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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 +

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Creative genius and social isolation

The creative genius is often portrayed as a solitary figure. Why is this so?

Firstly, because it is generally true. To be a genius is to possess certain characteristics which are not conducive to wide acceptance by others. One of these characteristics is that one's thinking may simply be too different from others to be readily grasped. In general, people will not marvel at new thoughts: they will look askance at them, and their bearer. In many societies and many times, the thinker of new thoughts is not praised, but attacked; is not courted, but shunned; is not accepted, but opposed. Ill-treatment is often the fate of genius. It is only after many years, sometimes decades, sometimes, sadly after the genius has died, and their ideas prove themselves to be true, that they are finally - and reluctantly accepted. The world is often unkind to geniuses, in person, and only kind to their memories long after they have passed away.

There is another major reason why genius is often solitary: necessity. A genius cannot create while surrounded by social distractions. A genius must be alone to create, in whatever field they do create. Their thoughts must be uninterrupted, unbothered by others. Most people of genius do not mind solitude - indeed many like it - for it is when alone that they may be themselves unencumbered by social conformity. It is when alone that they may think their thoughts without fear of ridicule. It is when alone that the genius can focus, to the exclusion of all else, on that which really matters: their creative work. The creative genius is the rarest of humans for many reasons, but one of them is that a genius must have the strength to stand alone, the strength to bear solitude sometimes for many years, on a single project, if their genius is ever to create anything. A genius must therefore not only be capable in mind, but strong in heart: they must be independent in thought and in social need. Not many manage to possess both characteristics in ample quantity - and so not many turn out to be geniuses.

I can give one personal example of the necessity of solitude to create anything of value. I have written two books - almost three - but it is the writing of one to which I wish to draw your attention.

When I was twenty-five, I began writing a book, a long book, a deep book, a book that soon took over my life. To write this book, I sequestered myself alone, at night, in an office about fifteen minutes walk from my house. Each night that I wrote, (I didn't write all nights), I would walk down to this office, through dark unlit roads, savouring the encroaching solitude, for in the darkness and quietness, would I be able to focus on my work. I would walk across a golf course, at night, down some darkened steps, across a railway track and into a second floor office, in the converted attic of a building.

It was the quiet that I liked. There was only myself, the hum of a computer (which I didn't then have of my own), and my thoughts. It was in that solitude that I wrote, nightly, until the brightening of the dawn, never interrupted by a phonecall, never taken away from my work by the call of a voice. It was a kind of peace that I have not found since.

I wrote in that way for five and a half years, until the work was complete. It is 750,000 words long - that is three-quarters of a million words. It, to me, is a thing of beauty. I have not yet published it, but I intend to do so in the coming year or two. Whether it will be acclaimed a work of genius or not, I do not know - but one thing I do know is that any genius who wishes to create must find their own solitude in which to do so. Genius never created in a social tumult.

So, genius is solitary - but not in a sad way. A genius is alone, but not lonely. A genius enjoys solitude, not fears it - for in solitude the genius is alone with their thoughts - and that is not being alone at all. A genius uses the focus and peace of solitude to create. So, if you have a child who likes solitude, who works on things alone, let them be: they may be a genius in the making, a person who will use periods of solitude in their life to create their greatest works.

(If you would like to read about my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one week old, then please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I write also of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:25 PM  6 comments

Friday, December 01, 2006

A passion for numbers: numeracy

Yesterday, the 30th November 2006, Ainan Celeste Cawley, aged seven years and one week, did something a little surprising. He counted the pixels on our tv screen. He didn't count them all, of course - he counted their number in the vertical and horizontal directions - and then multiplied them together to get his count, yet, still, he counted them.

This newborn fascination with number is a return to an older trend, when he was four, when all things numerate were his interest. That passed and other interests took its place.

Yesterday, however, he spent much of the evening, after that, seeking patterns in numbers: the patterns seemed to intrigue him. Will this renewed interest in mathematics lead to a growth in that area, to synergize with his science? It is too early to tell - but at least, in writing of it, we may better understand what comes in the years ahead.

(If you would like to read more of my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, aged seven years and one week, then please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted and gifted children - and gifted adults - in general.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:03 PM  0 comments

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The tenth anniversary of a chance meeting

The month of November 2006 saw the 10th anniversary of the meeting of my wife-to-be, Syahidah Osman, in Brighton, England.

I had no notion that that chance meeting would lead, ten years later, to three sons, a house and a new life in a country I had never visited: Singapore. How odd the surprises of life are.

Happy Anniversary Syahidah.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:55 PM  2 comments

The dreams of a child genius

Of what does a child genius dream? Many a dream is lost before waking, so insubstantial do they seem when exposed to the first light of an opening eye...but sometimes, enough is left for memory to recall, and voice to speak of it.

This morning, November 30th, 2006, my son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy aged seven years and one week, turned to me, and said, immediately upon opening his eyes: "If our Sun was ten times smaller it would be a failed star, a brown dwarf."

It seems that this child genius dreams of the stars, and the Universe beyond and asks, as he sleeps, "What if things were other than they are?"

His mind is ever active, ever thinking, ever devising, ever asking and ever answering. Even in sleep, it does not rest, but ponders, ever more deeply, the questions of what the world is, and how it may be understood.

One reads of genius and of prodigy - but I do not think that bare academic accounts capture the sense of surprise that children with these characteristics display - you have to meet such a child and talk with them, to fully understand what a marvel it is for a child to be a prodigy or a genius. Speaking with Ainan, teaches me again, to wonder at the world and to hold its marvel in my heart and mind, as he does.

(If you would like to read more about my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven (and one week!), and his gifted brothers, then please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted and gifted children in general.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:46 PM  0 comments

"Is the Cawley family real?"

"Is the Cawley family real?" asked a visitor to this website the other day. They did so by using that phrase in their search terms, on Google.

The visitor came from an unknown isp and an unknown organization in an unknown country (probably America since US English was selected). I don't know how people do that - travel invisibly on the internet - but I have noted that some people appear to have shielded ip addresses and leave no information when they visit.

Well, whatever the nature of the visitor - and from where - I would like to assure you - and all who think like him or her - that the Cawley family, as described in this blog, is very real. I have addressed this issue before in another post, in another way. But I would like to draw your attention to the description of the blog to the left, where it says "true story of...": that is written for the very reason that all is true.

I was, however, oddly flattered by their consideration that my family might be fiction: for did it not suggest that our own, true, story - had some of the power of fiction for them? We are not fictional, however: all is true, so read this knowing that somewhere in the world every word used corresponds to a real deed, a real utterance, a real action of a Cawley parent or Cawley child.

If you would like to read more of the REAL story of the Cawley family, you might like to go to the guide, where I write of my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, and his gifted brothers: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, and gifted children in general.

If you want to read of more detail answer to the question above of: "Is the Cawley family real?" then please read: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/09/did-leonardo-da-vinci-exist.html Thanks.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:53 PM  0 comments

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Was Rembrandt a genius?

You may recall that I asked in an earlier post whether, given his eminence in Dutch art history, Rembrandt was a genius. (http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/11/rembrandt-greatest-dutch-artist-of-all.html) This was meant to stimulate a response from you on the topic. However, no-one chose to write on him. This may mean that you are not interested in Rembrandt - or that you don't know enough about him to venture an opinion.

I asked the question on Rembrandt's genius for a reason. It is widely held that Rembrandt's IQ was only about 110. Yet most consider him a great artistic genius. This observation is very interesting when set beside what is commonly thought of as genius today: the high iq individual.

From Rembrandt's example (and there are others) we can see that the trait which may be identified as "genius" does not necessarily depend on IQ. Why is this so? It is because IQ is measuring a different kind of thinking. IQ is convergent thinking - that is thinking that converges upon a single answer to a single question. Genius is more properly the product of divergent thinking: that which produces many answers to a single question. The two are not really correlated. Hence it is possible to be recognized as a genius - and yet not possess a high IQ. It is also possible to have a high IQ and not be recognized as a genius. Of course, there are high IQ geniuses, too. These people show high creativity and high convergent reasoning ability. This may occur in scientific geniuses, for instance, among others.

There is however something to note. Creativity - the very stuff of genius - is correlated with IQ up to about an IQ of 120. Beyond that point there is no positive correlation. What this seems to mean is that you might need a certain level of IQ to make use of your creativity in creative works of genius - but beyond that modest threshold it really has no bearing on the matter.

I think all this raises a very serious issue. Are gifted programs, which normally require an IQ threshold of 130, missing the Rembrandts 0f the world: those who have a gift of genius in some department - but who DON'T have a high IQ to match? The answer is a clear yes, if they rely upon an IQ test as the means of qualification for the programme.

It is time to recognize that human gift doesn't all fall into the neat IQ box. There are gifted children - and gifted adults - who can do unusual things, unusually well enough to mark them out as "talented" or as "geniuses" - yet who don't possess a high IQ to match. These people will be ignored by gifted programmes everywhere, despite, in some cases, their later eminence or distinction, like Rembrandt.

So, if you think you have a gifted child - perhaps a creatively gifted child - don't be disheartened if their IQ doesn't meet the 130 threshold, for know this: there are historical geniuses, whose IQ did not reach that threshold - and they achieved great distinction. So, too, might your gifted child, given the chance to express their inner gifts.

As a parent, you know your child better than any test will. So, as to the question, "Is my child gifted?" - you know the answer already, if you look into their eyes and their heart.

Good luck all.

(If you would like to read about my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, who just turned seven a few days ago, and his gifted brothers please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted and gifted children in general.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:40 PM  4 comments

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The problem of creativity: examinations

You would think that the creative child would be the most prized asset of any nation. You wouldn't think it from the way the education system is structured, in all countries of the world that I am aware of.

How does a state evaluate the merit of a child? They examine them in formal examinations. They sit the child down and ask standardized questions, intended to elicit a standardized response with which the child may be marked against a "standard" of predetermined, mark-yielding goals, to be achieved.

You might think that is fair and reasonable. All children are to be gauged against preset examination objectives, designed to elicit specific knowledge taught, universally, by their schools over a course. But is it? Is this a reasonable way to assess our children? For what does an examination actually determine? It determines whether your thoughts CONFORM to expectation. The real result of an exam is the degree to which your child gave the answers required. This is taken to be a measure of "intelligence" - since giving the "right" answer denotes you as having understood the question, understood the course material, and been able to calculate, elucidate, deduce, infer, remember or otherwise think the answer.

Yet, there is a problem. You see examinations always have preset expectations of what an answer should be. Some countries take this to a ludicrous extent. I have taught in Singapore (English Literature, and the General Paper, for a time). There I was expected to do something I thought truly bizarre. Whenever I set an essay paper - note I said essay - and not mathematics problem - I was expected, by the school, to write, beforehand, a model answer, to the question I set, against which I was to compare all the student answers, and mark them according to the degree to which they fit my model answer. I had a truly sick feeling on being asked to do this. For it told me something very clearly: conformity of thought was the intention of the whole process. There were to be NO marks for originality, for originality would mean that your answer would differ from expectation.

What did I do? I didn't write any model answers. I marked the essays on an individual basis against another standard: my internal one of quality of thought. This was fairer to the students and allowed them to do their own thing. Some of them blossomed under this regime: others were a little lost - for tellingly, they "didn't know what to write" because they "hadn't been told" what to write. I tried to introduce originality into the classroom - and it was clearly a strange experience for them. I may write more of that one day.

Examinations measure not intelligence, so much, as conformity to expectation allied with grasp of a standardized knowledge base. An intelligent person may do very well - but also an intelligent person may not do so well, in a misleading fashion. Here is why: if you can think for yourself, you may think in a way that is not expected by the examiner. This means that you will write original answers. You might think this would be greeted with great welcome and result in a stellar result. Not so. If your answer differs from the preset guidelines that the examiner expects, in most instances you would be marked down - for your answer may not be familiar to him or her.

I will give you an example from observation of Ainan Celeste Cawley, my scientific child prodigy son, who has just turned seven, a few days ago. Ainan is very knowledgeable in chemistry - but he displays more than knowledge. He shows, daily, the ability to apply his knowledge in new ways and invent new reactions for doing things or achieving the goals in hand. I was recently discussing some chemical analytical tests with him. These are standardized reactions used to prove the presence of a particular substance. They are answers that an examiner would expect to be stated precisely and without deviation. What did Ainan do when presented with a standard situation, which had a known, conventionalized approach to determine the answer? He made up his own solutions. He pointed out other ways in which you could test for these substances. He invented different reactions which could also prove the presence of the said substance, and told me what to expect in result if the substances were tested in this way. My reaction was mixed. I was impressed by his deftness of mind that allowed him to see a new way to achieve the end required. But I was also worried - for one day, if he is to achieve his ambition of being a scientific researcher - he will have to pass examinations. Would he sit down and give perfectly valid answers which were unfamiliar to the examiner - since they were new ones - and so be marked down, when, in fact, he was doing something few candidates could do: come up with a new answer that also worked?

I think so. I think Ainan would give original answers in a scientific examination. This presents multiple dangers, the first of which is that the examiner may not know enough science to be able to evaluate the alternative answer and determine that it is also correct. Or, the examiner might admire the answer enough, if it has practical or commercial utility, to acquire it for themselves, in an act of plagiarism.

Certainly, in science, they are no rewards for originality in examinations - and plenty potential penalties. It is only at the level of PhD that originality is supposedly rewarded by the system - and that is a long time to wait, to be properly appreciated.

If your child is gifted in creative ways and displays originality of thought, therefore, they may not be very happy in the school system, and their quality of mind might not be truly reflected in their examination results. For they may have thought thoughts no other candidate had ever thought, and write words no other candidate has ever written. Unless your child is fortunate enough to have a very intelligent and informed examiner, this may not produce the appropriate rewards. In some countries, it is almost guaranteed that your child's qualities of mind will not be appreciated, but overlooked by the system.

(If you would like to read about my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, just turned seven, and his gifted brothers, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of child prodigy, child genius, savant, the creatively gifted, and gifted children in general.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:28 PM  4 comments

Monday, November 27, 2006

Is your child a prodigy?

How can you tell if your child is a prodigy? I ask this question, not because it is my question, but because it is the question of a reader: their search terms were: "How to tell if my child is a prodigy?"

Now, I thought that a strange question. Why is it strange? Because child prodigy is a very obvious phenomenon.

Have you ever looked directly into the sun? Most of us have, in our youthful foolishness. Did you not flinch, at once, and look away? Did you then ask yourself: "How can I tell if the sun is bright?" It is not a question that needs to be asked. That the sun is bright is so obvious that we would look askance at anyone who actually asked the question.

If a child is a prodigy, you would know it, if you had at all observed your child in thought.

A child prodigy is one who, before the age of eleven, possesses an adult degree of ability in an adult domain. It can be any domain, as long as it is something recognized by the adult world as an area of achievement. Most prodigies fall into well-defined rule based categories, such as maths, chess or the performance of music (note I said performance and not composition - the latter is infinitely rarer in children). The reason that rule-based categories are dominant is self-evident: it is a domain which may more readily be mastered without vast experience of the world, it is a more controllable domain. Prodigies outside of such domains are much rarer. Prodigies in art, writing or science are very rare indeed - because of the broader thinking skills and more varied demands of these areas.

If your child is a match for an adult in an adult domain - and is under eleven years old - and shocks the hell out of adult professionals, upon speaking, by their insight, wisdom, knowledge, and reasoning faculty, then they may well be a child prodigy.

Yet, child prodigy is rather like those jeweler's who pride themselves on having no price tags - just as for them, if you have to ask, you can't afford it, then so it is with prodigy - if you have to ask, then it is probable that the child is not a prodigy. Child prodigy is blisteringly self-evident. On meeting one, talking to one, witnessing one think, there can be no doubt that something unusual is at work. It would never occur to one witnessing a child prodigy to think that the child prodigy was anything but a child prodigy.

A child prodigy is like the sun: nothing is brighter, when you look directly at one.

(If you would like to read about my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, just turned seven, and his gifted brothers, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of child prodigy, child genius, savant, the creatively gifted, and gifted children in general.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:37 PM  0 comments

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The inventor: electrical, mechanical, chemical

Have you ever seen a blueprint? I see them most days. They may not always be written in blue, but blueprints they are. You see, Ainan Celeste Cawley, my child prodigy son who has just turned seven, has had a strange habit for several years now: inventing things.

He tends to draw detailed diagrams of his inventions, with labels and arrows. The inventions are of various types: those that depend on electrical principles, mechanical principles and chemical principles. Often he mixes all three principles together. Some of his devices are very interesting indeed. However, owing to the need for intellectual privacy, I am only going to speak in generalities about them.

He will sometimes do a series of drawings to show the device in operation, capturing it as it changes through various states. He comes to me with these drawings and adds further verbal explanations of their principles. I sometimes get lost in the torrent of explanation - but there is always good scientific or technical sense in what he has to say. Basically, his devices would work, whether or not they are the most practical solution to the problem he has addressed. Some of them are highly imaginative solutions, the like of which I have not seen before. Others recreate some similar to key historical inventions - without him being aware that another has beaten him to it. Yet, this in itself, is promising - for it shows that had that other never been, Ainan would have invented it.

As I watch him draw scientific devices, I am reminded of another figure, lost in time, who had a propensity to draw scientific devices: Leonardo Da Vinci. I am left to wonder: what was Leonardo like as a child? Did he invent in childhood drawings? Did he write scientific treatises incessantly? Was he ever spouting scientific monologues, on ever changing topics?

We may never know what Leonardo Da Vinci was like as a child - but we do know that he did these things as an adult. Ainan Celeste Cawley does the same kind of thing as a child. Like all parents, I sometimes wonder what my son will become when he grows up. With him my wonderings are in the realm of science: how far will he go? Will he maintain his interest? Will this precocious scientific and technical productivity lead to great adult output?

Only the passing years will answer my questions. Yet, I can say this: just as the foundation and lower floors of a tall building determine its shape to a great extent, so too do the early years of a human life. In looking at the shape of Ainan's early deeds, it is not difficult to see an adult scientific genius to come.

That would be good to see. Carry on Ainan!

(If you would like to read more of my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of child prodigy, child genius, savant, the creatively gifted, and gifted children in general.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:14 AM  3 comments

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