Mathematics, consciousness, and the brain’s extraordinary coping mechanisms have always been intriguing subjects for me. When I found this biography of Jason Padgett, a man who survived traumatic brain injury and gained amazing computational abilities in the process, I couldn’t pass it up.
The remarkable story of an ordinary man who was transformed when a traumatic injury left him with an extraordinary gift
No one sees the world as Jason Padgett does. Water pours from the faucet in crystalline patterns, numbers call to mind distinct geometric shapes, and intricate fractal patterns emerge from the movement of tree branches, revealing the intrinsic mathematical designs hidden in the objects around us.
Yet Padgett wasn’t born this way. Twelve years ago, he had never made it past pre-algebra. But a violent mugging forever altered the way his brain works, giving him unique gifts. His ability to understand math and physics skyrocketed, and he developed the astonishing ability to draw the complex geometric shapes he saw everywhere. His stunning, mathematically precise artwork illustrates his intuitive understanding of complex mathematics.
The first documented case of acquired savant syndrome with mathematical synesthesia, Padgett is a medical marvel. Struck by Genius recounts how he overcame huge setbacks and embraced his new mind. Along the way he fell in love, found joy in numbers, and spent plenty of time having his head examined. Like Born on a Blue Day and My Stroke of Insight, his singular story reveals the wondrous potential of the human brain.
I have to admit, my opinions on this book are very up in the air. The co-author and subject of the book, Jason Padgett, has undergone some amazing transformations in life, beginning as a party animal (think Jersey Shore), living in the harsh climate of Alaska. After a brutal attack that left him with a traumatic brain injury, Jason had to overcome acquired agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, chronic pain, and depression. Against overwhelming odds, he was able to come to terms with his injury and learn about the gifts he had received in the process- acquired savant syndrome and mathematical synesthesia.
That being said, despite the severe losses Jason went through in his life, the book comes across as a bit of a brag-fest. Again and again, he reiterates the “genius level” concepts he magically began to understand after his injury, redundantly discussing concepts of pi, fractals, and light waves (lessons usually taught in middle school). The narrative could have been cut in half if the authors hadn’t included the same mathematical discussions and Jason’s same reactions to his new-found gifts multiple times throughout the book.
Although the writing styles was aggravating, I did enjoy the discussion on savant syndrome (genius level skills often seen in those with co-existing neurological disorders- i.e. Rain Man) and synesthesia (the production of sense impressions relating to one sense by stimulation of another sense- i.e. hearing colors). Jason refers to one particular expert of savant syndrome who I was already quite familiar with and gave a wonderful shout out to the organization I work for, so that was kind of cool.
Overall I give this book Three out of Five stars. If you enjoy mathematics and studies of the human brain and don’t mind wading through some redundant material, give this book a try 🙂