When Jason Padgett pours cream into his morning coffee, this is what he sees:
“I watch the cream stirred into the brew. The perfect spiral is an important shape to me. It’s a fractal. Suddenly, it’s not just my morning cup of joe, it’s geometry speaking to me.”
Padgett’s world is bursting with mathematical patterns. He is one of a few people in the world who can draw approximations of fractals, the repeating geometric patterns that are building blocks of everything in the known universe, by hand. Tree leaves outside his window are evidence of Pythagoras’ Theorem. The arc that light makes when it bounces off his car proves the power of pi.
He sees the parts that make up the whole. And his world is never boring, never without amazement. Even his dreams are made up of geometry.
“I can barely remember a time,” the 43-year-old says, “when I saw the world the way most everyone else does.”
Flashback 12 years: Padgett had dropped out of Tacoma (Wash.) Community College, and was a self-described “goof” with zero interest in academics, let alone math. The only time he dealt in numbers was to track the hours until his shift ended at his father’s furniture store, tally up his bar tab, and count bicep curls at the gym.
With his mullet, leather vest opened to a bare chest, and skintight pants, he was more like a high-school student stuck in the 1980s — even though it was 2002, and he was a 31-year-old with a daughter.
He would race his buddies in a freshly painted red Camaro. His life was one adrenaline rush after another: cliff-jumping, sky-diving, bar-hopping. He was the “life of the party.” The guy who would funnel a beer before going out and would slip a bottle of Southern Comfort in his jacket pocket to avoid paying $6 for mixed drinks.
“I thought it would go on that way forever,” Padgett says.