Jason Padgett went to a karaoke bar in Tacoma, Washington, to pick up a couple of friends who had tipped back a few too many to drive home.
Padgett got himself a Coke, sang a song and left the bar with the couple.
Then, without warning, he was hit in the back of the head. It was the kind of blow that made it look like someone had flashed a camera in his face. He saw the light and was knocked him out momentarily. When Padgett came to, he was on his knees, disoriented and thought he was being attacked by a gang.
“I remember getting a feeling of absolute dread,” Padgett told TheBlaze.
He thought, “‘I’m going to die right now.’” But not without fighting back first.
He pulled down the man closest to him and bit him in the leg, chipping two of his teeth in the process. All the while, the other men involved continued to kick and punch him.
At two points, Padgett said he looked up and called his friends for help. The man he had come to pick up put up his hands in a surrender-like motion and walked away. The woman, Padgett said, is an image burned in his brain. He described her as looking like she was ready to run, knees bent and arms out, her mouth open in shock. When she gained the courage, she ran back to the bar to get help, but none came.
“The guy kicking me, said ‘give me your goddamn jacket,” which Padgett described as a cheap $99 leather jacket. His wallet was in his pants and wasn’t stolen.
When the men took off, Padgett and his remaining friend called the cops and retrieved the contact information for the suspects from the karaoke bar where they had been only minutes before as well. The whole attack lasted about 30 to 45 seconds, but to Padgett it felt much longer.
Within a week, Padgett went with police to the suspects’ homes — men he described as not looking like criminals, who cried and apologized and said they’d been drunk — and justice was served.
All the while, Padgett was seeing things differently.
‘I Thought It Was the Meds at First’
The attack was in 2002.
After the incident, Padgett went to the hospital where doctors said he suffered a severe concussion and a bleeding kidney. They sent him home with painkillers.
“I thought it was the meds doing it at first,” Padgett said. “Everything looked chunky, like hitting pause on your TV, and you can see picture frames.”
That’s what Padgett said his vision is still like: pixelated.
But it’s actually so much more than that. What Padgett sees are geometric patterns that help him understand complex mathematical problems, something he explained in his new book, “Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel.”
Padgett was no math genius before the attack. He says he was a college dropout and adrenaline junkie, who went to bars with friends nearly every day of the week and loved skiing.
Instead of being disturbed by his new vision Padgett, he said he was “so fascinated by it.”
“[It's like] you’re being forced to see how calculus works. By seeing things that way, it forces you to start thinking that way,” Padgett said.
After getting an MRI, Padgett said that doctors saw brain activity in an area that’s rarely used by most people.
“Things looked so different. Everything looked like it was related to triangles,” he said.
To better picture how Padgett sees the world now, consider this circle. Instead of having smooth edges, if you looked much closer — we mean much closer — it would have a jagged zig-zag edge.
This is actually how all circles and spheres in nature are made up. The reason most of us see them as smooth is because the triangles making up the edges are very close together.
“I was so fascinated by it. I was literally engrossed in pi, completely,” he said. “All I would do was think about geometry.”
Padgett said this gift doesn’t make him a mathematical genius though; it only helps him better understand the principles because he can see it visually. Those who are advanced in mathematics, he said, are less impressed with his gift because they already understand these ideas.
Padgett went back to community college to learn the fundamentals and equations, and said he still has a long way to go.
This type of vision doesn’t impede him from driving a car or anything like that, but Padgett did say that he wishes he could turn it off and take a break sometimes.
“Some people think it’s much more pixelated than it really is,” he added.
Watch Padgett talk about his experience with KOMO-TV:
This newfound gift isn’t all that resulted from Padgett’s blows to the head, though. In the first three years afterward, he barely left his house after developing post-traumatic stress, not trusting anyone after he wasn’t helped during the attack. He also developed a severe obsessive compulsive disorder, which he later helped mitigate with the help of a therapist, and muscle tremors.
Going forward, Padgett is taking more math classes and said he hopes to teach or help teachers learn techniques to better educate children.
“Getting pi, relativity and a few other things into the curriculum at fourth or fifth grade, it makes it a lot more interesting and makes it easier to make connections between a lot of things.”