Book by: Jason Padgett and Maureen Seaberg
Review by: Diana DeVol Bevilacqua
The Department of Mathematics
The Ohio State University
Academic advisors occasionally encounter students with behavioral disabilities that they do not understand making them uneasy in an advising session. The autobiography of Jason Padgett, Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel may be just the book to aid in understanding.
Padgett, a carefree college dropout suddenly becomes a brilliant savant mathematician after devastating beatings to the head by attackers. From his traumatic brain injury (TBI) experience, he immediately sees and feels the world differently. According to Padgett (2014), “Everything that moved had trails of colored light. There were triangles and squares in repeating patterns.” (p. 30). These visions are the beginnings of his mathematical research on fractals, which are defined as “figures generated by successive subdivisions of a simpler polygon, according to some iterative process” (Dictionary.com Unabridged, n.d.). His amazing geometric insight appears in his intricate artwork long before he ever receives formal mathematical training to explain his theories.
In addition, Padgett feels differently about his behavior as he is the complete opposite from his carefree social years. He becomes agoraphobic and absorbs himself in Internet research on brain psychology which leads to a self-diagnosis of sudden onset savant syndrome, a condition in which “a person exhibits profound or extensive learning” (Dictionary.com Unabridged, n.d.) and synesthesia, “a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color” (Dictionary.com Unabridged, n.d.).
Certainly, mathematicians have an appreciative connection to the geometric beauty depicted in this book along with the mathematical theory. Neuroscientists and psychologists benefit from the brain research described. Advisors who have no interest in mathematics or brain function may not find the details of this book interesting. However, if advisors think of this autobiography as a long case study, then they gain valuable understandings into the behaviors of savants, synesthetes and other differently-abled people. Advisors might actually discover that there is beauty in geometry. Armed with this information, advisors are better equipped to advise students with similar traits to Padgett. Advisors might glean more empathy and have a better understanding of their students with exceptional abilities.
In conclusion, Struck by Genius is an autobiography of Jason Padgett’s life, a college dropout with severe trauma to the head turned brilliant mathematician. Along the way, he makes discoveries about his dominant psychological conditions as a savant and a synesthete, which are later professionally confirmed. Jason describes how he, on his own, becomes compulsively absorbed into the study of intricate geometries and how they relate to the world.
I suppose that I am biased due to my mathematics education background, but I feel Struck by Genius is worth a read. It appeals to those interested in mathematics, science, psychology and real life stories. Ultimately, it is a story of courage and determination to overcome devastating physical harm and become a brilliant mathematician and artist.
fractal. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved from Dictionary.com website http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fractal
savant. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved from Dictionary.com website http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/savant
synesthesia. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved from Dictionary.com website http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/synesthesia
Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel. (2014). Book by Jason Padgett and Maureen Seaberg. Review by Diana DeVol Bevilacqua. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing. 256 pp., Price $27.00 (Hardback), ISBN 978-0-544-04560-6.