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Jason Padgett, The Man who Became a Genius After a Fight

A stunning pencil drawing of intricate lines and shapes hangs on the gallery wall, the hand-drawn work of a genius who can see intense geometrical patterns where others cannot and who has the skill to reproduce them visually.

When you see something that is obviously a work of genius, you start to think: what would you give to possess such a genius?

Would you sell your soul to the devil? Mortgage your house? Could you give up your family and friends? Or would you accept being the victim of a brutal attack if it gave you a unique talent?

This latter is exactly what happened to Jason Padgett, a US futon salesman turned mathematical art wizard. This is his incredible story.

Jason Padgett on The Today Show.

Just Another Friday Night

On Friday, September 13th 2002, 31-year-old Jason Padgett was on a night out with friends in Tacoma, Washington. This was a regular occurrence for the college dropout turned futon salesman. 

Although he loved extreme sports such as skydiving and karate, he had few long-term ambitions.

Separated from his wife but with a young daughter who visited regularly, mullet-haired Padgett behaved as if he was still living the life of a teenager. 

Jason is reported as saying that his life at that time centred on partying, girls and drinking and then getting up the next day and doing it all over again. He thought it would always be like this.

However, this hedonistic lifestyle was about to change.

As he was leaving a karaoke bar with a friend, he was attacked suddenly and brutally from behind by two men who robbed him of his leather vest. 

He recalls little about the attack, but what he does remember is that he was hit on the head, receiving a vicious blow which caused him to see an immediate bright flash of white light. 

Padgett collapsed unconscious before being brutally beaten and kicked by his two assailants whilst he lay helpless on the ground.

When he finally came round, blood-stained and confused, Padgett staggered across the road to a local hospital where he was treated by medics for severe concussion and a bleeding kidney and given painkillers.

At home, over the next few days, Padgett felt strangely disconnected from the world around him, but he put this feeling down to the after-effects of the attack and the strong medication that he was taking.

Closed Curtains, Open Mind

These immediate symptoms continued to worsen as the days passed, and Padgett began to behave in odd and uncharacteristic ways.

Once a total party animal, he now found being around people incredibly disturbing and started leaving the house to shop only at night to avoid meeting anyone. 

He felt the urgent need to darken his house by covering all of the windows with heavy curtains, sometimes as many as three layers. He became paranoid about sunlight. He even glued his front door shut so that nobody could creep in.

Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) emerged, such as compulsive handwashing in case he had touched anything that he considered dirty.

He also began insisting that when his daughter visited, she remove her shoes and put on clean clothes as soon as she arrived. 

As well as these acute signs of OCD, Padgett also showed clear signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and would sleep for days, trying desperately to get back to sleep when he awoke.

But something else also happened to his perceptions of the world around him. Something equally disturbing.

The man who had gone through life thinking that maths was stupid and had never studied the subject beyond pre-algebra, began to see complex mathematical shapes everywhere he looked.

This is one of Jason Padgett’s hand drawn fractals from 2005.

A Whole World In Rays Of Sunlight

Right from the very first days after the attack, Jason had noticed that he could clearly perceive lines and curves in the running water that he washed in and the rays of sunlight that came through his windows. 

He began to see the world in terms of mathematical formulae that appeared as physical shapes in his brain.

This continued after his injuries had finally healed, and Padgett started to consider extremely complex mathematical and physical concepts which had never interested him before. 

With lots of time on his hands and using the Internet for research, Padgett began to focus on discovering the mathematical terms for what he was seeing. 

He also became increasingly frustrated by his inability to verbally explain what he was experiencing, so he began drawing what he saw, creating complex lines of art with pen and pencil.

Though he didn’t know it, these intricate sketches were visual representations of concepts that mathematicians and physicists express in algebraic formulas.

Convinced that he was working on the key to the universe and that what he had produced was valuable to humankind, Padgett began taking his drawings, now numbering over a thousand, everywhere with him. 

One day, on a rare excursion from the apartment, he was seen in a diner looking at them by a physicist who saw that they were mathematical and asked to examine them.

An art piece made by Jason Padgett called fractal fusion.

The man persuaded Padgett that he needed to go to college to study maths and gain the verbal language he needed to describe his unique vision of the world. 

So, after more than three years trapped inside his home by his compulsions, Padgett ventured out, and the world became open to him again. 

Although he began to understand that the things he saw had a basis in mathematics, he still had many unanswered questions about what had caused his profound personality change and given him this astounding new talent.

The Savant And The Psychiatrists

Padgett initially went to see psychiatrists to receive treatment for his OCD and PTSD symptoms, but this still did not explain the fact that he continued to see the world in terms of graphs and shapes in a way that no one else that he knew did.

It was whilst he was watching television one night that the first chink of light appeared. He saw a programme about a mathematical savant who explained that he had a vision of the world in the same way as Padgett did. 

The term savant was new to Jason, and he discovered that it referred to someone with exceptional abilities in a specific field, such as maths or music, even though they might be impaired socially or cognitively.

This idea resonated with Padgett, and he contacted Berit Brogaard, a cognitive neuroscientist based at the University of Miami. After long telephone discussions, Brogaard diagnosed Padgett with synaesthesia.

This condition causes the senses to get cross-wired, so to the synaesthetic individual, sounds might be represented as colours or smells that are not actually there.

It was hypothesised that this condition had been caused by the blow on the head, and in Padgett’s case, the synaesthesia caused his sudden savant abilities in mathematics. He was finally given a diagnosis of acquired savant syndrome.

The Public Man

Padgett had identified his attackers, but they were never charged, although many years later, one wrote to him apologising for the attack and explained that he was an addict at the time of the attack. 

However, Padgett’s own life had moved on. Many years had gone by since he had been trapped by the limitations that his OCD and PTSD caused, and he had begun to find answers to the causes of his condition.

Today, Jason Padgett has become a public figure. In 2014, he published a popular book about his experiences called ‘Struck by Genius’. This has since been optioned as a movie, though it hasn’t yet been made. 

His complex drawings, done by hand with only a pen, compass and ruler have been displayed all over the world and published in major magazines.

Jason Padgett’s Quantum Star II art piece.

He is also a lecturer and continues to study mathematics, using his art to explore questions which have long puzzled physicists and mathematicians. 

He undertakes tours, giving talks as a public speaker about his journey and how mathematics saved his life, hoping to encourage others with unique stories to come forward. Jason also continues to participate in medical studies into the savant experience.


The attack on Jason Padgett was brutal and unprovoked and changed his life irrevocably. The OCD and PTSD from which he suffered were difficult to deal with, but the same attack changed his brain and gifted him with unique mathematical insights.

More importantly, he has been the subject of intense studies by savant researchers, who are especially interested in the idea that we all possess dormant abilities that are suppressed by our left-brain activity. 

It took a violent attack to unleash these abilities in Jason Padgett. Studies of his experience and injuries could point the way to other approaches to unlocking potential innate creativity in humans.  

His experience could also be a valuable resource for investigating the function of brain areas that are little understood at the moment.

This research may someday help us unleash our inner genius without a traumatic experience like Padgett’s. Perhaps this will allow us all to ‘see beauty everywhere.’


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