There have been some news reports about a college dropout, Jason Padgett, becoming a math genius after getting hit on the head. Could this be true or how much of this could be true?

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    According to Wikipedia, mathematics is "the study of quantity, structure, space, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proof." This guy draws pretty pictures. There seems to be a big gap there. – Oddthinking Apr 30 '12 at 23:38
  • I think the better description is that he has a "New Skill", and that has been documented on several occasions: cracked.com/… Original individual cites in this article even. Another interesting link: wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_articles/… I'm about to go to work, so if someone wants to use these links in an answer, go ahead. – Larian LeQuella May 1 '12 at 10:40

Jason Padgett acquired a new and unique skill/ability of drawing mathematical fractals after getting hit on the head which is known as a phenomenon called acquired savant syndrome.

Savant syndrome is a rare but remarkable condition in which persons with developmental disabilities, brain injury, or brain disease have some spectacular skill or ability that stand in definite contrast to the overall handicap. There have been a number of cases reported in which, after some brain injury/disease, savant skills unexpectedly emerge, sometimes at a prodigious level, when no such skills were present before injury or illness which is called acquired savant syndrome.

The condition can be present from birth or surface in early childhood (congenital) or can surface unexpectedly following head injury, stroke, dementia, or other central nervous system (CNS) disorders (acquired). The special skills occur most commonly in the areas of music, art, calendar calculating, lightning calculating, or mechanical/spatial abilities. Whatever the special skill, it is always accompanied by extraordinary memory of a particular type—very narrow but very deep within the area of special ability.

In many of these cases, the special abilities emerge following left hemisphere injury, particularly left anterior temporal lobe injury. Increasingly, there is speculation that these newly emerged skills, formerly dormant, are “released,” compensatory abilities rather than newly created ones.

Jason Padgett is one of about 40 known acquired savants in Dr. Treffert’s Savant Syndrome Registry. Certain objects and mathematical formulas trigger synesthetic mathematical fractals in him and he was the first to hand-draw mathematical fractals, an ability he acquired after he was hit hard on the head.

He was an ordinary fellow who had a severe concussion in 2002. Following that, he had an instant synesthesia consisting of vivid images. With no prior interest or ability in art or mathematics, he began to draw these images, which turned out to be complex fractals and other mathematical concepts. He has advanced his mathematical ability, and his drawings have become sought-after art pieces.

The study results of Berit Brogaard et.al. from the scans of Jason Padgett's brain using Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) established that synesthetic imagery may be generated in areas of the brain not normally used for the creation of visual imagery.

In a series of functional MRI studies in Finland, Brogaard's team found uni-lateral left-side activity in the parietal and frontal areas when Padgett is exposed to well-formed mathematical formulas that give rise to synesthetic fractals in him and bi-lateral activation when he is exposed to nonsense formulas or formulas that don't give rise to synesthetic fractals.

They re-tested the results from the Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) using Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). In the TMS study, Padgett was shown formulas and asked to rate his synesthetic sensation on a scale 1-10, relative to his "baseline" percept (i.e. without TMS). They applied TMS over the brain areas that were activated in the fMRI scan with the formulas that give rise to synesthetic experiences and found the TMS modulated two central areas.

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