “(Jason) describes a significant amount of anxiety and OCD symptoms.”
“This has caused me to be a germophobe,” said Jason of his overall life experience. “It made risks become much more obvious.”
Last year, that risk suddenly felt very real. In the epicenter of COVID and rising crime near their former home in the Seattle area, Padgett and his wife felt they needed a change.
So they used their love of math and science to make a computer program to pick their new hometown.
“We wrote a basic program and put in what we wanted in a city,” said Padgett. “Low crime, affordability, low taxes. Carmel and Westfield would always pop up in the top five of our search.”
So they moved here, sight unseen, guided once again by the numbers.
It’s just another amazing tangent in this mathematically miraculous life story. Jason says it all traces back to that fateful night he was attacked on the street.
“What’s funny is, in the long run it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Padgett. “I wouldn’t have my children, I wouldn’t have my wife, I wouldn’t have the book, the movie, my family, and I wouldn’t have this new love for life and this new fascination with everything.”
It’s a life story of brainpower and what Padgett calls the magic of mathematics.
“Things moving, the cloud patterns forming, the way the wind works, everything around us is mathematical, it’s beautiful and yet we don’t notice it,” Padgett said. “The fact that we even exist is stunning.”
Padgett says he just wants to teach people about math and some of the things he’s discovered.
View the video above to learn more about some of the things he’s studied closely, like the number Pi, and his belief that there’s no such thing as a perfect circle.