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, April 26, 2008

The top 100 living geniuses

Who are the greatest living geniuses of today? Creators Synectics asked and answered this question. They did so by asking 4,000 Britons to list up to 10 living people they considered geniuses. They received just 1,100 nominations in reply (which would seem to suggest that many Britons are not interested enough in genius to answer a question about them). Only 60 per cent of these nominees were actually alive at the time - the dead ones being discounted owing to their poor health.

Now, I would like you to guess (without looking at the list below to cheat), which country had the most geniuses per head of population, on Earth (according to this survey)?

The answer was Britain. One Briton out of every 2.5 million is considered a living genius, by the respondents. For America, only one in every 6.9 million Americans was considered a genius.

If this survey is accurate, it would seem to suggest that something in the British culture and education system is more conducive to giving rise to genius than the American system. It may be, for instance, that the American system is insufficiently intellectually challenging in High School (and perhaps at Bachelor's degree level) to bring out the best in its students. Whatever the reason, it is something to be concerned about, for it suggests that America's intellectual pre-eminence in the world is not to be an enduring one. To make the comparison more clear, if these proportions for genius hold true, then Britain has 23 living geniuses and America, just 43. Thus, though America is far vaster in size, it does not have a comparable intellectual weight.

One reason for this could be that the people asked for their opinion were Britons. That might hold true in a world where information was not transmitted so readily. In the modern world, fame extends around the world. American geniuses are just as familiar to Britons as British ones - so too the geniuses from elsewhere in the world. So, I doubt that that is the explanation. The Britons would know of American geniuses (and those from elsewhere) and would therefore be able to vote for them.

Nor can we say that they were excluding Americans in preference for Britons, because they had up to 10 votes each: there was room for many a nationality there.

We have to consider, therefore, that this is a real difference and that American ingenuity is not, comparatively, what one would have thought. Perhaps they need to become more attractive to British immigrants.

A note: when this list was compiled, Bobby Fischer was still alive.

Other curiosities: J K Rowling is on the list. I am not sure that she is really a genius, for her work does appear to be rather derivative - yet she got the popular vote. Damien Hirst, too, has often been accused of plagiarism, by other artists - so his place, too, is questionable.

The funniest thing about the list is Richard Branson's description as a "publicist". In a way, that is exactly what he is, for he has built his Virgin empire on generating media coverage for himself.

The numbers after each listing are the score for the genius in terms of five factors that were used to rank them. The factors are: paradigm shifting; popular acclaim; intellectual power; achievement and cultural importance. It is notable that some geniuses secured a very low score. This means that though they were voted in by the people, the judges did not think them to have great power as geniuses. Quentin Tarantino best exemplifies this, on the bottom of the list with a score of 2. He, too, is known to be derivative in the extreme (a big chunk of Reservoir Dogs echoes Ringo Lam's City of Fire, very closely). Again, therefore, he shouldn't really be on the list at all.

Interestingly, the joint first place goes to two scientists: Albert Hoffman, the chemist who invented LSD - and Tim Berners-Lee who invented that other hallucinogenic distraction, the world wide web.

Please take a look at this list and give me your views, if you wish, as to whether these people should be on it, in the first place. Are they geniuses? Are they good enough to be in the top 100? Who is NOT on the list that you think should be? Is Britain truly producing more geniuses than any other country on Earth, per head of population?

I originally encountered this list on the Daily Telegraph website, from the UK.

1= Albert Hoffman (Swiss) Chemist 27
1= Tim Berners-Lee (British) Computer Scientist 27
3 George Soros (American) Investor & Philanthropist 25
4 Matt Groening (American) Satirist & Animator 24
5= Nelson Mandela (South African) Politician & Diplomat 23
5= Frederick Sanger (British) Chemist 23
7= Dario Fo (Italian) Writer & Dramatist 22
7= Steven Hawking (British) Physicist 22
9= Oscar Niemeyer (Brazilian) Architect 21
9= Philip Glass (American) Composer 21
9= Grigory Perelman (Russian) Mathematician 21
12= Andrew Wiles (British) Mathematician 20
12= Li Hongzhi (Chinese) Spiritual Leader 20
12= Ali Javan (Iranian) Engineer 20
15= Brian Eno (British) Composer 19
15= Damien Hirst (British) Artist 19
15= Daniel Tammet (British) Savant & Linguist 19
18 Nicholson Baker (American) Writer 18
19 Daniel Barenboim (N/A) Musician 17
20= Robert Crumb (American) Artist 16
20= Richard Dawkins (British) Biologist and philosopher 16
20= Larry Page & Sergey Brin (American) Publishers 16
20= Rupert Murdoch (American) Publisher 16
20= Geoffrey Hill (British) Poet 16
25 Garry Kasparov (Russian) Chess Player 15
26= The Dalai Lama (Tibetan) Spiritual Leader 14
26= Steven Spielberg (American) Film maker 14
26= Hiroshi Ishiguro (Japanese) Roboticist 14
26= Robert Edwards (British) Pioneer of IVF treatment 14
26= Seamus Heaney (Irish) Poet 14
31 Harold Pinter (British) Writer & Dramatist 13
32= Flossie Wong-Staal (Chinese) Bio-technologist 12
32= Bobby Fischer (American) Chess Player 12
32= Prince (American) Musician 12
32= Henrik Gorecki (Polish) Composer 12
32= Avram Noam Chomski (American) Philosopher & linguist 12
32= Sebastian Thrun (German) Probabilistic roboticist 12
32= Nima Arkani Hamed (Canadian) Physicist 12
32= Margaret Turnbull (American) Astrobiologist 12
40= Elaine Pagels (American) Historian 11
40= Enrique Ostrea (Philippino) Pediatrics & neonatology 11
40= Gary Becker (American) Economist 11
43= Mohammed Ali (American) Boxer 10
43= Osama Bin Laden (Saudi) Islamicist 10
43= Bill Gates (American) Businessman 10
43= Philip Roth (American) Writer 10
43= James West (American) Invented the foil electrical microphone 10
43= Tuan Vo-Dinh (Vietnamese) Bio-Medical Scientist 10
49= Brian Wilson (American) Musician 9
49= Stevie Wonder (American) Singer songwriter 9
49= Vint Cerf (American) Computer scientist 9
49= Henry Kissinger (American) Diplomat and politician 9
49= Richard Branson (British) Publicist 9
49= Pardis Sabeti (Iranian) Biological anthropologist 9
49= Jon de Mol (Dutch) Television producer 9
49= Meryl Streep (American) Actress 9
49= Margaret Attwood (Canadian) Writer 9
58= Placido Domingo (Spanish) Singer 8
58= John Lasseter (American) Digital Animator 8
58= Shunpei Yamazaki (Japanese) Computer scientist & physicist 8
58= Jane Goodall (British) Ethologist & Anthropologist 8
58= Kirti Narayan Chaudhuri (Indian) Historian 8
58= John Goto (British) Photographer 8
58= Paul McCartney (British) Musician 8
58= Stephen King (American) Writer 8
58= Leonard Cohen (American) Poet & musician 8
67= Aretha Franklin (American) Musician 7
67= David Bowie (British) Musician 7
67= Emily Oster (American) Economist 7
67= Steve Wozniak (American) Engineer and co-founder of Apple Computers 7
67= Martin Cooper (American) Inventor of the cell phone 7
72= George Lucas (American) Film maker 6
72= Niles Rogers (American) Musician 6
72= Hans Zimmer (German) Composer 6
72= John Williams (American) Composer 6
72= Annette Baier (New Zealander) Philosopher 6
72= Dorothy Rowe (British) Psychologist 6
72= Ivan Marchuk (Ukrainian) Artist & sculptor 6
72= Robin Escovado (American) Composer 6
72= Mark Dean (American) Inventor & computer scientist 6
72= Rick Rubin (American) Musician & producer 6
72= Stan Lee (American) Publisher 6
83= David Warren (Australian) Engineer 5
83= Jon Fosse (Norwegian) Writer & dramatist
83= Gjertrud Schnackenberg (American) Poet 5
83= Graham Linehan (Irish) Writer & dramatist 5
83= JK Rowling (British) Writer 5
83= Ken Russell (British) Film maker 5
83= Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov (Russian) Small arms designer 5
83= Erich Jarvis (American) Neurobiologist 5
91=. Chad Varah (British) Founder of Samaritans 4
91= Nicolas Hayek (Swiss) Businessman and founder of Swatch 4
91= Alastair Hannay (British) Philosopher 4
94= Patricia Bath (American) Ophthalmologist
94= Thomas A. Jackson (American) Aerospace engineer 3
94= Dolly Parton (American) Singer 3
94= Morissey (British) Singer 3
94= Michael Eavis (British) Organiser of Glastonbury 3
94= Ranulph Fiennes (British) Adventurer 3
100=. Quentin Tarantino (American) Filmmaker 2

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and four months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and nine months, and Tiarnan, twenty-six months, 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, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind, niño, gênio criança, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 4:14 PM 


Blogger Miao said...

I'm personally rather surprised by the contemporary, popular definition of 'genius'. My idea of a genius is more old-school. I wouldn't consider Rowling to be a genius, but I'd say that she's hugely successful.

Anyway, if the list included all the living and the dead, I'm confident that either the Germans or the English would top the list.

Germans: Kant, Heidegger, Einstein, Planck, Rilke, von Roentgen, Ertl, Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, von Neumann, Goethe, Hegel, Husserl, Marx, Engels, Mann, Kepler, Mendelssohn, Fromm, etc.

English: Russell, Hawking, Darwin, Newton, Bacon, Keynes, Shakespeare, Churchill, Dirac, Turing, Penrose, Rees, Dawkins, Huxley, Lessing, etc.

Among those listed, those who have passed away made contributions (some of which are extremely revolutionary) that are still highly relevant to our current society and intellectual development. Those who are still alive are very important personalities in their own fields. I think that's why they qualify as geniuses.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I agree with your doubts on the list. There is a tendency to ascribe "genius" to those who are simply famous and successful. The possession of the latter two attributes does not imply the existence of the former. Some remarkably dim people, for instance, become "stars" would be a mistake to think of them as geniuses. There are other factors at work (connections, looks, charm, luck, etc.)

Thank you for your comment Miao.

4:26 PM  

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