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 +

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The silence of academia: a curious observation

Quite a number of the readers of this blog have IP addresses at Universities and other academic or research institutions. I find this interesting. It is more interesting still when you know that the longest readers of the blog - that is, those who spend most time on it on any one occasion, tend to come from .edu addresses.

Today, for instance, a visitor from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a research and educational institution famed for its work on DNA, spent one hour, nine minutes and one second on my site. It may be of relevance that they have a neurobiology department. In particular, Josh Dubnau, Zach Mainen, Robert Malinow and Yi Zhong who work in learning and memory and Hollis Cline and Karel Svoboda who work on plasticity might have found it of interest. Or indeed Josh Huang whose work is on the development of the neocortex.

That is not what is surprising however. What is really surprising is that these champion internet blog readers don't leave any comments. I have yet to note a single comment from a .edu reader. I find that odd. It is as if, in academia, the flow of information is only to be one way: from me, to them. They read deeply - indeed they are the deepest readers of my blog - but never engage in dialogue.

The ones who comment and engage in dialogue tend to be those with real-life experience of gifted children: the parents of such kids. With parents of gifted kids I have a dialogue - but with academia, I have a monologue.

Please note that if you are an academic and you find anything of worth, interest, or relevance on this site, please make a citation/reference to my site and my authorship. Thanks.

(If you would like to learn about Ainan Celeste Cawley, six, a scientific child prodigy, and his gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of child genius, adult genius, prodigy, savant and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:10 AM 


Blogger Forte said...

Mr. Cawley!
Glad to meet you !I was indeed the person surfing your site this morning, though I am sadly not one of the academic professionals you listed;) Note that I did not actually read the blog for 1 hour and fifteen minutes, as I often walk away from the computer and make breakfast or talk with my husband in the morning. HE is the scientist here at our little ".edu", but we are both parents of another extraordinary child. Ours is a philosopher, a dreamer, a singer and loves to isolate DNA.

I did find it interesting that you noted that children should not be boxed in by a label such as "HG" or "PG" , and yet you continue to label your own as a "Prodigy". Is there a difference, in your opinion between using one kind of label or another? :)
I am not trying to be critical, but rather to understand where you are coming from. Thanks!

It sounds as if you had a rather difficult childhood, I am so sorry for that. I sincerely hope your own kids continue to get the loving support you are giving them! It is a difficult road. Most people are just plain incredulous most of the time.

I am glad to have solved your mystery, and I hope you have a good time continuing to blog about your kids. I'll stop by from time to time.
I got your blog address from a friend's site.


7:23 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Forte,

First of all, I must say it is a pleasure to write your name. I feel that I am suddenly back in the 18th Century where interesting appellations abounded: Countess Forte and the like. Wonderful. So much more exotic than one is accustomed to.

Anyway, thanks for reading thirty-one pages of my blog while making breakfast and talking to your scientist husband. I hope you found it a rewarding experience in some little way.

The reason I wrote against the idea of labelling is because it seems to set a ceiling on some children which is not reflective of their true ability to change the world/do something new/originate. Einstein, for instance, was not profoundly gifted, if we are to believe accounts of his IQ. In a world that believed too much in boxes, the PG kid who becomes a professional (I won't name a profession for fear of offending people) that does not involve creative thought, but just technical skill and has a successful career in it, is supposed to be superior to Einstein who would only have been EG (IQ 160). In my book, Einstein is a superior thinker to almost any PG person...yet he was only EG. IQ has failed to express who he is and what he can do.

Furthermore, the IQ number reduces an infinitely diverse phenomenon - the human - to a number, of a very limited set of values. It is an impoverished view of people. That is why I rebel against it. It doesn't add to the world, but takes from it.

Stating that my son is a prodigy doesn't impoverish your view of him - it expresses his nature - or tries to - in the only word in the English language that captures his unearthly precocious understanding of, and capability in, scientific matters way beyond any normal child - and way beyond most adults. There is no other word that embodies that idea. A long hand way of expressing it would be to speak of all his characteristics and let you draw your own conclusion. Prodigy captures it in shorthand.

The other reason I use the word is because I have no choice. The internet search engines require me to use the term so that people who would be interested in reading of my son and other children are able to find my page. That is a reason I cannot deny otherwise there would be no readers at all.

People are infinitely various. Psychology, through IQ tests, has attempted to reduce everyone to a measurement, which psychologists believe is an objective measurement of g a general intelligence factor. In other words, they really think that they have measured who you are when they pronounce an IQ. Yet two 200 IQ kids may have utterly different characteristics. One may be Leonardo Da Vinci. Another may be completely undistinguished except to be particularly good at crosswords or Sudoku. Yet they have the same "intelligence measurement". An IQ test and a consequent PG/HG label does not capture the quality of a person, at all. That is why I object to it. A PG person may have nothing much of interest to say. Or they may be the most productive genius since Da Vinci. IQ cannot tell them apart.

Do you know what is more effective than an IQ test? Sitting down and talking to someone for awhile. You will soon know if you are in the company of someone special.

Kind regards

1:49 PM  
Blogger Forte said...

Mr. Cawley,
Greetings once again! The blog is interesting.
I think I heartily understand where you are coming from with the labeling of gifted children. Thanks for clarifying. I suspect that these labels are not used so much though for some sinister purpose, but rather to differentiate the educational requirements of such children. It is a cultural custom here.;) There are some interesting similarities in many such children. The number one similarity here in the US is that our school system fails them.( But then again, they fail MG/HG and EG children as well) I have heard over and over from professionals and support groups that these kids are as different from one another as they are from the general population. We cannot then put more stock in DaVinci than Picasso. I s the little boy doing equations going to do "more" than the child taking apart the computer? Should we label that child something else? Will it help or will it, again, box him in?
We have the privilege of having had several Nobel Prize winners here, a child "prodigy" in math and science among them. I would have to argue that. scientifically, there are people here who will never win the prize, but who will, and have certainly changed the world on a massive scale. These people have no label. They are way past having any sort of "label" to define them. To define someone in a conversation is misleading. The nobel prize winners I have met have trouble holding a conversation. You would probably define them as "not so interesting", but there it is.
I don't think we have a perfect system of measurement for intelligence, because there are so many wonderfully different components to that machine. You mentioned that "Prodigy" captures your son "shorthand". I think, culturally speaking, that "EG" or "PG" captures other kids shorthand. It is all about context. People here rely on the fact that the IQ measurement is only a first step. It is not a definition, but rather a window, a small glimpse of just one aspect of that child.
Thanks for your time!
Countess Forte

8:12 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for your post, Countess,

I didn't mean to suggest that the purpose was sinister - though the effect might be: the effect of stereotyping children, for instance.

Anyway, thanks for your insight into giftedness in America - and the problems you face. It doesn't sound the best of situations.

IQ is just a slice of a person, yes: but that was never its intended purpose. That purpose was to differentiate people on the basis of what the test makers thought was intelligence. In that, it fails, because it only addresses a small subset of intellectual skills. Many people misuse the IQ result to rank children in ways that they cannot be ranked. Einstein would be ranked below all PG kids - but is he below them? Certainly not. He could do things conceptually that few of the PG kids would be able to initiate - and in the world of PG kids at the time he was working none of them did.

I can't comment on your description of Nobel Prize Winners since I don't recall meeting any. Perhaps they speak little, spontaneously - but then, writers are often like that, too: great to read, disappointing to meet, perhaps Nobel Laureates are the same.

Obviously one reason why the people you speak of will not receive Nobel Prizes despite changing the world, is that there are too few prizes and too many changers-of-the-world. Many will get left out.

Thanks for your remarks - and say hello to all there at Cold Spring Harbor (a poetic name that).

Best wishes

9:14 PM  
Blogger Cher Mere said...


Einstein never took an I.Q. test. Some people have tried to estimate what his I.Q. would have been but that is just a guess. No one can say whether he was EG or PG.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Cher Mere

Perhaps you are not familiar with the logic used to extract an IQ from biographical observation of a subject. Everything we do indicates our intelligence or lack of it. In particular, childhood achievements and youthful adult achievements can be tallied with the quality of achievement expected at different IQ levels. From this relationship between IQ and achievement at different ages it is possible to track back from the list of known achievements to the IQ that was required to achieve them. This is particularly useful in childhood where the disparity between the very bright - say a profoundly gifted child - and an exceptionally gifted or highly gifted or moderately gifted child - is very stark and easy to mark out. It is from this process of correlating output with implicit IQ, using the typical outputs of people of known IQ as benchmarks that the estimate of Einstein's IQ of 160 would have come about.

From what he was at various stages can his IQ be derived. It is not therefore a "guess" - but an estimate based on considerable biographical evidence of the man. The more evidence there is, the more accurate these estimates are. In the case of a life as closely documented as Einstein's there is a lot of evidence indeed. From this we can be fairly sure that the estimate of 160 is close to the mark, making him EG, not PG. Had he been PG the story of his life would have been different, his characteristic behaviours at different ages would have been different and this would have marked him out as PG. Simple really.

Best wishes

9:48 AM  
Blogger Cher Mere said...

Mr. Cawley

There is just a lot of incorrect information on the web about Einstein's I.Q.. You can find that it was anywhere between 130 and 180.

I am familar with the idea of historiometry and in my opinion it is just something interesting to ponder, and not much more.

Catharine M. Cox conducted a well known and comprehensive estimation of the IQs of desceased famous people (her book is The Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses)

She says " "The correction attempted in the present report is a crude approximation...: it indicates a point below which the true IQ probably did not fall." and "The resultant approximations are probably in most cases still too low, and perhaps, in a few cases, a trifle too high. The final correction is thus no more than an approximation to a true score."

I think I understand the point you are trying to make. I just wanted to clarify that Einstein does not have an I.Q. score.

And some people are superior to Einstein in some areas. I hear wasn't a very good poet. ;)

12:30 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Cher Mere,

I note your adoption of the more formal Mr. Cawley, over Valentine. I don't know whether this is a promotion or a demotion. Either is fine with me, however. Anyway, to the matter at hand.

I am aware of Catherine M. Cox's study. I am also aware that it was done in 1926. Furthermore, her study concerned historical geniuses about whom, in many cases, relatively little was known of their childhoods. This is not surprising since they lived from 1450 to 1850 and records in those times were not as good, as they are in modern times (in which, of course, Albert Einstein lived). In one case, for instance, of Andre Massena, Napoleon's general, the ONLY thing that was known about his childhood was that he had been a cabin boy, twice. The fact that he had done so twice, and not given it up as a bad idea after the first time was used as evidence that he was not very bright. They put him down at 100 IQ, therefore, not having any evidence of brighter behaviour - and 100 being the highest IQ that could be expected of such an action.

What I am trying to make clear, here, is that the failings of accuracy that Catherine Cox speaks of do NOT arise from the historiometric method itself, but from the paucity of information that was available to make estimations of her subjects. Where plentiful information about the childhood of a subject is available the method is more than sufficiently accurate to distinguish EG from PG, or HG from MG.

If one looks at all the available information the estimate of 160 IQ for Einstein is carried in the serious discussions of him. It is by far the most frequently quoted figure. If the matter were a democratic vote 160 would win by a landslide. I have seen one instance of a higher figure on a site given to eulogy of great people of the past. On this site I note that they are wrong on the IQ of another historical figure, whose IQ is in fact known from testing. They give his IQ as a full sixty points higher than his known, recorded tests indicate. The site is, therefore, not reliable in its information regarding Einstein - for it is wrong, regarding another genius. This situation is typical.

Einstein has an historiometrically estimated IQ score of 160. This is sufficient to explain all his known intellectual behaviours in early life and later in his career. A higher figure is not required to explain his achievements. His early life and achievements matched those of an EG kid with an IQ of 160. A huge amount is known about Einstein - unlike Massena the General/cabin boy. Therefore estimates of his IQ from his observed behaviour are likely to be accurate. It is only in situations were information is scarce that historiometric methods would be expected to fail to come to a good estimate.

I hope that clarifies matters for you.

Kind regards

3:27 PM  
Blogger Cozzy said...

Hi there! Just decided to leave a note as I feel bad for almost going through your entire blog, and not dropping you a note of appreciation for the writing you've done so far.What got me engrossed in your articles are the interesting glimpses of how you interpret the small but significant actions/questions asked by your kids, which parallels to a lot of situations I come across being an adult. Your articles also reminded me of my childhood, having grown up in Singapore, my education back home vs when I got my degree overseas. It is rare to come across blogs that I can learn so much in 1 sitting. I hope you will keep writing as I really enjoy the read ;o)All the best with bringing up 3 very talented kids! Am sure that it will be a very interesting journey ;o)

9:59 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Cozzy for your kind words. It is good to hear not only that you enjoy my blog, but what you enjoy about it. Too few people let me know this, despite the considerable number of readers. Sometimes, it seems that I write in a vacuum, faced by silent unseen readers, most of whom never feed anything back at all!

I have been a consistent writer in the past, but I don't know about the future. I will write as long as it is enjoyable to do so. However, it must be said, that there are no financial or truly tangible benefits in doing so, other than that of self-expression. Yet, I do enjoy the exchanges that develop with some correspondents. Those, however, are relatively few given the number of readers. Most people prefer to be passive receivers of my "literary" efforts.

I am finding fatherhood very interesting and enjoyable. My sons' world is very absorbing, close up. I expect I shall continue to describe my responses to it for a long time to long as I have time in my days to do so.

Have a happy new year.

10:07 PM  

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