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, April 12, 2007

On "All-rounders" and specialists

Some gifted children are good at everything. They shine at whatever they attempt. Others seem handcrafted by some divine power, for one task and one task alone - a gift so narrow it has but a single name. Why is this so?

Well, one need only begin to think about what it means to be gifted. Each gift must be supported by a neural network. It would seem a fair proposal that those who have a greater gift must have a greater number of or complexity of neurons supporting that greater gift. There lies the problem. Each gift we possess competes with every other gift for space in our brains. Each operation of our very complex bodies is co-ordinated in some manner or degree by a part of our brain. Some of these brain functions are non-negotiable basic life support functions. They cannot be given up for another purpose. Therefore, after all the brain space is allotted, one could conclude that the space available for the cultivation of gifts may be more limited than one might suppose. Each gift is reflected in allotted brain space. A range of gifts would require a range of allotments. At some point, these gifts would begin to compete with each other for space - unless they have overlapping functions that might allow dual use of space in some way.

So how is it that some people have many gifts - and others have but one? (Not forgetting that many people appear to have no distinctive gift at all.) It could all be down to brain size and the distribution of brain space among gifts. Some people have larger brains than others. My own family, for instance, contains many people with fairly large heads - and so, presumably larger than usual brains. There is, in fact, a known positive correlation between brain size and IQ (which I could rediscover and post another time). Yet, that is not the whole story. Perhaps a great gift - a truly great gift - may require too much of the available brain space to support and so might compromise other areas of intellectual function to accommodate it - unless, of course, the brain were unusually large and able to make accommodation for all demands. However, it is clear, in the case in which a great gift exists in a brain that does not have enough space to accommodate any or many other gifts, that there would have to be compromises in other areas. Thus, there would arise people who are outstanding in some respects - truly great - but somewhat more limited in others, simply because of inadequate mental resources to cope with all demands.

The reasoning, so far, has been my own. The question is: can we observe such people in the world? Are there people of great gift who are limited in other ways? Without having to name anyone in particular, we all have the sense that this is so - from having met people who partially or wholly represent this phenomenon. We all know of a mathematically gifted person who was hopeless with anything literary - or the literary type who was hopeless mathematically. Indeed, this type of one sided person seems to be more common in my childhood memories of school than the "all-rounder". I was an all-rounder - and remain so - but there were few of us in my school, very few.

Why do I post on this? Well, a searcher arrived on my site today with the search: "Training children to be all-rounders". I have stated my reasoning above so that I might observe, now, that training a child to be an all-rounder - who isn't naturally one, by dint of the possession of a plenitude of neural resources - may involve compromises. It is possible that, in becoming an all-rounder, they might end up less good at the one thing they would have been really good at, if they had been left alone. The brain's resources are logically limited, after all. Perhaps it is better to let the inclinations of the child guide his or her education. Deep down, every child knows if they are a naturally endowed "all-rounder" or whether it is better for them to dig a single deep furrow, at which they might shine above all others.

Just as I don't believe that any gifted child can be a genius at any one thing, I don't believe that any gifted child can be an all-rounder, either. The capacities that lead to these results are, I believe, from what I have observed in the world around me, essentially innate. The "training" that this searcher sought should always, therefore, be directed to nurture whatever is natural in that child. Careful observation of the child should be enough to determine whether they naturally lean to specialization or generalization. The issue should definitely not be forced. From my argument above, it may even cause a variety of harm to do so: for the brain might be forced to make compromises in the distribution of resources which are not, ultimately, beneficial.

Best wishes, all, on raising your children as they are meant to be raised: according to their individual needs.

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and four 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 children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:22 PM 


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