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 22, 2007

The mysterious genius of Athens

Consider these names: Socrates, Plato, Pericles, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Aeschylus, Xenophon, Thucydides, Anaxagoras, Demosthenes, Alcibiades, Phidias and Simonides. Consider also these lesser known names: Aspasia, Aristippus, Polynotos, Lycurgos, Lysias, Protagoras, and Praxiteles.

What do all these people have in common - apart from being known by but a single name?

The answer is more surprising than at first it seems. They are all Athenians, from Ancient Athens. Does that shock you? It did me. It shocked me because I troubled myself to find out a little more about Ancient Athens and its Golden Age. What I learnt is both humbling and terrible news for the modern era.

The first thing that should be noted is that all of these people lived in the period 440 BC to about 380 BC. This is the Golden Age of Athens. As you will have noted the first of the two lists is unequivocally a list of some of the greatest geniuses who ever lived - accounted by not only their impact and reputation in their own times, but by their subsequent effects on the development of Western civilization and rational thought. Without their impetus, most of what we enjoy today, would not have come to being. The underlying way of thinking would not have evolved. So, we owe a debt of great gratitude to these early rational thinkers and scientific philosophers - and playwrights, too, (for inventing the theatre), among other achievements.

The second list are also regarded as geniuses, but are of lesser reputation - but still, they are all Athenian - and that, in itself, is telling.

You see, I tried to find the population of Athens at the time in question. I saw estimates varying from just 90,000 people to a high of 250,000. The highest estimate, according to one historian, implied that were about 60,000 adult males in Athens at the time. This estimate is not just for Athens but for the city plus the entire surrounding territory of Attica, on which Athens stood. So, it is actually an over-estimate for Athens itself. (Quite a few estimates for Athens' population placed it at around 100,000 - so divide all these calculations by 2.5, if that figure is correct for the city of Athens, proper).

So, the largest estimate of the possible pool from which all these geniuses - and some of them were great geniuses indeed - is drawn - is just 60,000 men.

Think long about that. A significant number of the greatest thinkers in Ancient times were drawn from a pool of just 60,000 men! (At the highest estimate).

How many geniuses are there today in a gathering of 60,000 men in a typical developed country? I mean, true geniuses - people of genuine creative power? I would be surprised if there was even one, really surprised.

How many true geniuses are there alive in the world's 6,000,000,000 plus people, today? Very, very few.

How many should there be? Well, let us use Ancient Athens as our template - and just so you don't accuse me of massaging the figures, let us use a worst case scenario. Let us count the number of major geniuses in Athens in the list above - and forget about the ones of lesser reputation, in the first instance. There are 14 major geniuses in the list above - for a population of no more than 250,000 (including children and slaves - who didn't really have much chance of participating - so this actually dilutes the true impression of Athenians, proper).

How many great geniuses would there be in the world today, for a population of six billion?

Well it is 14 divided by 250,000 multiplied by 6,000,000,000. That gives us a total of: 336,000.

There would be a third of a million geniuses on a par with Plato and Socrates alive today, if modern humans were as the Ancient Athenians had been.

I, for one, do not believe that there are a third of a million such individuals alive today. It may even be that such a number of great geniuses have never, in fact, lived, in the whole history of the human race. (Had they lived, one would expect history to be littered with many more great men and women than seems to be the case).

Now, that calculation only looked at those geniuses of greatest reputation in Ancient Athens. Let us consider the whole list - but remember that these lists may have accidentally excluded other great names, too. So, it will be, if anything, an underestimate of the true situation.

Doing the calculation for the second list of seven names gives another 168,000 geniuses who should be alive today - but most probably aren't.

Now, it doesn't make sense that the lesser names should be half as numerous as the greater ones. Clearly, therefore, my list is incomplete. So this is just a rough guide to the situation. There should be several lesser names for every greater one. Remember though that these lesser names are geniuses too - great enough to be remembered by some two and a half millenia later. So they are not insignificant.

Adding the two estimates gives us at total of 504,000 geniuses for the modern world. That is enough to populate a sizable city. Yet, I doubt the actual number is great enough to fill a sizable hotel.

The conclusion we can draw from this is either something is wrong about modern man - or something was great about Athenian man. It is basically the same, relative, conclusion.

Francis Galton (February 16, 1822 to January 17, 1911) once noted concerning the Athenian situation that, for Ancient Athens to have possessed so many geniuses, that the average intelligence of its population would have had to have been "two grades above the mean for a modern European" (That is a 19th century human, who, I propose, would have been genetically superior to people of today for reasons to be discussed elsewhere). For Francis Galton, a grade equated to about 10 IQ points in the current way of looking at it. So, in Francis Galton's estimate, for there to have been so many geniuses, in such a small place as Ancient Athens, the mean IQ of the Athenian population must have been about an IQ of 120.

No nation, city or race on Earth in the modern world comes remotely close to such a figure. By comparison the mean IQ of our "world leader" - the United States is just 98. The highest is Hong Kong at a mean of 107. As for races and IQ, the highest is for the Ashkenazi Jews at just over 107 mean according to the biggest study I could find (and therefore likely to be the most representative), with a sample size of 1,236 Ashkenazi Jews, by Backman in 1972.

So, Athenian man (and woman) stood far above modern people in mean intelligence. Such a huge disparity in mean intelligence, would have led to a situation in which gifted people - by modern reckoning of that term, were super-abundant. A significant proportion of the population would have tested as "gifted or above". If the mean IQ was, in fact, 120 for Ancient Athens, then assuming a standard deviation of 15 about that mean (as it is today in the West), then fully 25 % of the population would have tested at the gifted range of 130 or above. One in four Athenians would have been considered gifted by modern standards, by this reckoning.

Let us look a little deeper. One in four would have been moderately gifted (IQ 130); One in twenty-one would have been highly gifted (IQ 145 and above); one in two hundred and sixty one would have been exceptionally gifted (IQ 160 and above) and one in thirty-one thousand five hundred and sixty would have been profoundly gifted (IQ 180 and above). By the way, this suggests one Athenian had an IQ of 187 (one in a quarter of a million).

Now even these figures will be an underestimate of the true situation because they use a normal curve to derive the probabilities - whereas the true, observed curve is trimodal, with higher than expected upper and lower occurrences of IQ.

By comparison, for the modern world, using the rarity expected in a normal distribution of standard deviation 15, gives 1 in 44, moderately gifted, 1 in 741 highly gifted, 1 in 31,560 exceptionally gifted, 1 in 20,696,000 will be profoundly gifted (or say fifteen people in the United states, today).

These figures can only, therefore, give you a feel for the situation - but an incredible one it is. Were modern men as gifted as Ancient Athenians, genius would be more common than footballers. Such a world would be far different from the one we actually have. Presumably, we would be far more advanced culturally, scientifically and technologically.

Yet, we are not as the Athenians were. Neither are the modern Greeks. Their mean IQ is a saddening 92.

What happened, then, to the great Athens and their superhuman Athenians? Well, plague took a lot of them (including Pericles) - one third in one bite. Then Sparta took a lot more of them, by defeating them. The sterility (and military discipline) of Sparta triumphed over the genius of Athens. In 338 B.C Philip II of Macedon (Alexander the Great's dad) conquered Athens ending its independence. Athens never shone again, as once it had.

(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, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:19 AM  4 comments

Friday, September 21, 2007

Progress on homeschooling: Singapore.

Yesterday, we met the vice-Principal of Ainan's school, to have a chat about our request to homeschool.

As regular readers will know, we have come to the conclusion that Ainan would be best educated at home - for then the pace and subject matter could better meet his needs.

The VP spoke quietly, smiled frequently and tried to be helpful. He introduced us to the enormity of the administrative task that faced us. For us to stand a chance of being allowed to homeschool, we must submit a detailed plan of everything that would be taught, on a month by month basis, in every subject, for the entire period that we intend to homeschool. If you think about it, that is quite a significant presentation, given the number of subjects, the timescale, and the detailed planning required for each.

There were also requirements to be met in all areas: maths, science, languages, aesthetics and "national education". We are to make it clear that all areas will be met, to their satisfaction.

We would also have to include details of ourselves, as parents and home-teachers - in terms of our own educational background and what we could bring to the homeschooling situation.

So, our proposal would ostensibly be judged on two main issues: the detailed curriculum plan - and the substance, or otherwise, of our own educational background.

It will take some time to get all of this information together in a presentable fashion - and then we would have to wait, while they deliberated. I don't imagine that this is going to be a rapid procedure. Then again there is the little matter that I haven't managed to get a reply, from the "Compulsory Education Unit" (the Government department in charge of homeschooling permission) in seven months, of writing, other than: "We will revert to you shortly".

I will, however, sit down to write a detailed proposal. It may take weeks - but, in Singapore, permission for homeschooling is no trivial matter. It must, it seems, be worked at. So, work at it, I shall.

Here's hoping.

(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, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:50 PM  0 comments

Thursday, September 20, 2007

O.J.Simpson: Fame and Invulnerability

Sometimes, in some cultures, the famous think that they are invulnerable. They are like royalty walking among mere peasants - and are so far above the law, that they probably don't even know how to spell the word. At least, that is how many of them appear to behave and think of themselves.

O.J. Simpson is a definite case in point. Here is a man who was once, rather publicly, charged with a double murder - and, equally publicly, was acquitted - though many in the world didn't seem to agree with the acquittal and put it down to two factors: his gifted lawyers - and his fame - and consequent aura of untouchability. Now, I am not about to revisit the murder case and cannot form a solid opinion about it because I don't have the evidence to hand - but I can say this: it did seem to me that he was awfully lucky to get off, given the set of circumstances he faced.

That luck could have played a part in the most recent O.J. Simpson event. O.J has, as you probably know, been charged with multiple counts relating to an armed robbery in a Las Vegas casino - of, bizarrely, his own sports memorabilia. O.J. Simpson burst into a hotel room with several accomplices, at least one of whom was armed, and set about robbing the occupants of their O.J Simpson sports memorabilia. O.J. Simpson has subsequently claimed that he thought that the sports memorabilia had been stolen from him and that he was just reclaiming it, his style. Now, that may or may not be true, it may or may not reflect a gift for alibi invention, that has, no doubt, been well-exercised in his life - but whatever the case, the fact remains that O.J. Simpson should not, under any circumstances, have burst into a hotel room, with armed accomplices, to rob a couple of sports memorabilia collectors of O.J. Simpson memorabilia!

One thing that can be said, fairly safely, is that O.J. Simpson, whatever his athletic virtues might be, cannot be very bright. In fact, he is probably the least intelligent person I am ever likely to refer to on this blog on giftedness. O.J Simpson escaped a conviction for double murder. The Goldman family, at least, think he did it. The world's attention had been focused on him a little too long for anyone to ever forget him - and now, thirteen years later, he thinks it a reasonable act to commit an armed robbery, in a major hotel, of people who know who he is and actually collect his memorabilia!

Why would O.J. Simpson commit an armed robbery? Well, apart from the obvious answer that he must be both desperate and lacking intelligence there could be another: the effect of fame.

O.J. Simpson was not that well known outside the United States when the double murder case came to trial. But, upon that case, O.J Simpson became one of the world's most famous people. Furthermore, he remains so, for anyone who was a news-watcher in 1994. That is a generation that will never forget O.J Simpson. He has become, for them, an indelible memory. O.J. Simpson was a football star before the murder case - but after it he was a global brand - if a rather tarnished one.

Fame such as O.J. Simpson has is a thing that should only be the property of a mature mind. By this I do not mean an old person - I mean one who is responsible, aware of their position in the world, not given to abuse of power - and somewhat of a realist. They must be realistic enough to know the limits of behaviour within which a famous person should act, if they are not to fall foul of either the law, or basic morality. O.J Simpson does not appear to be aware of these limits (as neither did Mike Tyson before him, in another context).

O.J. Simpson has, it seems, fallen into the big trap of fame, for the famous: the idea of invulnerablity, the idea that the usual rules do not apply to the famous because, in so many contexts, they really don't apply. Yet, that does not mean that the rules don't apply in all contexts. There are still laws. There is still morality. There is still their public image to consider.

O.J. Simpson wasn't considering any of these things when he burst into a hotel room with armed accomplices. He was only thinking of the great O.J. Simpson, football star and globally famous - or infamous - man.

If O.J. Simpson genuinely thought that the sports memorabilia were his - all he had to do was pick up the phone and call the police to get them back. It defies belief that he would commit an armed robbery to do so.

Perhaps, getting off those murder charges convinced him, unconsciously or otherwise, that he could get away with anything - no matter what. (For even if he didn't, in fact, do it, it did look rather awkward.) All he had to do was hire a team of lawyers and let his fame do the rest.

Fame could have made O.J. Simpson into the kind of man who thinks armed robbery is something he can get away with. Fame could have convinced O.J. Simpson that he is above the law. Fame could have convinced O.J. Simpson that he can do what he pleases, without consequence.

Yet, there is one thing fame is now likely to do: ensure that the whole world watches the ensuing case. Fame may also work against him. There may be a tendency to punish him for the perceived wrongs of the prior case. Fame might mean O.J. Simpson spends the rest of his life in prison. It all depends on the jurors: are they enamoured of O.J. Simpson's fame, this time around - as they seemed to be, last time - or have they tired of him? Has O.J. Simpson slipped from fame to infamy since the first case? If it is the latter, then O.J. Simpson may discover that fame is not as protective as he had hoped. O.J. Simpson may be remembered for one more thing: spending the rest of his life in jail, signing sports memorabilia.

(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, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:29 PM  0 comments

Childhood imagination and acting on the stage

Yesterday, I had the chance to see Fintan in a stage performance. It was not a theatrical show, as such, but more of a guided theatrical performance, with the help of their teacher.

Seeing Fintan transform from a child into a rocket, then a moon buggy, then an astronaut, and an airplane and back to a child again, told me much about the quality of his inner imaginative life.

Fintan was very committed to each action, each role, each image that he had to portray. He was very expressive, physically, in how he relayed the meaning of what he had been asked to do - and he was very, very enthusiastic. Above all, it was his imagination that was clear from his work. There was great physical detail in his imagining of the roles he was to portray - careful placing of body, arm, hand and face to give just the right meaning to what he intended. There was nothing half-hearted about what he did: it was clear that he both enjoyed it and was good at it.

Other kids of his age showed fair imagination, too (four year olds).

Yet, what was really telling, for me, was what happened next. We waited to see the performance of the five and six year olds. The contrast was clear. The older kids were more capable with words - more at ease with their use - but there was something dreadfully missing. Someone had stolen their imaginations. There was a marked reduction in imaginative power, creative commitment - and, compared to Fintan, detail of performance, in the older kids. I was surprised at this. I had expected to see a steady development of ability - a progression to higher things. But that is not what I could clearly see up on the stage. I saw more use of words and less use of body. I saw a lot of talk at the expense of expressiveness, imagination, creative daring, commitment, enthusiasm, insight and simple stage presence. Fintan showed all of these qualities at four - and his agemates showed more of them than the older kids. It was an odd and unsettling realization. Somehow, it seems, that children lose something as they get older: they lose their "childish" imaginations - but they don't gain anything worthwhile in return. Where the younger kids were fluid and fun, the older kids were stiff and dull. It was sad to see.

I have not had the chance to see this comparison in other cultures and races. But it may be general - and if so, it is a worry. Clearly, in this education system at least, the children are rapidly losing the very quality we would most want to see flourish: their creative imaginations. Not that alone, but they are losing it very early on. I saw a marked difference between four year olds and five/six year olds. A decline should not be noticeable over such a short time - but it was. Perhaps we should look for a different place and way to school Fintan - and Tiarnan - before they, too, are rigidified.

Then, again, it may not just be the school. It might be a natural process. Or it could be the whole culture. Whatever is to blame, it is most obvious that young children are losing their imaginations at a very young age.

You may say I didn't see enough children. Well, I did. There were two groups of about fifteen children each. The difference between the typical performance of the four year olds and the typical performance of the five/six year olds was marked. There was no doubt about it.

I really wonder at what schools do for children: do they open their minds up - or close them down?

This experience has really set me to wondering.

(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, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:10 PM  0 comments

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

First Anniversary of Prodigy Blog

A year ago, today, on September 19th 2006, I made my first posting on The Boy Who Knew Too Much: A Child Prodigy.

I had chosen a simple self-explanatory title for the blog - and the same for the domain

I began knowing nothing of the medium but came, in time, to appreciate its flexibility and the facility it gives anyone, with something to say, the means to communicate it to others. The Blog is changing the way people relate to others all over the world. It has dissolved the barrier that separated the common man, from playing any role in the media. Blogs are a new media that are truly accessible to all who are likely to be able to use them ie. those who can write, think or comment on the work of others, if they are not able to create their own.

It is difficult to believe that it is a year since I began - but that is what the date on the first posting says, so a year it is.

Since then I have posted 523 times, my blog has been visited by 33,095 visitors, reading 105,687 pages (which can include a whole week's postings per page), as of 8.45 pm on the first anniversary of first posting.

My peak readers hit over 3,000 in one frenzied day - when the story of Ainan hit the world's newspapers - and after the first few months in which I began to build both an audience and posts, visitorship has rarely dropped beneath a hundred readers in a day.

I have regular readers from various parts of the world, particularly in countries where English is a first language, like the USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Singapore and the UK. I also have what I call "deep readers". These are people who chance upon my blog and then spend several hours reading it. Typically these readers spend two or three hours doing so - but some are much longer - up to over five or six hours at one reading, if memory serves me right. This is, to me, an indication that I am writing in a way which a certain kind of reader, at least, finds rewarding - otherwise why would they spend a large chunk of their day reading?

I have noticed that there are cycles in readership with some periods attracting more than others. It is clear, too, that I have had readers from everywhere on Earth - even, believe it or not, in parts of Africa, where one would expect few internet connections.

Even the people of small islands in the middle of nowhere have popped in to look around.

I haven't counted the number of comments on the postings exactly but it must be well into four figures, when all are added up. Most comments have been kindly, supportive, interesting, or informative. A few comments didn't make it to posting since they appeared to have been written by people with "issues" over giftedness (mainly spiteful, sometimes mad). All in all, though, if a typical reader is represented by the typical comment, then the typical reader is well-informed, thoughtful and not infrequently insightful. It has been a pleasure to relate to you all, through this medium, this past year.

I have surprised myself by how much and how often I have written. I did not know what I would say before I began...just that it would be good to say some of the things I think about. I hope it has been of some use and interest to you all.

I am pleased at the readership that I have garnered, to date, for there are over 70 million blogs in this world and it is difficult to see how they can all get readers when the number of people connected to the internet is, as I read some while back, only about 10 times that number. That indicates a ratio of ten possible readers for every blog, if they are spread out evenly. So, set against that kind of statistic, I have quite a healthy readership. Yet, it would be good if, in the year ahead, the readership could expand. Thus, I have a suggestion. If you like any of the articles here, or appreciate the blog in general, then why not link your site (if you have one) to mine, or the posting in question. Then others could get a chance to enjoy it too.

Looking ahead to the second year of my blog, I have, at the beginning of that time, the intention of continuing to blog regularly. I will continue to cover giftedness in all its manifestations and child prodigy in particular. I may choose to expand into other areas - but at the core will be the issue of human excellence and giftedness of all shapes and sizes. It is a subject I know well, and is one I feel important enough to give some time to, regularly. The gifted are a minority - and like all minorities they need people willing to speak up and speak out, lest people forget that they have needs, too. Perhaps, to some degree, my blog helps to that end.

So, if you have enjoyed any of my postings, why not spread the word - and see if, at the end of my second year of blogging, my total readership can exceed the 100,000 mark. I just have to do twice as well in my second year as in my first. That is my goal. I would appreciate your help in achieving it. Thanks all. Happy reading.

(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, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:41 PM  2 comments

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Seeking a Chemistry Lab in Singapore

Long-term readers of my blog, or followers of Ainan's story, will know that Ainan has had a course in practical Chemistry at Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College. Careful readers will even know that it was for six sessions. That is good - and was helpful. However, what is not is that we have not had any practical experience for him since - and that was in May. We are still, therefore, looking for a Chemistry lab.

We have asked the educational services but they are not keen to provide for him: no lab has been made available. We have explained the reason for his need: that Chemistry is a practical science and Ainan is a practical boy who needs real experience to flesh out his learning - but they are not listening to us. He also needs it to prepare for his A level in Chemistry. Without it, passing would be very difficult indeed, given the marks apportioned to practical skills.

So, we are, after about a year and a half since we first alerted the Singaporean education system to Ainan's nature and needs, still waiting for an effective response that meets his needs. They have made it clear that, if Ainan is to be provided for, that we will have to do it ourselves.

I puzzle at this. Ainan is but one child in a whole nation who needs access to a lab at the age of seven. Surely one child is not too much of a burden on an educational system. Yet, it seems that it is. What we have been offered is way below his needs.

No doubt, many parents of gifted children face similar situations, with local education systems not making any exceptions to the robotic way in which they proceed. No doubt, my blog has many similarly frustrated readers. Yet, should it be this way? The truly gifted are few. It does not seem to me that, numerically, they would create too much strain on an educational system to meet their needs and provide for them, adequately. Yet, it seems that even one child is too many, to adequately provide for.

Our solution, therefore, is to go it alone - and so we have applied for homeschooling. We are still waiting. (It is seven months now since I first applied). At home, his needs will be much better met - but we still need that magical Chemistry lab.

Any suggestions, anyone?

(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, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:04 PM  10 comments

The Amazing Super Moths of Singapore.

This morning, my wife and I took a taxi together.

The first thing we did on entering was to open the windows - on both sides. Why, you might wonder? Well, there was this overpowering stench is a better word - of napthalene - otherwise known as moth balls. There wasn't just a hint of moth ball in there - it was as if the whole car had been made of the stuff.

Curiously, the taxi driver was oblivious to the chemical aroma in his cab. He stared straight ahead while we reached for the windows, and virtually wretched as we did so. Indeed by the end of the journey, despite the windows being open, Syahidah was complaining of feeling unwell, owing to the smell.

Now, many a driver is proud of his car and wishes to preserve it from harm. So you might feel that while you may not agree with the extent of his moth protection, you might agree with his intent and understand his concern.

That's all very well - there is just one odd thing about all this. The entire interior of his car was plastic. There was nothing there for a moth to eat.

So, the first thing I observed on entering the taxi, was the appalling smell of moth balls. The second thing I noticed was that there was nothing for the moths to eat - inside the plastic cab interior.

Thus, the third thought I had was that our driver couldn't be completely alright in the head. Eccentricities come in various shapes and sizes - but I had never seen anyone prepare so fully for the eventuality that his car might suddenly change into something edible for moths (well, moth larvae, anyway) - and then get eaten.

That is one taxi journey neither of us shall ever forget.

(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, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:44 PM  0 comments

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tiarnan and the public bar.

Today, Tiarnan passed by a bar and peered inside. He saw people of most ages, sizes and races (except for one) gathered together with pint glasses in their hands, sipping beer and chatting. We carried on walking.

A minute or so later he pointed back at the bar and said that he wanted "susu" - which is Malay for milk. We both laughed. He had concluded that, since it was a place where others were drinking their (unknown) drink, that he would be able to order "susu" for himself, there.

As he asked for milk, I had this image of Tiarnan, the toddler, clutching a glass of milk, surrounded by a bunch of beer-drinking adult onlookers. Funny.

It is interesting to watch Tiarnan's social understanding on display: the way he speaks of the world, tells us his perception. What is notable is that he is usually basically right in his interpretation of the meaning of occurrences and places - even though he has very little experience from which to reason. I think babies learn and understand more deeply, more quickly and more correctly than is generally understood: at least the ones I have observed do. It is very rewarding to watch them piece together their understanding of the world. So much of it is of their own deduction - very little is actually imparted by direct instruction from the parents, I realize. It would be unfair of me to take too much credit for their comprehension of the world: it is largely down to the children themselves. It always was, I suppose.

When Tiarnan got home, he got his "susu" alright.

(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, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:39 PM  0 comments

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Was William Shakespeare a writer?

William Shakespeare is the world's most famous playwright, noted as the greatest writer and poet in the English language at any time. But was he?

This is the odd question posed by the "Shakespeare Authorship Coalition" - a group of 287 people who are, as far as I can see, British actors.

Why would actors of all people doubt the authenticity of the great Bard himself? This is a question that has been troubling me since I heard of this group. You see, when I was younger, I acted in Shakespeare's plays including Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet (in two different shows) and The Taming of the Shrew. I have, therefore, a personal acquaintance with the issue. I also familiarized myself with many other works including Hamlet, Macbeth, Cymbeline, Henry V, The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, As You Like It, Love's Labours Lost, Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar. I have either seen or read all of these plays.

So, my remarks on this question come from three perspectives: one is that I have actually learnt, imbibed, understood and performed Shakespeare's works from several plays; the other is that I am a writer, too, so I know deeply what a writer is and does - and thirdly, I know what a genius is, too, and what they are capable of, having been witness to such in my life, more than enough to know the breed.

William Shakespeare was reputedly born in 1564, on April 23. I say "reputedly" because the date of birth is not recorded - only the date of Christening, which was April 25. Curiously enough, he died exactly 52 years later in 1616, also on April 23. Perhaps birthdays didn't agree with him.

During his life he is credited with having been an actor and playwright for some 25 years, during which he penned 37 plays, many sonnets, and a couple of longer poetic works. That is quite an output for one life - and it is this fact that has alerted the doubt of some of his thespian detractors.

Sir Derek Jacobi, a British actor who has worked on Shakespeare's plays, said that he subscribed to the "group theory...I don't think anybody could do it on their own."

Now, he may have a knighthood, but that doesn't mean he also has a brain. He believes that Shakespeare's plays were written by a group, a committee, a let's-sit-down-and-see-what-we-can-put-together-today consortium. I am flabbergasted that he should think so. I have acted in Shakespeare's plays, learnt his lines, let them become part of me and roll off my tongue in performance as if they had formed themselves in my mind - and I can tell you one thing about Shakespeare's works that is clear: he has a very personal style. His works are definitely of a oneness. They all carry the same mental flavour, or verbal sign. To hear one of his lines, is to know his work. How could a committee of writers ever create something of such unity? Would not their disparate styles jar and clash? Would they not be unable to create such smooth, expressive poetry that all runs together perfectly upon the tongue? It is staggering to think that an actor, of all people, could not have observed how alike all Shakespeare's works are in verbal style. They are definitely the work of one man. It is nonsense to suggest that they are the jottings of a group working together.

Poetry does not emerge from a group. It emerges from the heart and mind of a sole creator.

In interpreting Sir Derek Jacobi's comment I can only assume that he is projecting himself onto the task when he says that no one man could do it. He is basically thinking: "Well, I am the great Sir Derek Jacobi, Knight of The Realm of England - and if I couldn't do it, no-one could." Well, I don't think so, Sir Derek Jacobi. An actor may be a writer - as Shakespeare was - but an actor who is not also a writer - like Sir Derek Jacobi is not - really has no ground to stand on. His opinion is not founded on personal acquaintance with the issue. Sir Derek Jacobi is neither a genius nor a writer - so how can he make an informed judgment about whether a genius writer could write such a body of work in a fifty-two year lifetime?

Well, there is one way to look at it, which might help. Let us analyse Shakespeare's output by comparison to the output of a writer I know well. Shakespeare's surviving works amount to 884,647 words, in total. Look at that number. Is it a lot, do you think? Is less than 900,000 words a great output for a lifetime of writing? Well, I have another number for you to consider: the number of words in my first book (yet to be published), is about 750,000 words, or thereabouts. Therefore, my own lifetime output, when my other works are considered actually exceeds that of Shakespeare's in terms of number of words, somewhat significantly. One work alone is almost as much as his entire output. So, indeed, it is more than possible for one man, alone, to accomplish so much, in terms of quantity of output. That really does lend perspective to Sir Derek Jacobi's belief that no one man could do it - of course one man could do it - and in a lot less time than 52 years, too. It could easily be done before the age of 30 by a motivated genius, with great verbal gift. I had written more than Shakespeare by that age - and if one person could do it, another could, too - especially one as verbally gifted as Shakespeare.

The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition believes that it is impossible for "a 16th century commoner and son of an illiterate household" to have penned plays so versed in law. They are laughable. There is such a thing in this world as a book. Anyone can learn anything if they are bright enough, no matter what their background. Clearly this group of 287 actors don't have a single intellectual among them. If they had, they would know that the only limit to the knowledge of a truly gifted person is their time on this Earth, and access to books. All Shakespeare would have to do is read - or talk to a lawyer every now and again over a pint of ale. There is no deeper mystery to it than that.

I am not a lawyer - but my brother is. If he can do it, so can I - and so could William Shakespeare, who was more than smart enough to handle the task.

As for the "illiterate household" bit, I marvel at their lack of historical research. His mother, Mary Arden, was of the landed gentry: a high born woman of substance. I really rather think that she could read. His father, though a yeoman, rose to be High Bailiff of Stratford-upon-Avon by 1568. This a position akin to mayor. Clearly, in terms of giftedness, Shakespeare had gifted parents. I don't for a moment believe that they lacked the ability to read - or to teach him to read, too. Even, for argument's sake, if they were illiterate, they clearly were of gifted stock - and so he would no doubt find it rather easy to pick up the skill himself.

What I find really interesting - and telling - is that the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition seems not to understand the contribution that imagination makes to a writer's work. They critique the probability of Shakespeare being the author of his own works, by presupposing the non-existence of his imagination. They say that he wrote mostly about the upper-classes - so suggest therefore that, since he was not a nobleman, he could not and would not do this. Well, wait a minute, I know of writers who write about dragons - but that doesn't mean that they are personally acquainted with them. Their arguments are all very weak, and presuppose that the writer of Shakespeare's plays had a limited mind and imagination - rather like their own, I presume. The upper classes were the players of Shakespeare's day - all that was significant seemed to revolve around them and their actions - so, of course, he was interested in writing about them - in doing so he was being what a playwright should be - dramatic. There is drama in the passions of rulers and the doings of the great. Focusing on the deeds of a peasant would not have "put bums on seats", in Shakespeare's day (or even now for that matter).

The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition also question Shakespeare's knowledge of Italy. They say that because he got the details right of how Italy was in his day, that Shakespeare could not have written it. Well, how odd. Shakespeare could have travelled there, or spoken to people who had, or read books about it. There any number of means by which he could have come by this information. That Shakespeare was careful about his research does not prove that he did not write his own works - it proves only that he was careful about his research!

This Shakespeare Authorship Coalition recently unveiled a "declaration of reasonable doubt" concerning the authorship of Shakespeare's works, at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester, West Sussex, England. The list of supporting names included 20 prominent doubters of the past, including Sir John Gielgud (what is it about these Knights and their doubts?), Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and Mark Twain.

Sir Derek Jacobi proposes Edward de Vere as the most likely candidate - or the foremost member of the "group" who, according to him, wrote Shakespeare's plays. Edward de Vere was an aristocrat and therefore in line with the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition's bizarre belief that only an aristocrat/nobleman could have written Shakespeare's plays. They seem to be suggesting two things: firstly, and most offensively, that only a nobleman could possibly be gifted enough to write such great works - and that secondly they seem to have too much knowledge of the upper classes to have been written by anyone who wasn't himself noble.

I find the whole argument ridiculous. A writer can write about anything or anyone - he - or she -needs only three tools: talent/genius, good research and imagination. All the rest is just effort.

Sir Derek Jacobi appears to have overlooked the awkward fact that Edward de Vere predeceased Shakespeare by over a dozen years and wasn't even alive to have written the later works supposedly written with his involvement. Perhaps Sir Derek Jacobi believes it was a ghostwriter.

I think this whole argument comes down to a simple fact of life: little minds cannot imagine the capacity or capabilities of great minds. Those who propose that William Shakespeare could not have written his works are saying that they, themselves, could not have written his works - so they doubt that he could, also. They are saying that William Shakespeare's works are of such genius, that only a superman could have written them. So they propose that it must have been a nobleman (ie. a selectively bred superman of his day) - or that a group of hardworking lesser humans like themselves must have done so. I marvel at their essential vacuity. They clearly do not understand that genius does not come from groups - it arises from the superlative gifts of one unusual human being. I once read a good metaphor here. If you want to find someone to jump seven foot tall, in the high jump, you don't look for seven people who can each jump one foot: you have to find one person who can jump seven foot high! No matter how many "lesser mortals" you throw at the problem, they will never equal a single Shakespeare: individually and collectively they simply cannot jump that high. So, Shakespeare's works could not have been written by a group - because you are not going to find a group of seven foot high jumpers. Furthermore, using Occam's Razor, only one such high jumper is necessary to jump seven feet. It seems foolish to propose a whole bunch of them. Especially since the actual lifetime quantity of output is not even as much as one blogger's (me).

There is one final point which I think really kills this whole argument, in one word: credit. Do you really think that the "true author" of William Shakespeare's works is going to sit idly by while this actor got all the credit for being the greatest writer in the history of the English language? I don't think so. If there truly had been another author, he would have said, at some point, "err...excuse me, I wrote that." The only possibility is that someone conspired for unknown reasons of his own, with Shakespeare, to create a false public persona of a playwright for works written by him or her, instead. But why, oh why, would anyone wish to hide their authorship of the greatest plays in the English language? Occam's Razor defeats this one - it is just too far fetched that there would have been a great conspiracy, initiated by the author of the plays, to hide his own authorship. Only in such circumstances, could there possibly be an author who didn't come forward to claim authorship, other than Shakespeare himself. I find it absurd in the extreme. No creator would, I feel and think, do that to themselves. Even if they wanted a quiet life, it would make no sense not to reveal authorship, upon one's death.

I, for one, have no doubt that Shakespeare is the genius he was reputed to be. I have no doubt that he was the author of his works. I equally have no doubt that should there have been another author, that that author would have come forward to claim ownership - for why ever would they not?

In some ways, this is all rather sad. Imagine that you had been Shakespeare, that you had written all your life long and created the most beautiful of poetic works - and then, hundreds of years after your death, the very people who have made their living from putting on your works: British actors - start proclaiming that you were too much of a commoner to have written such noble works. It is tragic really. All of this actually tells us little about Shakespeare - but a lot about the actors who attack him. I will leave you to decide what it tells.

I will leave you with an eyewitness account of Shakespeare's gifts from his time. First Folio publishers John Hemminges and Henry Condell said of Shakespeare: "His mind and hand went together and what he thought, he uttered with that easiness that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers."

William Shakespeare, poetic genius that he was, and greatest of writers - wrote almost perfect, error free copy. That is testament enough for me: to write such wonderful plays, without a blot.

Rest in Peace, William. There are still many who believe in you (and 287 who don't).

(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, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:25 AM  0 comments

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape