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Brain Injury Turns Man Into Math Genius 208

mpicpp sends in the story of Jason Padgett, a man who developed extraordinary mathematical abilities as the result of brain trauma when he was attacked outside a bar. "Padgett, a furniture salesman from Tacoma, Wash., who had very little interest in academics, developed the ability to visualize complex mathematical objects and physics concepts intuitively. The injury, while devastating, seems to have unlocked part of his brain that makes everything in his world appear to have a mathematical structure 'I see shapes and angles everywhere in real life' — from the geometry of a rainbow, to the fractals in water spiraling down a drain, Padgett told Live Science." "He describes his vision as 'discrete picture frames with a line connecting them, but still at real speed.' If you think of vision as the brain taking pictures all the time and smoothing them into a video, it's as though Padgett sees the frames without the smoothing. "
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Brain Injury Turns Man Into Math Genius

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  • by tobiasly ( 524456 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @06:32PM (#46934573) Homepage

    The neuroscientists who have been studying his brain seem fairly convinced he's not making it up. Though calling him a "math genius" doesn't necessarily seem warranted (at least not yet... maybe it's a case where formal study will allow him to apply his abilities more specifically?), I don't think they would diagnose him with what they're calling acquired savant syndrome without some evidence.

    Maybe read the book? Even the top negative review seems to give weight to his claim: []

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @06:44PM (#46934675) Homepage Journal

    No, the media calls him math genius because he calls himself a math genius. Also, he believe PI has an end.
    from the neurologist's preliminary report:

    We studied the patient JP who has exceptional abilities to draw complex geometrical images by hand and a form of acquired synesthesia for mathematical formulas and objects, which he perceives as geometrical figures. JP sees all smooth curvatures as discrete lines, similarly regardless of scale. We carried out two preliminary investigations to establish the perceptual nature of synesthetic experience and to investigate the neural basis of this phenomenon. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, image-inducing formulas produced larger fMRI responses than non-image inducing formulas in the left temporal, parietal and frontal lobes. Thus our main finding is that the activation associated with his experience of complex geometrical images emerging from mathematical formulas is restricted to the left hemisphere.

  • by BiIl_the_Engineer ( 3618863 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @07:09PM (#46934919)

    How many kids in high school understand pi?

    An elite few. Most people simply memorize equations and procedures; understanding never comes into it.

    But still, I'd be impressed if this guy actually did something, like solve an unsolved problem. Sadly, these popular math 'geniuses' and child 'geniuses' never seem to do a damn thing that's truly notable.

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @07:09PM (#46934921)

    I don't know if the guy is full of shit or not... but, I did my own google search.

    I found that:
    1. He wrote a book that was well received about his injury, though complaints were that it was overly wordy. There were several people that claimed to be mathematicians that reviewed it and said his area of specialty was fractal geometry and that he was so specialized it was uninteresting to them. He was basically obsessed with 1 aspect of geometry.
    2. He is an artist, and makes Fractal art. Not that his stuff is that incredible but I doubt a furniture salesman could pull this off. []
    3. Here's photos of him. One includes his doctor: []
    4. That doctors name is Darold Treffert who appears to be am expert on Savant Syndrome. []

    So it appears to me that the guy actually did develop some Savant abilities. I don't know if he got them from an injury or not. But it appears that those abilities are so specialized that they may not be useful in an academic sense. If he can visualize incredibly complex geometries but can not, for example, do long division, his skill wouldn't really lead him to write a lot of papers.

  • by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @08:15PM (#46935313)

    Indeed. And if you define pi as the smallest positive real number whose cosine is -1, the Planck length becomes immaterial.

  • by KramberryKoncerto ( 2552046 ) on Tuesday May 06, 2014 @08:18PM (#46935343)

    Sadly, these popular math 'geniuses' and child 'geniuses' never seem to do a damn thing that's truly notable.

    Perhaps except Terrence Tao; a famous math prodigy, who also became an incredibly successful mathematician, "Such is Tao's reputation that mathematicians now compete to interest him in their problems, and he is becoming a kind of Mr Fix-it for frustrated researchers. "If you're stuck on a problem, then one way out is to interest Terence Tao," says Charles Fefferman [professor of mathematics at Princeton University].". Also Erik Demaine, who finished PhD and became a professor at MIT at 20; he has a less impressive history than Tao, but still a fruitful career.

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @03:55AM (#46937247)

    You cannot because it's not possible. A 'base' is the number of unique symbols in the number system. You can't have partial symbols; you can have 3 symbols for base 3, and 4 symbols for base 4, but you cannot have 3.1415xxx symbols for base Pi.

    You might as well ask what it would be like to have a "base yellow" number system or a "base CmdrTaco" number system. Meaningless.

    Wrong, you can have non-integral bases, including base Pi []. Your positions each represent Pi, Pi^2, Pi^3 etc

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @05:22AM (#46937443) Journal

    You cannot because it's not possible.

    To say such a thing, you don't understand what maths is truly about on a very fundemental level. I don't mean this in a bad way. Most people don't because despite the supposed maths eduation one gets they omit this important point. I didn't until very recently.

    Maths isn't about "the rules" it's about YOUR rules. You set the rules, and you can set them to be whatever you like. There are generally three results from such an activity:
    1. The rules are inconsistent.
    2. The rules are trivial.
    3. Some interesting patterns emerge.

    (3) is what maths is about. You pick some rules and see where they lead you. The thing is rules are not as passive as they seem. Sometimes once you pick some basic rules, the patterns build and build and build. Sometimes they join up to other patterns.

    A good example is complex numbers. i is not a real thing. It's just an invention. You can essentially say: I wonder what happens if we have this number i such that i*i=-1. Let's say we'll keep the other rules we know and see what happens.

    The result is incredibly rich. Of course, there is no real numer i, such that i*i=-1, but that just plain doesn't matter.

    There are others too. Smeone asked what happens if we have a nonzero numer e, such that e*e=0. I believe those are called dual numers. They're neat but do not have the quite astonishingly all-pervasive richness of complex numbers.

    Likewise with frational powers. You can't multiply a number by itself half a numer of times, or a negative numer of times. That makes no sense. However, you can take the integers and replae them with fractions, real numbers, complex numbers, matrices and so on just for shits ang giggles and see what happens. Naturally if you're working form integer powers as the premise you need to make sure when they degenreate to simple integers you haven't broken your own rules.

    All the rules you know and have seen for such things are merely choices. They are presented as facts because they have by far the most useful and interesting consequenes. But, they're not really facts at all, just choices. It's also nice in that in many cases, it's the most natural way to see what happens when non-integers are used for example as powers.

    This even happens to the extent that the cherished fact 1+1=2 is no fact at all. You get interesting things too when 1+1=0, for example and when 2+2=1.

    So back to number bases. You can have fractional bases simply beause there's no one to tell you you can't. You an if you want: that's the beauty of maths. The question is, can you figure out a way to make it work?

    THAT is maths.

"The hands that help are better far than the lips that pray." -- Robert G. Ingersoll