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, February 17, 2009

The miraculous power of selective memory.

Memory often has a miraculous power: that of being selective. Sometimes it reveals things to us, sometimes it hides them from us.

A few months ago, I was speaking to an American man of similar age to myself. He had journeyed across the world to Singapore from Chicago, for the love of a woman and was now father to her child. His son was the same age as my eldest, so, in a way, I felt an echo of my own tale, in his.

"Will you ever return to the US?" I asked him, one day.

"Oh yes. Sure!", his lips everted strongly and there was a certain determination in his features.

"In fact, I think I made a mistake in staying here.", he went on, his lips pursing as his tongue fell silent, his brow furrowing.

"What about the gun problem, though? You don't have that here.", I said, my eyes sweeping the room to indicate Singapore as a whole.

"Guns?", he snorted, "Oh I have never had any trouble with guns, in the US." He seemed defensive, a certain pride in America rushed to fill his gestures and puff out his frame. I had clearly said something a little unacceptable. He turned to speak to another, present in the room and didn't look back at me, as he did so.

I watched and listened, quietly, not satisfied with his answer, for I had read the statistics on gun violence in the US and wasn't convinced that someone could reach middle age, in Chicago and not encounter a problem or two with guns.

The other guy present was also an American. For reasons known only to himself, but perhaps because he, too, was dissatisfied with his friend's answer, he swung the conversation back to violence in America.

The Chicago resident's answer was most revealing. "I have had guns pulled on me, twice.", he revealed to his fellow American.

I said nothing. I didn't point out the inconsistency between his defensive denial to me, that he had ever had any gun problems in America - and his admission to his fellow American that he had twice had guns pointed at him. Apparently, they had pointed them at his head. But, heh, this qualifies, when speaking to me, as "Never had any trouble with guns".

I marvelled at his essential inconsistency. He had contradicted himself within the space of ten minutes on an issue on which no-one could ever forget: that of being held up at gunpoint. To the non-American, he had never had any trouble, to the American, he had been held up twice, at gunpoint. I noted that, to me, he had defended his nation - but to his fellow American he had, perhaps, told the truth - or remembered the truth. I wonder, now, which it was: was his memory being selective, to me, when he defended his country - did he genuinely not remember the hold ups? Or was he lying to me, to defend his country? Did he suddenly remember the incidents when talking to his fellow American, perhaps because he had no need to defend the reputation of his country against a fellow citizen, for both would know the true deal?

I shall never know. However, I shall also not forget the lesson of apparently selective memory he taught me. His life was one thing to one person, one thing to another. His nation was one thing to one person, one thing to another. With such a one, I think one would have to observe him in many different situations to have a chance in getting at the truth of things. Then again, which tale would be the truth? He would be selective to each listener, depending on whom that listener was.

I am glad I said nothing, for that allowed me to continue to observe him, whenever I encountered him. Had I pointed out the contradiction, no doubt he would have altered his manner in front of me. Perhaps, in fact, he would have become actively hostile had I pointed out his own self-contradiction. Often, it is better just to listen, and not to speak one's mind: more is learnt that way and fewer friends are lost. Nevertheless it is funny what might be observed if you simply allow people to be themselves in company for a while. Sometimes, you even learn the truth.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight 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.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:06 PM 


Blogger Shannon said...

Is there more crime in the US or is it just given more publicity? Some governments are better at covering up the crime. There are also parts of the world where crimes like domestic battery and sexual assault are less likely to be reported. America has the appearance of being a more violent country but appearances cannot always be trusted.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

There is definitely more violent crime in the US, Shannon, than is typical of European and Asian countries in general. The difference is many fold in such categories as murder (on average...there are good places in the US where the murder rates are low).

I think murder is easier to commit in countries with readily available weapons, so you get more of it. That being said there are some countries that make America look tame - such as South Africa.

I have been to America many times, I was always disturbed by the huge level of violence I became aware of, there. I worked in an American University and, in my first week, a Doctor at the University was shot just outside his workplace after a dispute with a taxi driver. He was shot several times and left paralyzed from the neck down.

Also, a few weeks later, a student was beaten to death by other students at the University after a sports match of some kind. America is, by European and Asian standards, a hugely violent place. However, there are countries that are more violent still.

I think Americans don't see it, so much, because they are used to it.

9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And that is precisely the argument of the pro-rifle lobby- to protect oneself against criminals who have weapons.

In the end, it is a question of the chicken and egg.

I feel that US should ban all guns and start collecting them in one massive operation; and although initially it may seem unfair to those who have to use it to defend themselves- in the long run, things will be better off.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I agree about getting rid of the US guns. It is the only thing that will save that nation, long-term. Doing so would require resolve but is really rather simple. All you need is a mandatory life sentence for owning a gun, without parole. They would soon start handing them in. The other need would be for a mandatory death penalty for USE of a gun in a crime. These two measures would very quickly end America's gun problem.

It would take some political will however.

8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the pro-rifle lobby has considerable political power, and hence numerous attempts to get rid of the weapons have failed.

Hopefully they will awaken and realize that the shootings in their schools are a direct consequence of their policies.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

There is a kind of systemic madness in the US that actually allows rash young kids to get a hold of guns and blow away their fellow human beings, when they get pissed off. Any country that permits that situation is just a little too crazy for my liking.

The MONEY and POWER behind guns should NOT be enough to make ownership so common. The nation should have the WISDOM to eliminate guns, before guns eliminate the nation.

I hope to see a better future for the US...however, with guns, I don't think the future is particularly bright.

Thanks for your comment.

11:05 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

The right to own a gun is in the second amendment to the constitution. The reason why it was put there is because many years ago the USA didn't have an organized militia. The USA relied on average citizens to be its militia.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It seems to me, Christine, that if that is the reason for US gun ownership it is definitely time to drop the guns: America has the world's most powerful "organized militia" it seems time to let the guns go, I would say.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

The right to bear arms originated, in part, due to a fear that the army might later be used as an instrument of tyranny by the government. Unarmed civilians would be at the mercy of an armed government.

As far as imposing life sentences on individuals that own guns, I think that's a bit harsh. The punishment should fit the crime. The penalty you suggest here is severely disproportionate to the nature of the offense. Some individuals may possess weapons, not to commit an offense, but to act in self defense if necessary.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

My suggested punishments were to give effective teeth to a plan designed to eliminate all guns from US society. The suggested plan is not too dissimilar to the kind of punishments available in certain other countries which have no gun crime (i.e. Singapore...lengthy sentences for ownership of a weapon, death for use of it). It works. There is no gun crime at all. The same regime would work in the US.

Yes. Governments can become tyrannical. How effective however would armed citizenry be against a true army? There would be a lot of dead citizens pretty quickly.

Tyranny must be guarded against, but I am not sure that guns are the best answer - they lead to ills such as one of the highest murder rates in the world, for instance.

I would prefer a gun free country to live in. Many of the people I know think similarly...that is one big reason why we are not in the US.

Thanks for your comment.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Under the moral "Though Shalt Not Kill" guns should be banned along with the death penalty.

The death penalty should not be administered while the judicial system is flawed. There are cases of mistaken identity.

It's unfair, I believe, to use such cruel punishments for the purpose of achieving compliance with the law. Why don't we impose death on those that steal, lie, and drive drunk? The punishment should be equal to the crime.

10:10 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I have misgivings about the death penalty too...for errors are made, and innocent people die. So, too, some of the crimes for which the death penalty is levied in Singapore seem too light for the harshness of the sentence. (For instance possession of fairly modest quantities of drugs is assumed to signify trading in them...and thus is punished with mandatory death).

The crime for which I have noted that death would suppress the use of guns, is if the guns are used to kill or attempt to kill someone. It is death with death, if you like. However, again, there is the problem of mistakes being made.

The intention is not to ever have to levy the penalty anyway, but to discourage the behaviour of using guns to kill people, by having the penalty on the books.


10:20 PM  

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