Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

For One Math Genius, Every Day is Pi Day

Jason Padgett's representation of Pi.
Courtesy of Jason Padgett

Each year, on March 14th, math afficianados everywhere celebrate Pi Day. For Jason Padgett, though, every day is Pi Day. Pi Day this year is special. To understand why, let's go back to basics. Pi is defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, and its value has been calculated to a whopping 10 trillion digits beyond the decimal point. The first nine go like this: 3.141592653. Add some slashes and colons, and you get 3/14/15 9:26:53. It's a concurrence that won't happen again until 2115.

For Jason Padgett, though, every day is Pi Day.
Eleven years ago, Padgett was mugged and severely beaten. Afterward, he suffered lingering health problems, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Here’s the amazing part: he also sustained a traumatic brain injury that actually activated an area of his brain. The result is a combination of synesthesia – the intermingling of senses – and acquired savant syndrome. In other words, he now quite literally sees the world as math. Geometric shapes and complex equations are overlaid, or perhaps embedded, in everything from the water falling from a faucet to the spiral milk makes when stirred into coffee. A former college drop-out and self-described party boy, Padgett now talks about pi and relativity like old friends.

Padgett shares his amazing view of the world through incredibly detailed sketches. To demonstrate his understanding of pi, he creates spirals and circles out of triangles, the number of which is limited only by the thickness of his pencil tip.

Of course, there have been trade-offs. While Jason’s mathematical abilities have been elevated to the genius level, his writing skills have deteriorated. So he enlisted the help of fellow synesthete and journalist Maureen Seaberg to write his memoirs. The book is called Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury made Me a Mathematical Marvel. But (and, yes, I know I'm biased) this is really a story you have to hear for yourself.

Happy Pi Day!