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 +

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The universality of intelligence

There is a person called Koko who is very special in a way that might surprise you.

Now Koko has a curious disability - being unable to speak, but can use 400 signs of American Sign Language. Koko has an interesting sense of humour and makes jokes and rhymes using these signs. Koko even uses metaphor, sometimes - all in Sign Language. So, although unable to speak, Koko can communicate.

Koko's IQ is not what you might call gifted - and so may not seem a suitable subject for this blog. Koko's IQ regularly tests at around 80. You might not think much of that - but I do. You see, Koko is a gorilla.

Did that surprise you? Koko is more intelligent than many humans - for an IQ of 80 is not actually all that low, when you consider that the average for the United States is 98 (and the average for France 94). There are even countries on Earth, populated with humans, whose IQs average in the 60s and 70s. Thus Koko is more intelligent than many humans. Yet, Koko is not free, in the sense, of being self-determining. Shouldn't Koko, whose IQ is well into the human range, have rights just like those other primates - the humans?

You should note that the IQ tests used on Koko are normal, human IQ tests for which no adjustment has been made for the differences between gorilla and human culture. Given this disadvantage, perhaps a culture fair test, that took account of what it means to be a gorilla, might actually produce a higher score. I would be surprised if this did not, in fact, occur.

Koko is a thinking being with a rich life of thought. Yet, most people would dismiss him (her?) as "just an ape". I think it is time to revisit our ideas of what is intelligent - and who - and think a little more clearly about how we treat our fellow "animals" on this planet. Koko would probably make a very interesting person to talk to - what with his (her?) different perspective, allied to fluency in a human language - American Sign Language.

Koko's abilities also lead us to ask: what is the role of education in the development of the human? Koko has been educated by Francine Patterson, since 1972 - and the results are incredible. If an educational programme can do this for a gorilla, what other animals, in our environment, could attain human level performance? In the light of this, are we humans fair, kind and reasonable in our conduct towards animals in general? These are uncomfortable questions but they have to be asked. If all that separates us and our near relatives is a decent education, then we have really, really, really, not been behaving well towards our kindred.

Perhaps it is not the place to point this out, but I think I should. A gorilla, if educated, can perform in the human intellectual range. Yet, gorillas are still considered FOOD for some people in this world. Now, that really is an awful thought.

By writing this post, today, perhaps I can enlarge people's respect for our fellow animals - and perhaps cause some of you to think about what it means to be human - and ask how we got that way in the first place. After all, a gorilla can go pretty far to becoming "human" by just being given the chance to grow, intellectually. There is a very profound lesson in that.

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and no months, or Tiarnan, seventeen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, baby genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:07 PM 


Blogger EbTech said...

Your argument is similar to that of Richard Dawkins (most famous for his atheistic views) with relation to gorilla rights:

2:54 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am not familiar with Richard Dawkins' views on the matter. Do we know when he formed them?

I will take a look at the video, thanks.

2:02 PM  
Blogger EbTech said...

The video was posted on Youtube 10 days before you wrote this article, so he must have formed his views by then at the latest...

2:32 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

How funny. That is suggestive though, that my view is one that should be held by anyone who thinks carefully about the issue. Unfortunately, it is not a sufficiently common view - indicating that not that many people are thinking carefully about it.

2:36 PM  

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