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How a brutal attack unlocked a man's hidden genius for mathematics

Jason Pagett was attacked by two men on September 13, 2002. After this incident, he noticed that he had OCD and began to see things that were curved slightly pixelated.

How a brutal attack unlocked a man's hidden genius for mathematics
Cover Image Source: (L) LinkedIn | Jason Padgett, (R) Instagram | @jasonquantum1

Trigger Warning: This article contains themes of violence that may be distressing to readers.

Some incidents can change the course of one's life, and for Jason Padgett, that moment came on September 13, 2002. Before then, he lived a carefree life filled with partying and chasing thrills, reports BBC. He often scoffed at math, saying, "Math is stupid, how can you use that in the real world?" Little did he know, his life was about to become a mathematical adventure.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Mathias Reding
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Mathias Reding

Two men attacked and robbed him outside a karaoke bar in 2002. "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 didn't know where I was or how I got there." He reached a hospital where he was told that he had a concussion and a bleeding kidney. They just gave him pain medication and sent him home. However, since then he noticed that he was showing signs of having obsessive-compulsive disorder. He was scared of going out of his house and left the house to only stock up on food. He also began to experience fear thinking about the germs around him.



 

 

Amidst his struggles, Padgett noticed something unusual: curved objects appeared slightly pixelated to him. Seeking answers, he delved into online mathematics and discovered fractals, a concept he resonated with. Fractals are like snowflakes; zooming in reveals ever-smaller snowflakes. He struggled to describe his vision until one day, his daughter asked how a TV worked.



 

He said, “When you’re looking at a TV screen and you see a circle it’s really not a circle. It’s made with rectangles or squares and, if you look closely, the edge of the circle is really a zig-zag. You can take those pixels and cut them in half and 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 the resolution gets better but you never have a perfect circle.” Padgett kept drawing circles, fractals, and every other shape to understand the concept better. One day on a trip, a physicist saw his drawing which turned out to be high-level mathematics and advised him to take math classes. He enrolled in a community college after that. 



 

Talking about his experience in college, Padgett said, “When I got to calculus, I was able to write the equation 100 percent, but I had to write it in the language that (the professors) are used to seeing. Once I wrote it, and then I showed them step by step, this is how the drawing is made," according to Current. However, he still could not figure out why he saw things in geometrical shapes and graphs. Once again, TV helped him. He was watching television and for the first time, he heard Berit Brogaard, a cognitive neuroscientist talk about what numbers look like. 

He spoke to him on the phone for hours and Brogaard concluded that Padgett had synaesthesia which is cross-wiring of the brain in which the senses get mixed up. Someone could be born this way or this could be caused due to an injury or trauma. Brogaard called him to the Brain Research Unit of Aalto University in Helsinki and made him go through brain scans. Padgett said, "They found that I had access to parts of the brain that we don’t 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."



 

As Brogaard said, the man was diagnosed with acquired savant syndrome and a form of synaesthesia. After this, Padgett went on to write about his experience in a book called, "Struck by Genius." His experience is also in the process of becoming a movie by Paper Pictures and the screenplay is reportedly completed. Padgett continues to draw the geometrical patterns he sees in the world. Though the two men who attacked him never got convicted, the whole experience changed Padgett's perspective. He sees beauty everywhere, even in raindrops falling on a puddle and he wants to share what he sees with everyone. “You should be walking around in absolute amazement at all times that reality even exists,” he said. “I’m having this mathematical awakening and all around us is absolute magic or about as close as you can get to magic.”

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