Jason Padgett sees maths everywhere. Even something as ordinary as brushing his teeth is governed by mathematics – he turns the tap and dips his toothbrush into the water 16 times.
"I do not know why I like perfect squares," he says. "It's not just a perfect square, it's two to the power of four or four squared, but I just like perfect squares … I'm automatically doing that stuff with everything."
Padgett is so obsessed with maths and understands such complex concepts, he's been called a genius. He also has a rare talent for drawing repeating 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, partying, drinking, waking up with a hangover and then going out and chasing the 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 13 September 2002 everything changed.
While out with friends, Padgett was attacked and robbed by two men outside a karaoke bar. They took his already tower leather jacket.
"I heard as much as I felt this deep, low-pitched thud as the first guy ran up behind me and smashed me in the back of the head," he recalls. "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 that 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 remembers.
But once home, Padgett's behavior has changed rapidly and dramatically. He had sustained a 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 the windows in the house … I remember actually using this spray foam and glazing the front door shut. "
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. "The very first thing I would want to do is get her shoes off, get her clean clothes, and wash her hands."
But while Padgett was experiencing all these negative consequences from his attack, something incredible also happened. 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, the sunlight streaming between trees and puddles. To Padgett, the world essentially looked like a retro video game. Seeing such a radically different view of his surroundings evokes 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 for 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 looked like these little tangent lines – Jason Padgett
He stumbled across a webpage about fractals which struck a chord with him. It's a difficult mathematical concept, which, put it at its most basic, can be likened to a snowflake. When you zoom in, you'll see it's made up of smaller snowflakes that are 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 had not yet the words to describe it until one day his dad asked him how the TV worked.
"When you look at a TV screen and you see a circle it's really not a circle," he says. "It's made 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 cut them in half and you get closer and closer to a perfect circle, but you will never reach one, because you can keep pixels cut forever, so the resolution gets better but you never Have a perfect circle. "
Padgett felt compelled to explore this intriguing concept further. So he began to draw. And he kept drawing.
"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 effectively communicate 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.
"I'm trying to describe the discreet structure of space time based on Planck length (a 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 urged him to take a maths class, which led Padgett to enrol 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 as a virtual hermit, going to school changed everything for padgett. He began to get psychological help for his OCD and even met the woman who would become his wife.
But why was he seeing things in such a strange and different way? Why was his world now comprised of geometric shapes and graphs?
Poetically, it was television that again provided him with a clue. Padgett saw me, a so-called savant, who had extraordinary numerical abilities and talked about what numbers looked like him.
"I would always describe that maths were shapes not numbers and that was the first time I heard Anybody but we talk about what the numbers look like, "says Padgett.
He scoured the internet for more information and came across Berit Brogaard, a cognitive neuroscientist now at the University of Miami. Brogueard hypothesised that Padgett had a synaesthesia – essentially a cross-wiring of the brain, in which senses get mixed up.
Brogaard thinks the sustained brain damage sustained by Padgett caused him to develop a form of synaesthesia that made him an acquired savant
It is estimated that it only affects around 4% of the population. Some synesthetes may see certain colors when they hear music or smell something that is not there when feeling a particular emotion.
Condition caused by connections between the parts of the brain that are not there in other people.
Brogaard believes that the sustained brain injury sustained by Padgett 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 hypothesised that syndesthesia was made by Padgett an acquired savant.
"For most of us do not have that kind of insight because we do not visualize mathematical formulas," says Brogaard.
To test these ideas, Brogaard brought Padgett To the brain research unit of the Aalto University in Helsinki, where he undergone a series of brain scans.
While in the MRI scanner, hundreds of equations, including fake ones, have flashed on a screen in front of Padgett's eyes.
"They found that I had access to parts of the brain that we have no conscious access to, and also the visual cortex worked 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 a self-acquired 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's toured the world telling people his story and educating them about maths. He started a company called Outliers, which helps to produce movies about people who have had unique or rare / interesting life stories.
Years later, however, one of the men, Brady Simmons, wrote to the author of the article. Padgett apologized while he was undergoing treatment for prescription drug addiction following a suicide attempt.
Through Padgett's eyes, the puddle is transformed into complex rabble patterns, overlapping and forming shapes like stars or snowflakes
"I'm completely different person, "says Simmons. "When I look back to the abysmal person that I was in the past, I just do not see how I existed on that level."
Padgett also feels like he is a different person than he was before.
" I see it [beauty] everywhere, "he says.
Through Padgett's eyes, the puddle is transformed into complex rippling patterns, overlapping and shaping shapes like stars or snowflakes. It is mesmerized by the simple things that most people do not even notice, such as raindrops falling on a puddle. 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. "I'm having this mathematical awakening and all around us is absolute magic or about as close as you can to magic."
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