Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel Paperback – Apr 22 2014
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About the Author
Jason Padgett is an aspiring number theorist and mathematician with acquired savant syndrome and synesthesia. He is currently the manager of three futon stores in Tacoma, Washington. His art, drawings of the grids and fractals he sees synesthetically, won Best International Newcomer at the Artoconecto A-B(o)MB show at the Bakehouse Art Complex in 2008. Struck by Genius is his first book.
Maureen Seaberg is an author with several forms of synesthesia and is an expert synesthesia blogger for Psychology Today. She has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times; the Daily Beast; the Huffington Post; O, the Oprah Magazine; and ESPN: The Magazine. She has appeared on MSNBC, PBS, and The Lisa Oz Show on Oprah Radio. A native New Yorker, she currently resides in the city.
Kate Rudd, winner of the 2013 Audie and Odyssey Awards for her narration of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, is a multiple Audie Award finalist and recipient of several Audiofile Magazine Earphones awards. Kate has narrated over 250 titles across a variety of genres. Recent updates can be found on Twitter @katerudd.--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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This story shows you that you never know what someone you meet on the street is living. They are subject to their own personal neurology, which may be leading them down some perilous thought passageways, resulting in some behaviours that may appear a little odd. This book teaches us to not assume that they are being rude, but rather, to consider what battle they may be facing each day of their lives.
This book also demonstrates the wonderful neuroplasticity of the brain. Brains can change, they can heal in part, develop, and be shaped by our thoughts, by the nutrients we feed ourselves, and by our willpower to survive and achieve.
Fascinating story. Inspiring to read how Jason became an overcomer, refusing to remain a victim.
"I struggled to my feet. Not only was I in a lot of pain, but I was having trouble getting my bearings. The world looked different: off-kilter, dreamlike. Everything that moved had trails of colored light following close behind it.
There were triangles and squares in repeating patterns wherever I looked, from the windows to the lampposts to the street signs...
I rubbed my eyes. The glow of the streetlights seemed amplified. I could see the cars going by, little chipped shapes bouncing off their hoods."
The above is what was experienced after a brutal mugging and is found in this fascinating book by Jason Padgett (and Maureen Seaberg). Padgett is now an aspiring number theorist. He's an award-winning artist who hand-draws the stunning geometric patterns he sees everywhere. (Seaberg is an author with several forms of synesthesia (see below). She has written for numerous notable publications.)
This book briefly describes Padgett's life before his TBI (traumatic brain injury) that resulted from a mugging and his long struggle to understand what was happening to him after his TBI. Padgett is determined to overcome psychological and neurological trauma and fully embrace his new mind that now has an extraordinary gift.
What is that extraordinary gift? Answer: acquired savant syndrome (the first documented case) with mathematical synesthesia.
(Savant in the term "savant syndrome" is one whose mental capabilities are quite limited but who possesses some extraordinary talent. Padgett's talent is mathematics and his other mental capabilities seem not to be affected as in the typical savant. Synesthesia is a process in which one type of stimulus produces a secondary, subjective sensation, as when some colour evokes a specific smell. In Padgett's case, he associates shapes with numbers.)
What's even more amazing is that before his TBI, Padgett was a party-loving jock and a college dropout who did not make it past pre-algebra.
This is a true story of sorrow and joy, of falling in love, finding a passion for mathematics and physics, and above all, discovering a profound sense of wonder for the order in our seemingly chaotic world.
Finally, there are twelve colour photographs near the center of this book. My favourite has the following caption:
"My conception of particle fusion [or nuclear fusion where two atomic nuclei combine to form a more stable heavier atomic nucleus resulting in a considerable amount of energy being released]. I imagine the center hexagon [in the photo] as the inert iron core of a star [like our sun] and the six surrounding hexagons [in the photo] as the outer mass, collapsing due to the immense pull of gravity. I'm fascinated by the process of fusion and the possibility of harnessing it to create unlimited, clean energy."
In conclusion this is a well-written book about the story of an ordinary man who was transformed when a traumatic brain injury left him with an extraordinary gift.
(first published 2014; a note from Maureen; 18 chapters; main narrative 225 pages; acknowledgements; bibliography; index)
<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>
My wife and I listened to Jason Padgett being interviewed on CBC radio. He came across as articulate, enthusiastic and personable. As a young adult, Jason had been 'mugged' and had received a brain injury. One bad outcome was that he had become a person with 'Obsessive -Compulsive Disorder', (OCD), which can be very debilitating. Another outcome was that his vision had changed so that he no longer saw continuity, such as a ball making an arc through the air or the drawing of a circle, but saw events/objects discretely. We disagreed with each other on how he described what he actually saw. So we purchased this book to try to understand what Jason 'sees'. Jason has a co-author since apparently another outcome of his injury is an inability to express himself in writing, although clearly his conversation could be recorded!
Unfortunately, the book never really defines what Jason 'sees', although there are several careful diagrams, drawn by Jason over many months, of how he sees various items. Apart from the circles, the drawings are not helpful since we do not know how these items appear to ordinary people for comparison.
Jason has become fascinated by some aspects of mathematics and physics, especially quantum mechanics (I think). He is fascinated by the number 'pi', and gives a formula on page 110 to describe 'pi', which is based on subdividing a circle of radius 1 into '2x' equal triangles with lines drawn from the centre of the circle to the perimeter, as an approximation. I assume he uses the simple formula ' ab sin(C) /2' for the area of each triangular portion, which gives the result ' x sin(180/x) ' for the total area of the circle. [This is a simpler version of the formula given by Jason on page 110.] If we take x to be very large, say 100000, then the result gives 'pi' accurate to 8 decimal places. As Jason states, 'As x approached infinity, [the expression] approached pi.' Here, Jason is employing what is called a 'limiting argument', namely, as (1/x) approaches the limit of zero, the area of each triangle approaches zero, but the number of triangles gets larger and larger, in such a way that the total area of all the triangles approaches pi.
However, when one of his instructors in physics attempts to discuss instantaneous velocity by a similar argument, Jason objects. Apparently, in physics there is a length, labelled the 'Planck length', = 1.62 times 10 to the power (-35) meters. Below this length, ordinary Newton-Einstein formulas do not work and people have to use quantum mechanics. So Jason objects to the limiting argument, but he has just used it himself in defining pi. No wonder the instructor growled at him, I would too!
The book recounts Jason's life up to the present, but it becomes very repetitive with many retellings of Jason's remarkable story to various interested parties. But, never could I understand what Jason actually 'sees', which was our purpose in purchasing the book.
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