TNB Night Owl – Jason Padgett

Mathematical drawing by Jason Padgett.
Mathematical drawing by Jason Padgett. Image captured by the News Blender.

In the 1990s, Jason Padgett was a carefree young man, a body builder, who by his own admission liked to party and chase women. His life changed forever and dramatically one night.

On Friday, September 13, 2002, Jason went to a karaoke bar in Tacoma, Washington, to provide friends who’d been drinking with a ride home. While he was there he sang one song and paid the bill, flashing some cash. When they left, two thugs followed. One of them hit Jason hard in the back of his head. He fell to his knees; the muggers beat and kicked him, leaving him with a concussion, brain damage, and a bruised kidney.

He became a recluse for the next several months, isolating himself at home, dealing with depression, anxiety, a sudden onset of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and sleeping as much as possible. He nailed blankets over all the windows to prevent any light from entering whatsoever. The only time he left the house was at night, to go to the grocery store when fewer people would be there.

Jason started seeing patterns in ordinary things, such as water going down a drain. Everywhere he looked, he saw lines and circles that he’d never noticed before. Instinctively, he knew what he was seeing had to do with mathematics, fractals, and Pi (the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter). He had no background or education in mathematics and no way to express what he was seeing, so he began to draw it.

Depression and anxiety still ate at his soul, however. He wasn’t sure, but feared that he’d suffered brain damage. He wondered if he might be the only one who could see his insights, and started to fear for his sanity. Looking for help, Jason ended up in contact with Dr. Darold Treffert, who specializes in acquired savant syndrome, and Dr. Berit Oskar Brogaard, who specializes in synesthesia and savant syndrome.

Dr. Treffert has patients all over the world who acquired savant abilities as a result of an accident, including gifted painters and sculptors. He is a world-class expert on acquired savant syndrome. Dr. Treffert reassured Jason that he was not losing his mind, but had had his mind’s natural mathematical abilities unlocked.

Dr. Brogaard found that Jason had both synesthesia and savant syndrome, which made him unique enough to warrant his own case study. Her team studied Jason’s brain using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and found that the part of his brain where mathematics takes place was very active.

Encouraged by the knowledge that he wasn’t losing his mind and, in fact, a powerful ability had become available to him, he went back to school to study math. Jason met his future wife in the school cafeteria, they married and had children. He marvels that none of this, neither his amazing new abilities nor his family would have happened if he hadn’t been attacked so brutally.

Jason Padgett’s case is extraordinary and fascinating, so the Owl is providing several videos for those who are interested. The first two summarize his story.

“Meet the Accidental Genius” (13:42):

“How math saved my life | Jason Padgett | TEDunpublished” (13:19):

“Alternate Realities from Relativity | Jason Padgett | TEDxTacoma” (9:44):

“Treffert Center: A Conversation with Jason Padgett” (57:14):

Next week, we’ll talk about that time Aunt CindyCo dropped me on my head when I was a toddler… in the meantime:

Question of the Night: Assuming it could be achieved without violence or pain, would you like it or dislike it if you suddenly had the extraordinary mental abilities of a savant?

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About Richard Doud 109 Articles
No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.