In 2002, Jason Padgett was the victim of a brutal attack. The sequelae were a concussion, posttraumatic stress disorder, and a sudden interest in math that just didn't exist before the injury. Bizarre, isn't it?
But that's exactly how it happened: While recovering, Padgett simply began to see the world differently. In his eyes all things took on a pixelated aspect. It is as if each image is a picture and the connection between each other is not as fast and smooth as for a person with so-called "normal" vision.
He also began to see geometric shapes almost everywhere. “I see shapes and angles everywhere in real life,” said Padgett. From a simple rainbow to water running down the drain. "It's really beautiful," he added.
Padgett also began to draw geometric shapes often without knowing what they meant. Until the day a physicist saw him unpretentiously drawing in a mall and encouraged him to study math. It was then that he realized that his brain's new condition now allowed him to understand extremely complex concepts such as pi.
It happened that the injuries sustained unlocked a part of his brain, making the world look like a mathematical structure to him. This extraordinary ability is something doctors call Savant Syndrome, where a normal person develops special abilities after injury, as in Padgett's case.
Needless to say, how extremely and absolutely rare is that, right? To give you an idea, to date, only about 15 to 25 cases of this syndrome have been reported, such as head trauma that unleashed a musical genius and the woman who became an excellent designer after brain damage. It is even rarer to acquire mathematical skills such as Jason Padgett has acquired. It is as if the sequels of the injury he sustained were superpowers.
Jason Padgett's skills don't stop at math and the gift of seeing geometric shapes in all shapes. It also appears to have synesthesia, which is a phenomenon in which one sense blends into another, allowing it to perceive mathematical formulas as geometric figures. Have you ever thought how amazing it is to have a brain with this ability?
What do neuroscientists think about all this?
Fascinated by what could be causing these unique abilities, neuroscientists began conducting a series of studies with Pagnett's brain. They now believe they have finally discovered that part of this amazing brain has been altered to unlock their new abilities.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and transcranial magnetic simulation, which involves the brain with a magnetic pulse to activate or inhibit a specific region, the researchers found that activity in Padgett's parietal cortex seemed to be the cause of its unusual abilities. The parietal cortex is an area behind the crown of the head, known to integrate information from different directions.
In another study, Berit Brogaard, a professor of philosophy now at the University of Miami (USA), who led the Pagnett series of research, showed that when neurons die, they release signaling brain chemicals that can increase brain activity in surrounding areas. Increased activity usually tends to disappear over time, but it can also result in structural changes that lead to persistent changes in brain activity - which may be the case with Padgett.
This suggests that if stimulated correctly, all human brains may have the potential to see the world as Padgett sees it, even if only temporarily.
But even before you start dreaming about this possibility, we have a cold water bath: it is not yet known if there is any loss in acquiring this ability. In Jason Padgett's case, for example, the consequences are a very serious post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Would you be willing to pay this price?
Despite his tragic accident, this patient's current condition gives us some incredible insight into how our brains work and how we relate to the world around us. Best of all, Padgett wouldn't change the dynamics of his new brain for anything in the world. "It's so good that I can't even describe it," he says.