6 People Who Gained Amazing Skills from Brain Injuries
Eddie Rodriguez (Cracked)
In real life, people don’t suffer freaky events like getting struck by lightning or getting part of their brain removed and then suddenly find themselves with new superpowers, like heat vision or flight. However, people do apparently suffer freaky events and then gain the ability to do art.
It’s a poorly understood phenomenon, but according to the experts who’ve studied them, these people aren’t just messing with us.
#6. Man Has Mystery Illness, Gains Super Memory and Painting Powers
Quick: Picture in your mind what your neighborhood looked like when you were 4 years old. Even better, try to draw a picture of it, in fine detail. Hell, most of us couldn’t do the latter with a room we saw five minutes ago. To unlock that ability, apparently all we need is a severe, life-threatening fever to jar it loose.
When 30-something Italian immigrant Franco Magnani arrived in San Francisco in the 1960s, he came down with just such a fever — to the point that he sometimes became delirious and had seizures. In the aftermath, Magnani started having insanely vivid dreams/memories about his childhood hometown of Pontito, Italy. The man hadn’t visited the place in more than 30 years, but his dreams were intense and filled with detail, as if his seizures had somehow surfaced a bunch of old image files off his brain’s hard drive, perfectly intact.
Magnani became so engulfed by the memories that he started to draw and eventually paint them. If the below paintings look like random pictures of streets and alleys you could see on anybody’s wall, you have to see them next to a photo of the real scene to understand why they’re remarkable. The photo is on the left. The painting on the right was painted from a three-decade-old memory from early childhood:
Can we call “Photoshop” on a painting?
Again, Magnani did not have that photo to work from — that was taken later, probably by somebody trying to find out if he was full of shit. And keep in mind, painting at all was totally out of character for him, given that he had been a cook in Italy and a woodworker when he came to San Francisco. Yet even though he’d never so much as held a brush in his life, he was suddenly overcome with an urge to paint these scenes, with as much detail as his memory provided him. Yes, there are variations in the pics — for instance when he paints the view from his old bedroom window, he’s remembering it being zoomed out a bit:
Photo, again on the left.
What you’re seeing is the product of what had become an obsession. According to one of his friends, Magnani was known to leave his favorite bar mid-drink if he got a memory that he wanted to paint. Later, when word of Magnani’s story got out, doctors said that what he had was probably “temporal lobe epilepsy,” which is known to sometimes create an obsessive personality in sufferers.
Photo on left.
When Magnani’s work was eventually shown in art galleries, it was put up next to photo comparisons of Pontito taken from the same angles as his paintings. You can see the result for yourself.
And to think, all he had to do was have himself a fever and a couple of seizures. We’re betting any aspiring artist will take that deal over three years of putting up with stuck-up assholes at art schools.
#5. Man Gets Ass Kicked, Begins to See and Draw Fractals
According to a professor at the University of St. Louis, Jason Padgett has the world’s only case of beatdown-induced genius. And it all started when some muggers kicked his ass so hard, they turned him into a math and art phenomenon.
In 2002, Padgett was just minding his business, leaving a restaurant after a date, when two dudes rudely decided they were going to use his head like a freaking pinata. After the beating, they took his money and ran.
“Why yes, we would hit a man with glasses.”
At the hospital they told him he had a concussion, and to get some rest. But when Padgett went back home, he immediately went on the longest drugless acid trip of all freaking time. On sunny days, the little bit of light that bounced off a car’s window would suddenly explode into an array of triangles. Every time an object moved, it left strange patterns behind. The edges of clouds and liquids became spiraling lines. The dude thought he was either going crazy or being haunted by the ghost of geometry. Either way, he stayed mostly inside his house for three freaking years.
This is what he sees all the time. All the time.
Well, two MRIs, two metal plates in his head and a few “Oh, God, what’s happening to me?”s later, Padgett decided he’d go ahead and start drawing the shapes he saw. And hey, they looked pretty freaking sweet.
Padgett eventually started to get out of the house more, and someone who saw his art noticed that the drawings looked kind of mathy, so they suggested that Padgett take math classes at the community college so he could learn how to describe them.
“… and then if you turn it upside down, it spells ‘BOOBLESS.’”
Padgett had always sucked at math, needing to cheat just to get by in high school, but hey, he’d never had any art training whatsoever either, so why not, right? At school, he now found he kicked ass in math, too, and even learned that the art he was making was called a fractal, which is a shape that contains its same shape many times inside itself. It’s the Inception of geometry, is what we’re saying.
Or what Terence McKenna saw whenever he closed his eyes.
Since taking those math classes, life’s been pretty good to Padgett. He won best newcomer at an international art competition and is widely acknowledged as the only person able to hand-draw fractals (for a tidy profit, of course!). He also has advanced the fields of math and physics with his intuitive understanding of those weird repeating shapes. He even discovered that Einstein’s E=mcÂ² is a fractal.
The theory is that the blows Padgett took to the skull affected the areas of the brain that control object boundary formation, and this somehow unlocked his visual math superpowers. Well, whatever it is, it’s certainly not the worst side effect of an ass-kicking ever.
#4. Guy Gets Struck by Lightning, Suddenly Is Great on the Piano
With the skies gray and impending-thunderstorm-like, orthopedic surgeon Tony Cicoria got the idea to call his dear old mom, so he stopped by a payphone and gave her a ring. But no sooner had he finished his conversation that he got the shock of his life — literally. Like a creepy-but-true urban legend, lightning struck the payphone, came out of the phone’s receiver and struck poor Cicoria right in the face, killing him.
“That’s what you get for being a considerate son!” – Zeus
Well, at least it seemed to everyone like he was dead. Including to Cicoria himself. He recalls thinking, “Oh, shit. I’m dead,” before being slammed back to life.
Tony Cicoria, seen here thoroughly enjoying not being dead.
Like most people who’ve had a bajillion volts go through their bodies, Cicoria had a few minor complaints after the incident. For a week or two, he was feeling sluggish and having trouble remembering things. But those symptoms went away, and that’s when things got weird. Out of the blue, Cicoria got this sudden, insatiable urge to listen to piano music.
He’d listen to it everywhere, all the time. The dude had never had an interest in piano music, as he much preferred rock music to Rachmaninoff and wasn’t even mildly the artsy type. But, you might say, so what? He had a life-changing experience, and he decided he liked different music afterward. But then he was hearing music in his head — new, original music like he never had before. Never stopping. Always there.
“Flash before my eyyyyes … now, it’s time to dieee …”
So, despite not really knowing how to play the piano and not knowing how to read or write music, Cicoria got himself a piano and promptly began to play everything he heard in his head. He’d even wake up at four in the morning and play until he had to go do his orthopedic surgery thing, which seems a little dangerous to us considering his line of work, but whatever.
We’re pretty sure he became a Heroes character before it was canceled.
Soon after his lightning strike, he was composing his first song called, you guessed it, “The Lightning Sonata.” Here he is, playing some of it in a show hosted by a clearly stoned hippie:
(SEE LINK BELOW)
Since his zapping, Cicoria’s been studied by prominent Columbia University brainologist Oliver Sachs, who featured him in a book and in a PBS documentary about how music works in the brain. Despite several examinations, the exact medical explanation for Cicoria’s condition still eludes the men with the MRI machines. They do say that his jolt and his out-of-body experience may have caused some cerebral cortex anomalies, among others, but really they’re mostly giving a fairly big shrug on the subject.
Regardless, Cicoria’s musical career has really taken off, as the formerly tone-confused doctor has been featured in magazines and TV shows, and has had several recitals where he’s played the classics and his own work. It’s clear now that Zeus didn’t want to hurt Cicoria. He just wanted to hear himself some piano.
#3. Man Survives Stroke, Becomes Graphic Artist
Ken Walters’ story begins with a ridiculous run of bad luck that started in 1986, when he got into an accident that broke his back. That left him bedridden and in pain for an entire year, and unable to walk ever again. Later, he was actually kicked out of his new house by the government — then charged 5,000 pounds (nearly $8,000 in 2011 dollars). The stress ended up giving him two heart attacks. In 2005, after nearly 20 years of joblessness, depression and living off the government that screwed him, Walters had a stroke.
We’re just sayin’.
Walters didn’t know it at the time, but a blood clot in the fleshy innards of his skull would change his life — for the better. During the first day of his latest stay at the hospital, he wrote a note to a nurse, presumably asking her if the hospital had medicine to treat gypsy curses, when he noticed something odd. After he wrote the note, his hand began to wander across the piece of paper, and he began to doodle — something he was never really prone to doing.
Weirdest of all, he didn’t even notice he was doing it until the nurse asked him what he was drawing. Only then did he look down at the piece of paper and realize his hand was drawing patterns all by itself.
What you just heard was the sound of several thousand desktop wallpapers changing.
The floodgates opened from there. Walters would wake up every night in the wee hours of the morning with visions of art in his head, and he would draw until the sun came up. He had hated art in school, and was never any good at it, so he thought of it as a symptom. He asked his doctor what the heck was happening to him and, controlling his urge to tell Walters that he was possessed by Casper the Friendly Drawer, the doctor instead told him that after a stroke, the brain can rewire itself to avoid damaged areas. Usually, this rewiring causes things like personality changes, but in Walters’ case, it gave him the insatiable urge — and the ability — to draw. The doc told him not to worry, that this was likely just temporary. Boy, was he wrong.
Walters, who was an engineer before he was paralyzed, started to draw like a maniac. He used mostly his computer to draw abstract patterns, eschewing paper and pencil for the digital canvas, and sold his designs over the Internet in the online game Second Life.
It took off from there. People started buying Walters’ pieces by the dozen. Companies like IBM and Java were contacting him, telling him they wanted to hang his art in their offices. He got his art featured in magazines and real-life galleries where real-life people oohed and aahed at his digital abstract creations.
But Walters’ biggest break came when video game maker Electronic Arts saw his gallery. They hired Walters to draw them some monsters, and now his stuff appears in the world-building video game Spore.
Which of course were then morphed into dicks by the actual players.
No longer down in the dumps, Walters actually says he wouldn’t change his life for anything. Yeah, that tends to happen when you raise your income by nearly 2,000 percent and become a world-renowned digital artist.
He’s still got a ways to go before achieving his ultimate goal: Buying the government and having them dissolved. In acid.
#2. Man Has Aneurysm, Becomes Painter/Poet/Sculptor
British man Tommy McHugh had made it to his 50s by being one of the bigger assholes in the U.K., having been arrested for a bit of a drug habit and an unfortunate lifelong penchant for punching random blokes in bars. Then, while he was sitting on the crapper, he got a violent headache and went to the hospital. There he got mildly bad news: his brain had started to bleed from not one but both sides due to ruptured aneurysms (nasty blood bulges in a brain’s blood vessel), and he’d have to go into surgery immediately … or die.
“First tosser I see when I wake up is getting my thumb in his eye socket, he is.”
McHugh got his internal head wounds all clamped up and everything seemed fine to the docs, at least brain-wise. Yet, when McHugh got home, he started doing some seriously odd things. For the first three months after his surgery, he was only able to speak in weird rhyme, and after that passed, he experienced a never-ending “slideshow” of images in his brain.
Never in his 50 years of drunken fisticuffs did McHugh express any creativity. The dude was a builder by trade and creative arts fell squarely into the “shove it up your piehole” category. But after his aneurysms, McHugh was unable to stop the flow of words and images in his brain. He felt the need to pour them onto paper, or onto a canvas, or to make sculptures out of them. One day, his wife came in to the kitchen to find her hubby drawing hundreds of alien-like faces with mouths agape.
“Honey, I’m feeling a bit down. Could you make me a cup of t-WHAT THE FUCK!”
McHugh’s mania only got more pronounced. He’d finish a painting and then have to start another, then follow that up with a poem, then maybe sculpt himself a little something, then write, then paint, then do it all the hell over again. The man who previously couldn’t string two words together on a piece of paper began to fill notebooks with poems and make sculptures like they were going out of style. And like Michelangelo on speed, the dude used his own walls to paint murals on, covering every inch of his house with his art, floors and ceilings included.
“Honey, could you take the out the trash and — You have GOT to stop this!”
McHugh sent letters out to doctors — written in verse, of course — so they could come look at him. Soon, a team of researchers put him through every cognitive test imaginable and concluded that, yes, his artistic output was due to his brain’s sudden decision to start bleeding, which caused some damage to his frontal lobe.
Though, hey, if life gives you visions of freaky skinless couples with extra faces on their backs, why not share them with the world?
McHugh has had his art exhibited in many galleries in the U.K., and obviously continues to sculpt, write and draw. Though he’s particularly fascinated with faces, it seems that the dude will make art about anything, just about anywhere. He says of his experience, “My mind is like a volcano exploding with bubbles and each bubble contains a million other bubbles, and then another million bubbles of unstoppable creative ideas.” We totally believe you, man.
One additional nice side effect of McHugh’s aneurysm-induced artsplosion, according to McHugh himself, is that he’s actually become a much nicer person. That’s right, in addition to becoming an artist, he’s also forsaken the ways of the bar warrior, and he says he wishes he’d been that way all his life.
#1. Man Has Part of Brain Removed After Stroke, Becomes Artist
At the age of 35, New Jersey man Jon Sarkin started to hear ringing in his ear. This was the type of ringing that, it turns out, could only be explained by overgrown blood vessels that require freaking brain surgery to fix.
Sarkin got his noggin cut open to fix the blood vessel, but later suffered a stroke and actually had to have part of his brain removed. All in all, it was almost the worst possible outcome for the surgery aside from death.
Or losing those awesome eyebrows.
Or at least, it would appear that way. Apparently the stroke and the brain surgery affected the “not being an artist” part of Sarkin’s brain, because after he left the hospital, the man became obsessed with drawing. Like the other people on this list, he had never shown any talent or flair for art, but became so fixated on it that he would rush off in the middle of family dinners to sketch symbols, draw objects and plain old paint for hours as ideas came to him — delicious mashed potatoes be damned!
Sarkin was a chiropractor by trade, and actually returned to work, but he found no joy in savage neck twisting and back breaking anymore. He became withdrawn, and in between seeing patients, he would doodle obsessively. Then, his sister told him that if he liked drawing so dang much, he might as well make a buck or two at it. Sarkin sent a dozen drawings of weird and ghostly faces to The New Yorker, and much to his delight, the magazine bought them.
From then on, the dude has been on an artistic roll. So much so that the doctors who examined him said his stroke has rewired his brain and given him something they dub “sudden artistic output,” a rare condition that has seen less than a handful of diagnosed cases ever (another of them being fellow Cracked listee Tommy McHugh), and which continues to mostly baffle the experts since it doesn’t really follow a specific pattern of brain injuries.
Meanwhile, other national magazines such as GQ have bought Sarkin’s stuff, his paintings regularly sell for $10,000 a canvas and he’s had a book written about him. Oh, and Tom Cruise’s production company has actually bought the rights to his life story, so there’s a chance we could see Cruise himself play Jon Sarkin in a future biopic.