The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The mathematical savant who isn't a savant

I believe from the evidence of my life, and from the evidence of science, that great gift is a gift of the genes. It flows through families by inheritance: it is not something made, laboriously in a life, toiling day by day. It is there, or it isn't. It shines or it doesn't.

I have posted before about the inheritance of IQ, in Genius IQ and Genetic Inheritance at:

However, it is not just IQ that is inherited - all our mental gifts are - especially the unique gifts that show themselves to a wondering world every now and again, in people we know as geniuses or prodigies. This blog is about my children and their gifts - but occasionally I will also post about their relatives to show what is very clear to me: a pattern of genetic inheritance of gift flowing through my family. You may very well see the same pattern in your own family - and if so, please comment about it, to expand our understanding of this issue.

I have many relatives, but I shall focus on one, who shall not be named. He doesn't know I am writing of him, so I will not reveal any details of his life, except the one that pertains to this post. He has shown a very special gift, that he has never thought much of, since he was a child. You see he is a "lightning calculator". He has a savant-like gift for number. He is a very intelligent man. When tested by his employer on an adult IQ test, he maxed the test. So he is not a savant for only one reason: savants usually display some form of mild retardation. He is not retarded. He is profoundly gifted. However, he shows the gift of a mathematical savant, too. I find this interesting, for it shows that savant type gifts can exist in people of normal or even extraordinary intelligence.

Ever since he was a young boy he could do something very strange with numbers. If you asked him a calculation, using the normal mathematical functions, he would be able to give you the answer straight away, without hesitation and without error. What was strange about this was that he could do so quicker than you could type the question into a calculator. He could do it for large numbers - and he was always right. In earlier days, this gift of his would have been much prized, but in the age of computers, it is something that is not valued, despite the fact that he could beat you on your calculator to the answer. Whether or not our society values this gift, it indicates a special quality of the mind, that is very rare.

When he was training in London for a financial institution, the lecturer noticed his gift for numbers and gave him a very long, multifunctional calculation to do, which he wrote on the board. As he finished writing it, he gave the answer. The lecturer then asked if anyone in the audience had a calculator and got them to check the answer. He was right. The lecturer observed that in the twenty years he had been training the entrants to this financial institution, most of them with strong mathematical backgrounds, he had never encountered anyone so fast with numbers as him.

When he was at school, there was a child mathematical prodigy there, whom the press had hailed as "the brightest boy since the middle ages". This boy challenged my relative to an arithmetical duel. He duly accepted. A third boy chose two very large numbers for multiplication and called them out. It was not long before the prodigy shouted out an answer. My relative said, at once: "You are wrong!", then a moment later gave his own answer. The calculator was duly set to work. My relative was right. Upon being pronounced the winner, he then turned to the prodigy and told him exactly which step the other had made a mistake in, what the mistake was, and how the miscalculation had come about. While working out the calculation for himself, he had followed the other's miscalculation and worked out the solution of which step, out of all possible steps, and which error, out of all possible errors, would have resulted in the answer the other had given.

There was an embarrassed silence. My kin had won.

(If you would like to learn more of the Cawley family, in particular, my son Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged six, and his gifted brothers go to: )

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:49 AM 


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