The Author Speaks

Conversations with writers you should know about.

Struck by Genius

The Book Brigade talks to mathematical marvel Jason Padgett.

Padgett's life was a party until he endured a brutal mugging that turned the college dropout into a savant who sees what we can’t—the underlying geometry of the world, in technicolor. 

How were you injured?

I was exiting a karaoke bar with friends in a sketchy part of Tacoma on Sept. 13, 2002. Two patrons followed us down the stairs and jumped me and beat me. Ironically I had just been singing Blaze of Glory, by Jon Bon Jovi. In retrospect, the lyrics are so uncanny: "Shot down in a blaze of glory...take me now, but know the truth."

What capabilities did you acquire that you didn’t have before, and how did they present themselves?

I now have conscious access to the hidden processes of mathematics through my synesthesia. If I'm presented with a number or an idea, I see complex geometric images in my mind's eye or out in front of me that represent the thing I'm focusing on. Doctors tell me that this is how all our brains work: Well, maybe the imagery isn't complex but there are intermediate steps people don't see like I do. I'm just "awake" in areas of the brain other people don't have conscious access to.

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I also draw the things I see now. I was never able to draw before. The joke in my family when we played Pictionary was that my doodles were always the worst. For a round of the game where I had to show the god "Zeus" I just put a carrot mark for a mountain and a zigzag lightening bolt above it. Now my work has been exhibited in Miami and at Oxford University and collectors are getting in touch with me to acquire my originals.

If I couldn't draw what I see, I don't know what I'd do. It's my way of explaining this remarkable thing happening in my mind and helps me communicate with people better.

How has being a mathematical marvel, as you call it, changed your everyday life?

The old me would have never been good enough for my wife, whom I met in college a few years after the attack. She is an intelligent businesswoman and very serious about academics. I was such a partier. We are expecting our first child. I have an amazing 16-year-old daughter from a previous relationship whom I like tutoring in math. That's something the old me could have never done. 

What led you to write a book about your experience?

Interestingly, Psychology Today blogger and author Maureen Seaberg saw a YouTube video I had posted of my new drawing abilities four years ago and got in touch with me. She has several forms of synesthesia herself and sees a version of the shapes I see when she listens to music. She thought my experience was worthy of a book and helped bring it about by serving as my co-author. 

What is the most surprising thing you discovered in researching/writing this book?

I had no idea that there is an epidemic of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in America. It is the leading cause of death and disability in people under 40. I was also sad to learn that more than 250,000 servicemen and women have suffered TBI in the military since 2000.

What is the most important point you want to get across?

I would like people to know they are an essential part of the geometry of the universe. Patterns in our own bodies repeat throughout all of nature up to and including the cosmos. If I could inspire people through my drawings to be elevated by the wonder of it all, it would make me so happy.

Also, this is not just my story; it is the story of latent potentials in all of us. Leading scientists are now working on ways to unlock the inner genius in everyday people. Dr. Darold Treffert, the dean of savants, who examined me, explained that nothing was added or created when I was struck; rather, innate abilities were released.

Who would most benefit by reading this book?

Almost everyone knows someone with a TBI, and they will relate to the many tradeoffs that came with my new abilities. I have the depression, OCD, and post-traumatic stress that TBI survivors deal with every day.

Secondly, I was really just an average guy before this happened to me. I hope people can very much relate to the person I was and consider their own potential as they read about the person I became. 

What is the most profound thing you’ve learned about yourself in writing this book?

That my story may have value for other people suffering with not only TBIs but depression and other disorders.

If you had one piece of advice, what would it be and to whom would it be aimed?

I would tell young people to pay more attention to their studies and not get lost in the party scene the way I did. I would also stress that not enough emphasis can be put on the study of the human brain, our potential, and how we can cure brain disorders.

War and professional sports are not worth the epidemic of brain injuries we now see in young people. 

What would you like to see happen as a result of your book?

I would like my case to help scientists better treat people with brain injuries and other disorders.

Dr. William Newsome, co-chair of President Barack Obama's new BRAIN Initiative, said my case may actually be very insightful going forward. "Modern medicine has given us incredible opportunities to aid the recovery of people who have suffered traumatic injuries, and new technologies in neuroscience will help us visualize and understand what has really happened in their brains. Extraordinary clinical cases like Jason's, especially when examined using some of these new technologies, could give us insights into the brain that we would otherwise never have access to."

About THE AUTHOR SPEAKS: Selected authors, in their own words, reveal the story behind the story. Authors are featured thanks to promotional placement by their publishing houses. 

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Struck by Genius

 

Selected authors, in their own words, reveal the story behind the story. Authors are interviewed thanks to promotional placement by their publishers.

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