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A Freakin’ Genius
Did you hear about Jason Padgett? He’s the affable, 41-year-old futon salesman who became a mathematical genius. All he needed to do to get there was get beaten practically to death.

Mr. Padgett was jumped by several young toughs one evening as he left a karaoke bar in Tacoma, Washington. He was, among other things, given several hard kicks to the head, and those blows resulted in severe, permanent brain damage.

That, as it turned out, was Jason’s lucky day. According to neuroscientists who examined him after he recovered, his brain responded to the injury by commandeering an area of itself that wasn’t doing much at the time. For Padgett, a college dropout with no history as a numbers whiz, that area happened to be the one responsible for mathematics and mental imagery.

Suddenly, the lights went on in the math department. Cascades of formulae and numerical relationships exploded across his brainpan. Everything he saw, from buildings to mountains to single blades of grass, was instantly translated into precise fractal imagery. Furthermore, he is now able to draw intricate geometrical renderings of the mathematical relationships that have flooded his mind. He had become, through some accidental application of violence, a gifted, brilliant savant.

All of which is very nice — a great story and a stunning rejuvenation of Jason’s unremarkable life. Still, I have to ask: how can the rest of us get in on this action? How do we go about turning on the lights in some dark region of our own minds and so become the next Mozart, the next Einstein, the next Thomas Kinkade? Or, better yet, how do we get all the lights turned on everywhere in our brains? How do we become super-beings with godlike powers? Is that too much to ask?

I suppose you could start by trying to kick yourself in the head, but I can’t imagine that would produce anything more than some amusing clips for YouTube. You could ask a loved one to go at your noggin with a ball-peen hammer, but that might only serve to undermine the relationship. Besides, if all there were to becoming a genius was random, blunt force trauma to the head, then everyone in the NFL would be a Nobel laureate.

So how do we get those lights turned on and grab some super-powers of our own? I figure the only way is for some poor schlub like Jason to be brutally attacked and later wake up with a fundamental grasp of the wiring of the human brain, becoming a kind of accidental neuroscientific savant. Then that guy could tell the rest of us where the light switch is.

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