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, July 14, 2009

Where is The Knowledge in a "Knowledge economy"?

"The Knowledge" is a term used to describe the detailed understanding of the streets of London that London cab drivers (taxi drivers) have. Cabbies spend sometimes years learning their way around the streets of London before they are allowed to become London cab drivers. The Knowledge involves memorizing 320 routes through London, allowing them to take the shortest route between any two points in the central London area. It covers a six mile radius around Charing Cross and takes in all theatres and public buildings. The result is that a London taxi driver knows exactly where to go to get you where you want. Sadly, this is not so in Singapore.

Singapore has something called The Ignorance. This is a system whereby all new taxi drivers are required not to have a clue where to go. This rigorous selection system ensures that no new taxi driver will be able to take you anywhere you want, without detailed instructions from the passenger. If a new taxi driver is given free rein to drive you where they want, this will inevitably involve a random tour around the island as he hopes to stumble on your location by chance. The Ignorance is the Singapore government's way of ensuring that taxi drivers can afford the daily hire charge for their cabs, by inflating the prices to all customers through unnecessarily long routes. It is a characteristically ingenious way, invented by government approved scholars, of ensuring that Singapore's competitors in South East Asia have a fair chance of catching up on Singapore's lead, by guaranteeing that no businessman will be able to get to a meeting on time, nor anyone else to their work place before it closes for business, for the day.

I encountered The Ignorance the other day, when we had to take a trip to Cable Road. Now, as every good cabby should know, Cable Road is next to the Malaysian High Commission. So, it would seem that every cab driver should know where that was. However, this was not the case. The cabbies had been well and truly trained in The Ignorance.

The first driver stopped pretty promptly, when we flagged. I take this to mean that he is desperate for cash on what must be a bad business day - since it is customary, in Singapore, for taxi drivers to drive around empty, with their blue lights on, forcing you to make a call out and pay the charges for doing so. This cabby, however, stopped. I should have known it was a bad sign.

My wife said: "Cable road", as she opened the door, just to check he knew where he was going.

He nodded, as if all knowing. He was about 200 years old, so he should have been, by now. That is another thing about Singaporean cab drivers - they seem to be the oldest in the world. The reason is simple: Singapore has no pensions and the old folk are desperate for cash. Furthermore, Singapore is a deeply ageist society and doesn't like employing anyone older than fifty or so - indeed, sometimes those retrenched in their forties find it hard to get a new job. One day, teenagers will find it hard to get a job, here. They will employ embryos only.

So, we drove off. A little down the road, however, there was something hesitant about this particular ancient driver. He looked from left to right as if he was not quite sure, not where he was, but what a road was. That was worrying.

My wife piped up: "Cable Road, uncle...Cable Road..."

"Farrer Road...Farrer Road...", he repeated, perhaps in the hope that he could change our destination to somewhere that pleased him.

"Cable Road...Cable Road...", repeated my wife.

"Cable Road? Sorry, uh?"

"Let's get out." I decided.

I had to repeat it three times before he slowed the cab to let us out.

The next driver also stopped promptly. Boy these cab drivers must be suffering.

This time, we were more wary.

"Don't get in, until he shows he knows the way." I urged my wife.

"Cable Road.", she said, to the driver, leaning into the open taxi, just enough to be heard.

"Cable Road?", he said, as if we had spoken in Martian, "There is NO Cable Road."

"Yes there is." I said, knowing that otherwise someone we knew would have a hard time explaining how they lived on it.

We shut the door and let him drive on, confident that if he didn't know about it, it couldn't exist. I found this an interesting variation on The Ignorance: the idea that if he didn't know about it, it couldn't be because he didn't know about it, but because it must not exist: how ego-preserving - and how very Singaporean.

The third driver also stopped promptly. I was getting worried.

"Cable Road.", said my wife, half-expecting its existence to be questioned.

"C-A-B-L-E R-O-A-D." he said, so slowly, it was abundantly clear that he was, momentarily at least, lost.

We waited while he processed the destination.

"Ah...yes, the Malaysian High Comm." he said, at last.

He knew where it was.

We got in.

Now, here is a question: in a country as small and simply organized as Singapore is, should it really take three taxi drivers, to find ONE who knows where the Malaysian High Commission is? (We weren't going there, but somewhere very near by).

The real puzzle of this is that a taxi driver once told me that before they are allowed to drive, they are supposed to learn where all the main hotels and embassies are, so the foreigners won't be disappointed by the drivers. Well, we were disappointed - and yet we were going to one of the destinations they are supposed to have learnt about.

It is time for Singapore to set aside The Ignorance so carefully cultivated in their drivers and replace it with something similar to The Knowledge. A country whose taxi drivers don't know where they are going, is a country that has yet, truly, to arrive in the First World.

So, the question is: does Singapore want a First World image, or a Third World image? Part of the formula to that impression lies in whether taxi drivers have a clue where they are going. Presently, many Singaporean drivers don't. That has to change.

(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.

We are the founders of Genghis Can, a copywriting, editing and proofreading agency, that handles all kinds of work, including technical and scientific material. If you need such services, or know someone who does, please go to: Thanks.

IMDB is the Internet Movie Database for film and tv professionals.If you would like to look at my IMDb listing for which another fifteen credits are to be uploaded, (which will probably take several months before they are accepted) please go to: As I write, the listing is new and brief - however, by the time you read this it might have a dozen or a score of please do take a look. My son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, also has an IMDb listing. His is found at: My wife, Syahidah Osman Cawley, has a listing as well. Hers is found at:

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication prohibited. Use Only with Permission. Thank you.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:02 AM 


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