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 +

Monday, June 18, 2007

The importance of attribution

I can't help but notice that many people are in the habit of quoting another's thoughts, without attribution. Though most of these people seem to be unaware of it, such a practice is a form of theft, for it deprives the originator of the thought, idea, proposal etc. of the credit for having conceived it.

Part of the education of us all, is coming to understand what others have thought before us, and perhaps understanding why they thought in such a way. It is always enlightening to consider the wisdom of those who were known for their genius.

A few days ago, I was listening to the radio in Singapore, when I heard something that made me most uncomfortable. It appeared to be a slogan for the radio channel that I was listening to. It went like this:

"Imagination is more important than knowledge, so use your imagination..." Listeners were then urged to listen to Lush Radio.

The cheek of what they had done stilled me. Many of you will probably know where their slogan came from: it was a thought of Albert Einstein's that they had corrupted to sell their radio channel to the public. There is a deep irony in claiming that listening to their channel was an act of the imagination - when they had, in fact, shown no imagination themselves, in plagiarizing the famous words of a great man, to promote themselves.

What is so wrong with this? Well, many listeners will not know whence those words came. They will not make the connection to Einstein. This deprives them of a full understanding of what the words mean - for they cannot know the perspective of the first mind to have conceived them. Only through knowing that Einstein coined them, can we have a chance to understand both their import and their meaning. Not that alone, but knowledge of what great minds have thought, is part of human culture - to have the words of such minds, turned into commercial slogans for commercial end, cheapens that culture and makes of it something vacuous. Truly, what they did was morally - and legally wrong. For it is a breach of the moral rights of an author not to attribute a quote - and a breach of copyright to do so. Yet, this was done by an institution in a position of influence and respect: a radio station.

Einstein's remark was made originally in Berlin, in 1929 to the journalist and poet, George Sylvester Viereck who had somehow coaxed an interview from the most reluctant world-famous physicist.

"How," George began, "do you account for your discoveries? Through intuition or inspiration?"

"Both," replied Albert Einstein. "I sometimes feel I am right, but do not know it. When two expeditions of scientists went to test my theory, I was convinced they would confirm my theory. I wasn't surprised when the results confirmed my intuition, but I would have been surprised had I been wrong. I'm enough of an artist to draw freely on imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

Few Singaporean listeners know whence that quote comes - and that is what allows the radio station to imitate, as it did. That is a pity, for Einstein's words were spoken on a matter of some importance: what leads a genius like him to think and create as he had?

It is saddening to see a radio station trivialize such a man's words. I hope they change their slogan - and perhaps announce who they were quoting.

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and six months, 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 @ 6:56 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do think both imagination and knowlegde are important. Without knowledge, your imagination can be nothing. But with knowledge, your imagination can be everything

1:50 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, indeed, both have an important part to play in one's mental apparatus. However, Einstein's point was that knowledge on its own could do little and that imagination was much the more powerful of the two. In that, I think he was right.

Yet, of course, one needs a certain knowledge of an area to begin to think about its problems and make a contribution.

Best wishes

7:12 PM  

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