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 +

Friday, April 06, 2007

A child's imagination: can it be too much?

Can a child have too much imagination?

This was a question posed as a statement, "child too much imagination", by a searcher who arrived on my blog, recently. I found the outlook that would lead to the search somewhat unsettling. For what kind of parent would think that their child had "too much" imagination? (This assumes it was a parent - it could have been a teacher, of course.) Let us rephrase the question in another way to get a better understanding of it. How does a child benefit from having LESS imagination? Is it better to be unable to see new things in the old? Is it better to be unable to conceive of a new idea? Is it better to be unable to play with that which is not there, physically but only exists in the mind? Is it better to be without the basic capacity to create?

In some way, the searcher believed all these things. In viewing their child as "too imaginative" they were proposing the opposite standpoint as superior - that of the unimaginative child who cannot conceive of the new, who cannot think of that which is not, who cannot, in truth, take the first step towards creating something by imagining.

I would say that a child can never have too much imagination - but I would say that a parent (or a teacher) could have too little.

It is sad to think how that child might be brought up. The instinct to create, to play, to imagine, might be met with great unwelcome - thought of by the parents as somehow a silly thing to do. If the child is at all socially sensitive, they will pick up on this and learn to avoid imaginative play. In time, the capacity to imagine will wither - and that child will become as the parent is: unimaginative, afraid to create, unable to play - and perhaps even disapproving of the imagination. A potentially creative being would have been snuffed out by an incomprehending, unwelcoming parent.

If a child wishes to play in a world all of their own, let them: the capacity to create such a world is the foundation of many adult pursuits of great inherent value - writing, art, science, acting and music are all products of an adult engaged in imaginative play. An adult could not pursue any of these disciplines had they not been free as children to play with their imaginations, exercising them until they become reliable allies in reforming the world, at will.

It might very well be true to say that all geniuses start life as imaginative children. The least they should expect from the world is a parent who allows them the freedom to be imaginative: without that license so much may very well be lost from the world.

So, no matter how "imaginative" a child is, it can never be "too much". To say so, is similar to saying that a child is "too intelligent". Neither statement is ever true. It is impossible to be "too gifted" - no matter what the gift is - for every level of gift has its value - and the greater the gift, the greater its potential value. There is never a point at which a human gift or human quality becomes "too much". To think otherwise is to see value in shackling a human spirit - and that really is "too much".

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:49 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your point about the value of imagination but I do think you are making a lot of assumptions about the person who performed the search. Maybe it's a mother who has been told by her mother-in-law that her child has "too much imagination." Maybe it's a child who has been told he has "too much imagination." Maybe someone was searching for a particular story on the internet about this topic--an example is "Clever Elsie"

12:01 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I think you have misunderstood the intent of my posting. I identified the two most likely sources of the comment - a parent or a teacher - there was, I felt, no need to write an exhaustive nigh infinite list of the possible people who could have expressed that view. The fact is whoever expressed the view would have the exact same effect on a child that I have written of, if given access to that child. The fact that they have made the observation shows that they have access to that child and are, therefore, able to damage them, by instilling their anti-imaginative attitudes.

The search could not have been made unless SOMEONE held that attitude - for the sake of the argument stated it doesn't really matter who it was. No matter who it was, the comments still apply.

I will take a look at the story you refer wishes.

10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the child is imagining things that frighten him. Sometimes kids make up stories that could be perceived as lies.

I still think you are projecting a lot of negative intent onto the searcher.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are right to suggest that sometimes children's imaginations lead them to fear that which is not there. I think this is a small price to pay for the capacity to imagine and is not an unhealthy attribute: it just a child's mind at work on the unknown...for instance the dark.

Sometimes children speak of imagined things. An adult might think of this as lying - but it is not, really, for usually there is no intent to lie, there - there is just a re-examination, by the child of the world in which they live - an alteration of the circumstance in some way. Again, I see nothing inherently untoward about this. It is the child re-imagining its world. This is an attribute with many positive applications as an adult.

I used the searcher's comment as a departure point for examination of the effect of an anti-imaginative stance on an imaginative child. We can never properly know what led the searcher to search, or who the searcher was or anything else about them - but we can know the meaning of the words. To use the idea of "too much" is propose that less imagination would be better. It is that against which I am arguing. I don't ever think that lessening a child's ability to imagine is in any way an improvement. Any attitude that leads to that idea can only be negative in its effects on a child.

It cannot be denied that there are people who have an anti-imaginative attitude. I met many at my school. Their effect on imaginative children is a terrible one - and one that should be resisted and argued against, as I have.

I hope that clears up my position.


1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. I understand your position. I think it's very interesting that you object so strongly to the idea of "too much imagination" and yet the title of your blog is "The boy who knew too much."

Set an example for others. Change your title. Don't let your blog reinforce "giftist" attitudes.

I am wondering if you are still struggling to deal with people's treatment of you as a gifted child. In your description of yourself you say you had "perhaps too many" gifts. As parents we all have to be mindful of how we were treated as children in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of our own parents.

12:23 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

The title of my blog is meant to capture the sense one gets on talking to Ainan that no-one could possibly know so much. It is not meant to propose the idea that he should know less. Naming a blog can be tricky since words may be misinterpreted, or read in ways other than intended. Ainan "knows too much" only in the sense that he creates in a listener the sense that what he does is somehow bordering the impossible...for how can one so young know so much? That is what I wanted to relate.

My title is not giftist - it is a title written from wonder - though I see how it could be misread.

I am not aware of any continued struggle against my childhood. That it was not ideal is true - but it is now rather long ago. I describe myself as having "perhaps too many gifts" because the more gifts you have the more tendency there is to dilute effort across them all, which can, in fact, hamper the gifted child. I was not rueing my gifts: each one was and is precious to me and in some way helps define who I was and am - but I am also aware that fewer gifts may have led to quicker results through greater focus. That was my point.

I hope that makes matters clearer.

Best wishes

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well there are some things that can happen with imagination that can be disconcerting. Like some kids have imaginary friends. To a parent who knows that this is relatively normal, this is not worrisome. But consider the situation of a gifted child who doesn't fit in with and therefore doesn't socialize with the other kids but has imaginary friends instead - that might trigger some worry, if the parent didn't know what was going on.

A person or child who has imagination over-excitability might imagine things so realistically that they actually become confused about whether what they imagined actually happened. To a person who doesn't know what imagination OE is, they might worry that their child is straying too far from reality, or that their child might have some kind of psychological disorder.

Then there are people like Tesla who are called "Higher Synesthetes" (This is the only term I have found and I'm not sure if it is correct...) but Tesla actually SAW what was in his imagination in front of him, as if he were hallucinating it. Not only that, but synesthesia is a sort of "sensory crossover onomatopoeia" where sounds become images, images become flavors, flavors become sensations... etc. Synesthetes will (for instance) hear someone say something, and imagine imagery that (for them) is associated with the tone of voice. So Tesla not only had synesthesia and its associations which caused him to imagine these associations with many things, but, because he was a higher synesthete, (once again, I'm not sure if this is the correct term, but its the only one Ive encountered) he also saw them in front of him as if they were real. This would probably be very disconcerting to any parent who didn't know what it was.

Then theres the possibility of having a child who is so creative and so imaginative that even though you're not worried that he/she has lost touch with reality, one may worry that he or she will get themselves into very strange varieties of trouble that you cannot even guess at let alone prevent.

I think the benefits of imagination far outweigh the risks. Without vision, you cannot change yourself or your life. Without imaginative people, we would all be stuck.

- Kathy

12:30 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You raise many important points.

It is easy for an imaginative child - or more especially adult - to be misunderstood by those who lack imagination. That could lead to serious problems.

Clearly it is impossible for an unimaginative person to conceive of what an imaginative person is like (they lack the imagination to do so!), and such a lack of imagination can even reside in a "professional" - which is obviously of particular danger to an imaginative person.

Tesla's gift is remarkable and very rare and can be seen, in one way, as an accentuation of the imagination - with synaesthesia as an added bonus. I didn't know he was a synaesthete as well - thanks for the information.

The imaginative are a special class of gifted and should be accorded a special status called: "let them be".

I should post on this.

Best wishes

8:43 AM  

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