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Man becomes math savant after violent attack alters his brain

Acquired savant

(NaturalNews) Ever since the beginning of civilization as we know it, savants have fascinated us with their remarkable creative or intellectual abilities. Albeit very rare, savants have often changed the way we view the world, our arts or our sciences, and have therefore played an absolutely essential part in the evolution of mankind. Some of them were born with their brilliant talents. Others, however, acquired them later in life.

With only 15 to 25 documented cases, acquired savants are extremely rare, usually brought a traumatic event involving the central nervous system. Jason Padgett, a man who had never gone past algebra in math, is one such case. After being attacked outside a bar, he has become a mathematical genius.

The extremely rare acquired savant syndrome

Modern medicine is yet to uncover the exact process that can turn an ordinary man into a savant. What we know so far is that acquired savant syndrome is generally triggered by an injury to some area of the brain. This injury generally affects the left hemisphere of the brain but leaves the right hemisphere intact. It is supposed that the intact brain then rewires the neural pathways between brain cells and that this can speed up or change the way people think, unlocking their dormant potential.

Naturally, acquired savant syndrome poses some interesting questions. For instance, we have always marveled at savants and their work throughout history precisely because they have been so scarce and unique. What if we were to discover some way to unlock the genius potential in any individual? Does the existence of acquired savant syndrome imply that there is such potential in all individuals?

These questions are yet to be answered. But Jason's case might have given us a few clues.

How it affected Jason

Before the incident, Jason Padgett was an ordinary furniture salesman from Tacoma, Washington, with no interest in academics and very little to show in terms of mathematical prowess. As he described himself, he was a jock and a regular party-goer. For him, everything changed in 2002, when he was savagely assaulted by two men outside a karaoke bar. All that he recalls from that night was being knocked out and seeing a bright flash of light. Later, he was sent home from the hospital with pain medication and a severe concussion.

It wasn't long before Jason noticed something was different in the way he saw the surrounding world. For a long time, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a debilitating social anxiety, but with these came an outstanding mathematical drawing ability. Jason started seeing the world through mathematics and geometry. He expressed his vision by drawing circles made of many overlapping triangles, an illustration of pi that not even he could understand at the time.

What we've learned from the incident

One day, Jason was discovered by a physicist who witnessed his drawing and strongly encouraged him to pursue an academic program in math. Now an aspiring number theorist, Jason is working with neuroscientists in an attempt to determine what exactly happened with his brain the night of his injury.

So far, they have managed to identify the area in Jason's brain where his genius abilities and vision reside. Indeed, when scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the left parietal cortex lit up the most, with some activation in the temporal and frontal lobes as well. Although scientists were unable to determine whether Jason's abilities are permanent, the structural changes that took place in his brain as a result of injury suggest that his genius is here to stay.

If nothing else, Jason's case of acquired savant syndrome helped us understand that there is a dormant potential for genius in every human being. With the right tools, we might be able to explore this potential even in the absence of a catastrophic brain injury.

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