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Man gets mugged, transforms into mathematical savant?

  1. May 9, 2012 #1
  2. jcsd
  3. May 9, 2012 #2
    :Laughs out loudly:
  4. May 9, 2012 #3
    The author of that article is no judge of mathematical genius.
  5. May 9, 2012 #4
  6. May 9, 2012 #5


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    Aha, more evidence for my "two by four about the head and shoulders" method of teaching!
  7. May 9, 2012 #6


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    Articles like that grieve me. I think he has a promising career in graphic design, but I saw nothing in that article which justifies the use of the word "genius" to describe his mathematical ability. I'm really not trying to be pretentious here, I just don't like it when the media bastardizes math and science to make a story.

    Are you effing kidding me?! Riiiiiight: Euler, Gauss, Euclid, Riemann, Newton, etc. don't have anything on this guy! :uhh:

    I have officially moved from grief to complete disgust.
    Last edited: May 9, 2012
  8. May 9, 2012 #7
    There didn't seem to be anything in the article to support the claim that the guy is a math genius. Such as, eg., some math.

    I don't know, but I don't think one has to be a math genius to do the sort of pictures that the guy has done. They are nice though.
    Last edited: May 9, 2012
  9. May 9, 2012 #8
    You're right.

    The story here, what is authentically of interest, is that his brain trauma completely changed his personality, narrowing his focus from the standard general range of interests to a dedicated obsession with geometric looking patterns. He virtually went from a normal person to something indistinguishable from a high functioning autistic savant. This is the first time I've ever heard of this happening, and the particular brain damage he suffered should be thoroughly studied for what it may have to say about autism.
  10. May 9, 2012 #9
    There is no connection between brain damage and autism. The criteria for a diagnosis of autism can be found here:
  11. May 9, 2012 #10
    The criteria for the diagnosis is a separate consideration from the cause. The DSM declines to ascribe a cause. That's true of just about every diagnosis in the DSM except those involving drug abuse. There is, however, a vast amount of research, past and present, trying to uncover the cause. The fact this man's brain damage has rendered him so much like an autistic savant is definitely of interest in what it may say about autism.
  12. May 9, 2012 #11
    Besides monomania, what other criteria does he exhibit?
  13. May 9, 2012 #12


    I'm not sure where you are getting your terminology.

    The one thing he acquired from the brain damage is remarkably like what you find in high functioning autistic savants.

    I don't know for sure, but it doesn't seem to me he continues to fit the description of someone who only cares about 1.) working out, and 2.) partying. In other words, while they don't specifically ask about this, he does not seem to be social in the same way he was before at all. Drawing these designs seems to be the center of his life now. They depict him doing it even when he's at work, and he's even got an exhibit of his stuff on the wall behind him at the furniture store. My impression: he's there because he needs a job, not because he likes selling furniture (i.e. interacting socially with the customers).

    To the extent a screening by an autism specialist might uncover more distinctly autistic traits, so much the better for my notion, but my main point is that he should be studied based on the one major change alone. (They are, in fact, studying him, but seem to be barking up this erroneous tree of "math genius", instead of asking what his case may have to say about high functioning autistic savants.)
  14. May 9, 2012 #13


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    Did you see the claim is that he actually has an acquired synesthesia that causes him to have a reaction to fractal formula?

    Here is his account of the maths he is reacting to....

    I can see why they are calling him a mathematical genius. :smile:

    The whole thing is way over-hyped. Here is a different account which says his immediate reaction to the brain injury was a distorted vision of the world that looked fractal. Then later he learnt to retrofit some mathematical justification to the simple patterns he was obsessively drawing.

    So it is dubious that it is even true synesthesia.

    And then back into the wild hype...

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  15. May 9, 2012 #14
    I like the way you put this. It's clear the vague allusions to pythagorean theorem and pi and fractals are a poor attempt at rationalizing what he's doing. It's obvious on the first reading of the OP's link he did not acquire mathematical genius, or even above average math skills. All he's seems to have acquired is an obsession with drawing geometric patterns, which is quite a different proposition than doing and understanding geometry.
  16. May 9, 2012 #15
    I used to do these kinds of drawings in my 6th grade geometry class, as well as my Computer Science in QBasic :)
    [/PLAIN] [Broken]
    , anyone?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  17. May 9, 2012 #16
    Yeah. A few years ago I taught myself how to tie a Turk's Head knot:


    I'm sure it represents something mathematical, but I have no particular interest in it if it does. It looks cool, is all.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  18. May 9, 2012 #17


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    Digging into it a bit more, I see he is also tied in with this lot....

    So a lot of bad science behind the bad journalism.

    Here is Padgett describing his symptoms first hand in a short clip...

    His description of trailing and jitter effects are not synesthesia at all in my book. More the kind of visual disturbances that you get from brain damage that results in integrative failures in the visual hierarchy. Or Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (HPPD).

    There is a wiki page claiming that brain scans show he only reacts to actual fractal equations, but I've not been able to track down the papers as yet, so that looks like unpublished stuff. And given the other information, I would still be dubious.

    However, giving the case for the other side (because whatever the explanation, it is interesting the spin that is getting put on all of this)....

    And here is a clip which suggests the test stimuli were actual objects rather than equations. Possibly this was just a different experiment, but it does give yet more first-hand accounts of what Padgett experiences, and ties it to motion processing issues.

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  19. May 10, 2012 #18

    A guy I know here, who's been diagnosed as somewhere on the autistic spectrum, described this same difficulty with following the motion of cars or busses to me. He said nothing about a grid, but he said things to the effect that, to him, cars jerk forward in space rather than progress with continuous motion. He mentioned this several times in several different conversations, so I take it it was quite intrusive. He complained that he can't read the signs on the sides of busses when they are in motion because he can't visually track them. No one else I have met who has Asperger's has mentioned this (though none of them seems to have ever had a driver's license).

    Sacks mentioned a woman whose visual field would freeze and stick due to the sight of certain motions. Pouring tea was one trigger. The scene would stop moving and become a still frame of tea coming out of the pot into the cup, and she'd be stuck there a while. That's not synesthesia, and this jerky motion effect sounds like a quick succession of shorter lived episodes of it.

    The only synesthetic sounding thing here: In the last video he says the sound of the MRI made him see wavy lines, but only, "in my head". That's ambiguous, and I wouldn't assume synesthesia from it.

    If the sight of the formula for a fractal causes him to see the pattern of a fractal, I still wouldn't call that synesthesia, just hallucination. I wouldn't call him a savant either, unless they've conclusively determined that the image he sees is the one that would, in fact, be generated by the formula they showed him.

    I have an inkling he may only be seeing "form constants". Hallucinogenic drugs, and many other things that affect the brain cause people to see geometric patterns that a guy named Kluver dubbed "form constants". (Migraine aurae are another well known cause of this.) :


    I suspect this guy may be seeing form constants but was mislead into believing they were fractals. Now he leans in that direction by confirmation bias and "fractalizes" his reports of what he sees, justifying it with the phrase he repeated often in the last video: "Everything's a fractal."

    The Danish researcher strikes me as being synesthesia-happy, much like Richard Cytowic, who seems to see synesthesia everywhere (and came up with the statistic of 1 in 10 people having some form of synesthesia).

    Anyway, since he's been tainted with the notion he's some kind of mathematical genius now, and that's been linked to fractals, it may not be possible any longer to determine whether or not all he's been experiencing are form constants. He may have trained himself to visually conflate them with all the images of fractals he's now seen on the web.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  20. May 10, 2012 #19


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    I thought this was quite a common symptom - and one that fits with autism being a low-level integration issue.

    Donna Williams described her perceptual issues well in her autobiography, which you would enjoy - http://www.donnawilliams.net/about.0.html

    Yep, that was a very memorable example for me too. Loved those books of his.

    I'm still digging because this is the sort of sloppy neuroscience that really annoys me.

    Brogaard has written this account which gives a far clearer story on how Padgett is only drawing pictures inspired by his visual disturbances. So the maths is retrofitted.


    But then here she is claiming that Padgett is responding selectively to fractal formulae (with a full paper in preparation).


    Maybe Padgett has learnt to recognise these formula having done some introductory maths classes now.

    Yes, it sounds very much like the kind of things reported with migraine auras.

    Though rather than form constants, Brogaard at least cites the kind of boundary and motion perception distortions that can result from targetted brain damage.

    And you've probably seen this useful classification of visual disturbances....

    http://www.migraine-aura.org/content/e27891/e27265/e26585/e48971/e48980/index_en.html [Broken]

    Padgett may even have a spot of entomopia - insect vision - from his mention of grid-like repetition - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entomopia
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  21. May 10, 2012 #20
    It may well be common, but I haven't heard it specifically described by anyone except the one guy I met. Donna Williams doesn't specifically describe anything like this in the above link, and I don't recall Temple Grandin mentioning anything like it in Sack's writings about her.

    When I say he might just be seeing form constants, I'm not talking about the jerky motion disturbance, which is a separate problem. I'm talking about the geometric patterns that he sees and tries to draw.

    At the Migraine link, one sufferer submitted an image he created of his visual aura:

    http://www.migraine-aura.org/content/e27891/e27265/e26585/e49268/e49334/index_en.html [Broken]

    Have a look. It strikes me as a superimposition of two form constants. I think Padgett is probably experiencing something like this, but more elaborate, triggered by light glinting off surfaces. Depending on the exact form constants involved you could get something more suggestive of a fractal, without it actually being a fractal.

    The puff articles don't mention this, but the first paper you linked to reports that he has developed marked OCD symptoms as a result of the head trauma. That goes a long way toward explaining the personality change, his obsession with these drawings, and the sudden resemblance to someone with HFA. OCD is often co-morbid with Autism and Asperger's. That is really the thing I was wondering about, and what I would study in this woman's shoes. Synesthesia and math savantism are barking up the wrong tree. The math, as you pointed out, has been artificially retrofitted.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
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