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 +

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Science Prodigy's Comedic Sense

We laugh at strange things in my family - jokes that require unusual knowledge to appreciate. Perhaps the oddest thing about this joke making is that they are generally made by Ainan, 7.

Ainan sees humour where others see mystification. I haven't heard any accounts of other scientists finding science funny - but Ainan does. He sees comedy in the most unexpected of places - even in such a mundane concept as distance.

Yesterday he said to me: "There is a very funny distance, called an apc."

I didn't laugh - mainly because I didn't know what an "apc" was. I looked at him with that universal expression of blankness that asks, wordlessly: "Please explain."

He waited just a little to see if I understood and then, with a patience that I believe he has come to acquire, through his relations with others - who, no doubt, often don't understand his remarks, he continued.

"It is an attoparsec...which is about 3 centimetres."

Laughter exploded from me. I thought the idea was hilarious.

Let me explain a little so that you too can appreciate why a distance was funny. A parsec is a "parallax second" - that is 3.26 light years. A light year is the distance light travels in one year. This is a truly enormous distance. Light has a velocity of 300,000 Kilometres per SECOND. So, imagine travelling at the speed of light for 3.26 years. That is one parsec.

Now, what made this funny was that the inventor of this absurd unit of measurement had multiplied that unit by a very small number. "Atto" means 10 to the power of minus 18. This is a really really small number. So small that the famed "nano" of nanotech represents a number a billion times bigger than an "atto".

Atto is so small a number that when it is used to multiply a parsec, it reduces it to just 3 centimetre.

What I thought was funny was the idea of conjoining an astronomical distance and a very small number - to make an everyday, modest distance of three centimetres. Clearly, Ainan had thought it funny too, though if he had ever laughed at it, his laughter had already been done by the time he mentioned it to me.

So, there you are. Science can be funny - and there is even comedy in distance. At least, Ainan managed to find it.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and nine months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and two months, and Tiarnan, nineteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:22 PM 


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