Jason Padgett sees maths everywhere. Even something as ordinary as his brushing his teeth is governed by mathematics – he turns the tap on and dips his toothbrush into the water 16 times
"I do not know why I like perfect squares," he says. "It's just a perfect square, it's two to the power of four or four squares but I just like perfect squares … I automatically do that stuff with everything."
Padgett is so obsessed with maths and understands such complex concepts, he's was called a genius. He certainly has a rare talent for drawing repetitive geometric patterns – known as fractals ̵
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But the former futon salesman from Alaska has not always had a way with numbers. Just under 17 years ago he was living a very different life in Tacoma, Washington.
"I was very shallow," he laughs. "Life rotated around girls, getting together, drinking, waking up with a hangover and then going out and chasing girls and going out to bars again."
Maths was not on his radar whatsoever
I used to say maths is stupid, how can you use that in the real world? – Jason Padgett
"I used to say 'maths is stupid, how can you use that in the real world'? And I thought that was like a smart statement. I really believed it. "
But on the night of Friday, September 13, 2002 everything changed
While out with friends, Padgett was attacked and robbed by two men outside a karaoke bar.
"I heard so much that felt this deep, low-pitched thud as the first guy ran up behind me and smashed me in the back of the head," he remembers. "And I saw this puff of white light just like someone took a picture. The next thing I knew I was on my knees and everything was spinning and I did not know where I was or how I got there. "
Padgett staggered to a hospital across the street where he was told he had a concussion and a bleeding kidney thanks to a punch to the gut. "They gave me a shot of pain medication and sent me home," he recalls.
But once home, Padgett's behavior changed rapidly and dramatically. He had sustained and traumatic brain injury, which can lead to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In Jason's case, he became increasingly afraid of the outside world and would only leave his house to stock up on food.
"I just remember nailing blankets and towels over all windows in the house … I remember actually using this spray foam
The OCD had made Padgett irrationally afraid of germs, which had a knock-on effect on his daughter who would come to stay with him during custody negotiations with his ex-partner. "When she would come over I would obsessively wash my hands and clean," he says. "While the Padgett was experiencing all these negative consequences from his attack, something incredible was happening too." The Way Jason was seeing things, changed.
"Everything that was curved looked like it was slightly pixelated," he explains. "Water coming down the drain did not look like it was a smooth, flowing thing anymore, it looked like these little tangent lines."
The same thing happened with clouds, sunlight streaming between trees and puddles. Padgett, the world, looked like a retro video game. Seeing such a radically different view of his surroundings evoked conflicting emotions in Padgett. "I was surprised … confused. it was beautiful but it was also scary at the same time. "
Because of these visions, Padgett began to think about huge questions in relation to mathematics and physics. Given his hermit-like existence at that time, the internet became a valuable source of information to him, as he read extensively about mathematics online.
Water coming down the drain did not look like it was a smooth, flowing thing anymore, It looks like these little tangent lines – Jason Padgett
He stumbled across a webpage about fractals that struck a chord with him. It's a difficult mathematical concept which, at its most basic, can be likened to a snowflake. When you zoom in, you'll see it's made of smaller snowflakes connected together, zoom in again and those snowflakes are made of smaller snowflakes, and so on until infinity.
Padgett was fascinated by this concept but did not yet have (19659003) "When you look at a TV screen and you see a circle it's really not a circle," he says. "It's done with rectangles or squares and, if you look close, the edge of the circle is really a zig zag. You can take those pixels and cut them in half and you cut them in half and you get closer and closer to a perfect circle but you never actually reach one because you can keep cutting the pixels in half forever so resolution gets better but you never have a perfect circle. "
Padgett felt compelled to explore this intriguing concept further. So, he started drawing. And he kept drawing.
Padgett believed his drawings held the key to the universe and took them everywhere with him
"I had literally a thousand or more drawings of circles, fractals, every shape that I could manage to draw. It was the only way I could manage to communicate effectively what I was seeing. "
Padgett believed his drawings" held the key to the universe "and were so important that he needed to take them everywhere with him. he had a rare trip out of a day, he was approached by a man who had noticed Padgett with his drawings and told him they looked mathematical
"I'm trying to describe the discrete structure of space time based on Planck length tiny unit of measurement developed by physicist Max Planck) and quantum black holes, "Padgett told him. It turned out the man was a physicist and recognized the high-level mathematics Padgett was drawing. He asked him to take a math class, which led Padgett to enroll in a community college, where he began to learn the language he needed to describe his obsession
After three and a half years of living like a virtual hermit, going to school changed everything for Padgett.
But why did he see things in such a strange and different way? Why was his world now comprised of geometric shapes and graphs?
Poetically, it was a television that once again provided him with a clue. Padgett saw a man, and so-called savant, who had extraordinary numerical abilities and talked about what numbers he looked like.
"I would always describe that maths was not the numbers and that was the first time I'd heard "
He scoured the internet for more information and came across Berit Brogaard, a cognitive neuroscientist now at the University of Miami. Brogaard hypothesized that Padgett had synaesthesia – essentially a cross-wiring of the brain in which the senses get mixed up.
Brogaard believes the brain injury Padgett sustained caused him to develop a form of synaesthesia that made him an acquired savant
It is estimated to affect only about 4% of the population. Some synesthetes might see certain colors when they hear music or smell something that is not there when they feel a particular emotion.
The condition is caused by connections between parts of the brain that are not there in other people. You may be born this way or some type of trauma, an injury, and stroke, an allergic reaction, can change the brain.
Brogaard believes the brain injury Padgett sustained caused him to develop a form of synaesthesia where certain things triggered visions of mathematical formulas or geometric shapes, either in his mind or projected in front of him. She also hypothesized that synaesthesia made Padgett an acquired savant.
"Most of us do not have that sort of insight because we do not visualize the mathematical formulas," says Brogaard.
To test these ideas, Brogaard brought Padgett to the Brain Research Unit of Aalto University in Helsinki, where he underwent a series of brain scans
While in the MRI scanner, hundreds of equations, including fake ones, blinked on a screen in front of Padgett's eyes.
"They found that I had access to parts of the brain that we did not have conscious access to and also the visual cortex was working in conjunction with the part of the brain that does mathematics, which obviously makes sense, "says Padgett
Brogaard's hypotheses turned out to be true. Padgett was formally diagnosed with acquired savant syndrome and a form of synaesthesia. Finally, he had answers.
Since his diagnosis, Padgett has published a book about his experience called Struck by Genius, he has toured the world telling his story and educating them about maths. He started a company called Outliers, which helps produce movies about people who have had unique or rare / interesting life stories.
The two men who attacked him that fateful September night were never condemned despite Padgett identifying them and pressing charges
Years later, however, one of the men, Brady Simmons, wrote to Padgett would apologize while he was undergoing treatment for drug addiction following a suicide attempt.
Through Padgett's eyes, the puddle is transformed into complex rippling patterns, overlapping and forming shapes like stars or snowflakes
"I'm a completely different person, "says Simmons. "
" Padgett too feels like he's a different person than he was before. "
" I do not know what I was about. I see it [beauty] everywhere, "he says. He is mesmerized by simple things that most people do not even notice such as raindrops falling on a puddle
Through Padgett's eyes, the puddle is transformed into complex rippling patterns, overlapping and forming shapes like stars or snowflakes. And he wants everyone else to see what he sees. "
" You should be walking around in absolute amazement at all times that reality even exists, "he says. "
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