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The Acquired Savant | A Great Big Film

In 2002, Jason Padgett left a karaoke bar, only to be viciously attacked by two men in Tacoma, Washington. He was sent to a hospital, diagnosed with a concussion and kidney failure, among other things, and sent home.

This is where things start to get interesting.

Padgett says the next day, the compulsions began. He found himself washing his hands 15 times at once. He was hammering blankets over his windows to avoid the light. He fell into a depression where he didn’t want to go outside or be awake. Things were rough, to say the least. But Padgett says he started seeing a brand new beauty in the universe. He saw what he called tangent lines in flowing water; he would see the same shapes on his TV, outside, on his walls. He noticed patterns and lines in everything from the sun to inside his whole home. Suddenly, Padgett started seeing everything in math—more specifically, pi started showing up everywhere. Padgett was diagnosed with acquired savant syndrome, in which dormant savant skills appear, usually after a traumatic head injury. There have been over 70 cases of such a condition. Padgett’s injury caused him to have a surge in left brain activity—the part of the brain known for its mathematical abilities.

After visiting doctors, participating in studies and realizing he had acquired savant syndrome, Padgett decided to head back to college, where suddenly things just began to click. His newfound mathematical worldview, coupled with his acquired mathematical vocabulary to express what he was seeing, gave Padgett’s life a whole new meaning. The icing on the cake: Padgett even met his wife at school.

Researchers have been working to find a way to attain such savant skills without having to undergo a head injury. Although they aren’t quite there yet, there are options they are exploring. One is known as a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), in which a magnet is placed on the top of the head to stimulate parts of the brain to “wake up” dormant parts of the brain. But until then? Seems like such savant knowledge is reserved for people like Padgett.

Location

Tacoma, WA, USA

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