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 +

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Ainan and the future of Science

Many a child thinks of the future, of their adult life to come. Most have a childhood dream of what they want to be when they "grow up". For Ainan that dream is not a fireman, a policeman or a Doctor, as is common - but a scientific researcher.

Yesterday, as we sat and talked, about the evolution of atomic theory, Ainan turned to me, and voiced something that concerned him:

"So much Science has been many discoveries will be left for me to make?"

"A lot, I hope."


His why was not for why I "hoped", but for why I thought there might be a lot left.

"I am not sure if science is could be, though I am not sure," I began, "but it is certainly very large...much larger, I think, than we have presently explored. The closer you look at any given Science, the more detail there is - the more there is to understand. I think it will take Mankind a long time to master all of that. It is possible that one day, there will be no more science left to do. It is possible that everything will be known one day...but that is not going to be soon. There will be things left for you to do."

He was quiet in reply - there being no need for words. I don't know if my answer reassured him, but it was clear that he still thought that much that was "big" had already been done.

Ainan wants to be a research scientist. He envisages being one rather young (since he has the capacity to be so, if only barriers in his way are removed). Yet, he does not want to be a researcher in a world in which all has been found, already. He wants his life to have purpose. He wants to make a contribution. This is quite a mature ambition for a seven year old. There is something in him that wants to matter - to do something of significance. His unspoken thought was: "If by the time I become a scientist, there is little science left to be done, what is the point of being so?"

In some ways, Ainan doesn't see himself as I see him. I see a boy whose every thought bubbles with originality. He just sees himself being himself. He has no perspective to know how unusual he is, in that regard. If there is Science left to be done, by the time he begins a career, and Ainan is in an area which still has work to do, I have no doubt that he will make many a contribution to the development of Science. All we have to do is get him ready to begin.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and three months, or his gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:46 AM 


Blogger arifa said...

That he actually thought it possible for everything to be known denotes the magnitude of his genius: for only when ability is present, can one see possibility.

I guess we'll see him bag a Nobel pretty soon:)

My best wishes!

2:56 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Arifa.

Yes, the possibilities for Ainan are fully open - and I have no doubt he has the potential for great achievement. We just have to do our best to clear all the obstacles in the way (there are quite a few) to allow to progress in the way he wishes.

Best wishes to you

11:29 AM  
Blogger EbTech said...

I would advise him not to worry too much. Even if physicists discover the long sought-after "theory of everything", science will have only completed its first phase! Why do I say this?

Well, consider any complex strategy game, such as chess or the Chinese game Go. The rules are simple enough to learn in minutes. Yet, the gameplay and strategies may take years or longer to master. Chess has a variety of gameplay concepts such as openings, middlegames, endgames, gambits, pins, forks, skewers, and exchanges. Go includes such strategic elements as territory, influence, life and death, shape, eyes, and liberties.

Similarly, imagine that all of physics was reduced to a simple mathematical relation. Would we immediately be able to deduce how the universe evolved, every molecule or life form that could possibly be formed, how life evolved on Earth, how to build the most efficient computers, and how humans feel emotion and experience creative thought? Theoretically speaking, all of this should be possible. However, upon discovering its rules, the ultimate "game" has just begun! My intuition is that we will no more readily be able to derive life from the TOE than we could from Newtonian mechanics.

Even the study of physics will continue to exist. For example, recall that only introductory courses in mechanics or electromagnetism discuss the laws of physics (i.e. "rules" of the game) directly. Subsequent courses teach advanced problem solving methods (i.e. "strategies" for playing in the game).

We live in an exciting time, as my teacher once said. Last century's major technological developments were focused on acquiring more advanced means of transportation, so it was natural to predict flying cars and interplanetary tourism to come. Instead, we got the century of computer and virtual technology. Theoretical science has dropped from the spotlight since Einstein's time, but there is surely a lot more to discover.

Considering the as of yet unrealized possibilities for space colonization, genetic enhancement, artificial intelligence, matter control/transformation and so on, science is FAR from finished!

4:13 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I hope you are right, EbTech. I think part of his worry is the feeling that all the "big stuff" will have been done, leaving only little corners to fight over. However, I think the real problems, after the basic science is done, will be in developing the most advanced a wormhole generator, time travel etc...all, perhaps, scientifically possible, but I would think, rather tricky technologies.

Thanks for your comment.

6:13 PM  
Blogger EbTech said...

I think you are right.

It might be worth pointing out that we already have a "theory of everything" in biology. The theory of evolution forms our understanding for the rules of the game. Yet, both theoretical and applied biology continue to develop. The self-interacting mechanisms of evolutionary biology form a complex game indeed.

Seeing how we can only look back through time and not forward, I sympathize with Ainan's concerns. However, I suspect there are much bigger things to come.

By the way, does Ainan read a lot of physics? It would enhance his understanding of chemistry, as all chemical interactions follow the same physical principles.

1:32 AM  
Blogger EbTech said...

Speaking of evolution, have you heard about a recent scientific discovery regarding the possibility of plasma-based life? It appears some physicists were able to observe life-like qualities inside inorganic plasma.

Some even went as far as to suggest that interstellar gas may contain such life, or that life on Earth began with plasma caused by lightning storms! Do you suppose such life may have existed in the era soon after the Big Bang? If so, their experience would have been on a vastly smaller scale in time and space than ours.

1:45 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. Ainan is looking into Physics, too. In fact, he is the youngest person to have passed Physics O level...

Ainan is likely to become a fairly general scientist in that he has started young and has quite broad he has time to learn what others might not.

I hope you are right, re. science. The world is a dull place without some mystery in it.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

How interesting. I think that "life" will turn out to exist in all ways that are matter how unlikely they is all a question of scale, numbers and time. Given that, quite remarkable things could happen.

Do you have references to this plasma-life?

10:32 AM  
Blogger EbTech said...

Yes, it seems we must totally rethink our concept of life! What is life and what is intelligence? Should each ant be considered a living creature, or is it preferable to think of the whole colony as one super-intelligence, capable of engineering a home for itself? It is interesting that a bee will kill itself in order to sting an enemy. Is this an act of heroism? Actually, the bee's self-preservation instincts are directed toward the hive rather than itself. Humans have a combination of these instincts; while we do see ourselves as individual entities, we also feel deeply connected with our families.

Can a society, a species, or even the global ecosystem be viewed as living, thinking super-entities? Nature's self-balancing forces do act a lot like an immune system, such as when global warming leads to undesirable climate which threatens human existence. Though I'm getting carried away here, since these questions are more philosophical than scientific. We really need a clearer definition of life...

Here are some articles on the plasma experiments:

In one of Stephen Hawking's books, he speculates about another possibility which is quite opposite to plasma life: what if the future universe continues to expand, matter decays and entropy increases, until we are left with a universe of scattered black holes? Could the black holes become alive (whatever that means), with neural processes on the timescale of millions or billions of years?

1:37 PM  

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