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 +

Friday, March 21, 2008

The failure of the Copernican Revolution.

The Earth goes round the Sun...right? Everyone knows this don't they? That's where the concept of "year", comes from, doesn't it?

Well, not everyone knows this. In fact, in a recent survey ONE FIFTH OF AMERICANS THOUGHT THAT THE SUN GOES AROUND THE EARTH. I read it with less shock than others might feel. Why? Because I have met this particular form of ignorance, before.

When I was at Cambridge, there was this girl. She had rather a pleasant personality and was the kind of person who seemed to mean well to all. I shan't name her, here, lest she be embarrassed, however. One day, we had an argument - a celestial one. Somehow the subject of the Earth's motion through space had come up. I detected in her what I thought was a misunderstanding, so I pointed out that the Earth goes around the Sun. She laughed at me. "No it doesn't...the Sun goes around the Earth! You can see that it does."

I could see that she thought me rather stupid. I insisted that the Earth went around the Sun...but she would have none of it. Her naive observations that the Sun rose and set in its motion through the sky, were levelled at me, again and again as proof that the Sun, indeed, went around the Earth. There was nothing I could do to persuade her otherwise. The life work of Nicolaus (or Nicolas) Copernicus (February 19, 1473 – May 24, 1543) had been in vain. Almost four hundred and fifty years after he had demonstrated, conclusively, that the Earth orbited the Sun (that the Solar system is "heliocentric", or Sun-centred), this Cambridge Undergraduate still hadn't got the message.

Do you know what is really funny? She went on to get a first class degree in Modern Languages. She was, by this measure, the "brightest of the bright"...yet still she did not know that the centre of the Solar system was the Sun, and that the Earth, like all the other planets, orbited it.

She was, I suppose, a perfect example of the problems of the "two cultures", written of by C.P. Snow. She knew her languages, but she knew nothing of science.

Yet, I should thank her, really. You see, I never fail to be flabbergasted when I think of her lack of understanding of such a basic issue. She has, therefore, given me permanent access to the emotion known as "flabbergast".

So, it was most evocative when I read that one fifth of Americans are ignorant of the same issue as my first class Cambridge degree holding friend.

It is sobering to realize that the Copernican revolution is still not over. Copernicus has yet to win over even the developed world to his view that the Solar System is heliocentric. Sixty million Americans would react as my Cambridge friend did - by laughing at anyone who suggested that the Earth orbits the Sun.

Copernicus' seminal book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), was published in the year of his death. Legend has it that he was given a copy of it, on his death-bed, while in a stroke induced coma. He is reputed to have awoken from his coma, noted the presence of his book - and passed away peacefully.

Would he rest so easily if he knew that almost half a millenia later there are still people, in the developed world, who do not believe that the Earth goes around the Sun?

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, 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.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:15 AM 


Blogger shanon said...

The Copernican Revolution refers to the paradigm shift away from the Ptolemaic model of the heavens, which placed Earth at the center of the Universe. It was one of the starting points for the Scientific Revolution of the 16th Century.The 16th century finally saw what came to be a watershed in the development of Cosmology. In 1543 Nicolas Copernicus published his treatise De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (The Revolution of Celestial Spheres) where a new view of the world is presented: the heliocentric model.

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2:44 PM  
Blogger EbTech said...

There is an International Flat Earth Research Society of people who truly believe the Earth is flat... I thought it was a joke at first, but shockingly enough it looks quite serious.

Technically we say the Earth and Sun orbit their common center of mass, which in turn orbits the galaxy... perhaps 1/5th of Americans don't like to think!

1:16 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Yes, of course, they orbit their common centre of mass...but the sun is so massive that that looks approx like the sun is at the centre.

I would say a lot more than one fifth of people don't think. I would say more like two thirds.

1:36 PM  

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