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, August 07, 2007

Of Genius, Wealth and Poverty

We live in a world that worships money - and accords both respect and awe to those able to accumulate vast quantities of this magical stuff. Many, indeed, confuse "wealthy", with "brilliant". Yet, is this conflation a necessary truth?

There are many ways to become wealthy and not all of them involve great brilliance - in fact, most of them involve little more than doing what someone else has done, before, with a better marketing plan in place. I could say, "Look at Microsoft.", but I won't. In short, being rich does not mean being a genius. Nor does its corrollary apply: being poor does not mean one is dumb.

This latter point is essential to grasp. You see, I have recently received a letter from an American pointing out that, in her country, the poor are discounted on the issue of giftedness: no-one believes that a gifted child could emerge from a poor family - and so they are often overlooked. This is a very odd take on the issue of giftedness and shows that those who think so are unaware that wealth and IQ are not strongly correlated. There are rich bright people, yes - but there are also dumb rich people - and poor bright people - and poor dumb people (perhaps not the best combination, that one).

Giftedness is not a measure of wealth - it is a measure of mind - and great minds may emerge in the most unpromising of circumstances. History can teach us much here. I have already written of Carl Friedrich Gauss - a great child prodigy and a great genius level mathematician. What I did not stress enough, perhaps, was that his family were a very poor one. His father was a stone mason - a manual worker - and had the limited resources one expects of manual workers in most societies. Yet, this did not stop the young Gauss from being born a prodigy, and turning out to be the "greatest mathematician of his Age", according to many of his peers.

Another great mathematician, born in poverty, was Srinavasa Ramanujan. Born in 1887 in abject circumstances, he nursed a brilliance for mathematics by his own private efforts. He only emerged into prominence on writing a letter to G.H Hardy, the Cambridge mathematician, enclosing 120 mathematical statements of his own devising. Hardy, rather open-mindedly, invited him to Cambridge and the great young genius, was recognized. We all have something to thank him for. His work (the partition theory) is behind the operations of automatic teller machines (ATMs) and without his ideas, we would not be able to get a hold of our funds, so readily.

Both of these great men, were born poor - and both became great mathematical geniuses. Their poverty did not prevent them from being great. There are many such cases throughout history. Poverty does not connote stupidity - and wealth does not connote genius (I could bore you with cases of stupid, rich people but the living ones would sue and the dead ones are too uninteresting to bother with.)

So, to my American reader, I would like to send assurance that gifted people can, do and have emerged from poor backgrounds - and would like to urge those in America, who seek to identify gifted people, to be more open-minded in their pursuit of them. Do not assume intelligence in a rich kid - or dumbness in a poor one. Have an open mind when evaluating each and every one. For intelligence, creativity and genius, may emerge from any background, rich or poor.

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eight months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and one month, and Tiarnan, eighteen 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 adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:02 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am aware that you wrote this post quite a while ago, but I feel compelled to comment.

I have thought to some extent about the connections between socioeconomic status and giftedness, and I wholeheartedly agree that an individual's potential does not discriminate so superficially as another individual or a society might. Inherent potential has no regard for sex, nationality, or class.

Something I can't help but think about, however, is the connection between income, and intelligence. Forgive me if I'm not able to find the words to correctly express my meaning, or if I reiterate something you've already said. I would also like to note that these are only thoughts, and opinions, and derived from nothing more than some general observations, and impressions.

Those individuals who originate from families of greater material wealth would, in theory, have greater access to various opportunities that would nurture their potentials, and interests. Associated with that would be a certain amount of social respect based on this strange fascination that so many people seem to have with money.

An individual of equal capabilities, but from a poorer family, may not have those same opportunities. Additionally, a family of lower income may, theoretically, have a higher level of stress related to finances than a more affluent family might. That family stress would then, I suppose, affect the individual's potential in the sense that a child who was receptive to, and affected by negative family circumstances (such as the sorts of financial stress that could be associated with some kind of material impoverishment) may be affected in terms of attention and memory.

Basically what I'm saying is that, if various psychological issues, I'm using depression as a model here, were to affect memory, and concentration, and if such things can be triggered/exacerbated by stress, then wouldn't it make sense that a child with great potential could find that potential suppressed due to stress? If that stress were associated with economic disadvantage then it would make sense that a child could have incredible inherent potential, but have that potential depressed somehow because of the stress associated with economic disadvantage.

That isn't to say that those families of economic advantage can't be families where stress/abusive situations and such could be experienced, and that reasonably the effect wouldn't be the same. It is to say that economic disadvantage could contribute to such a scenario if such a scenario (stress depressing the expression of potential) was valid.

These are only thoughts I've had. I hope it was all right to share them.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your wise thoughts about socio-economic status and development. No doubt there are negative effects of relative poverty and these will show up as impaired development in quite a few people...but that does not mean that some will not shine and overcome their initial constraints. History is replete with geniuses arising from poor backgrounds. Thus, it is something that should not be overlooked, or be unexpected.

As for stress: yes...that is damaging, whatever its cause, if there is TOO much of it. A little stress is bearable and may actually be helpful...but only a little.

Thanks for your insightful comment.

9:27 PM  

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