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 +

Monday, November 30, 2009

The fate of genius.

How do geniuses fare in life? Is their success inevitable? I ask this for a reason. Today, someone from Washingtonville, New York, arrived on my blog with the provocative search terms: "Why do geniuses often fail in life?"

Well, one wonders, firstly: do they? It is difficult to answer this question, for there are no stats to bring to bear on the matter, that I know of. However, it is easy to source anecdotes which suggest that many people, of great talent, live lives beneath their potential. We all, in fact, know such people: people whose intelligence sparkles, in conversation, but whose lives look a little dull by comparison - something is missing, something never happened.

So, let us assume that the assumption of my blog searcher from Washingtonville, is correct. Let us take it that geniuses do often fail in life. Yet, is that the right question? I think we should rather be asking why does life fail geniuses?

You see, the life of a genius is not the easy picture everyone seems to think. There is the basic assumption, of all, that the greatest of intellectual gifts mean that the possessor is blessed with an "easy life" and that, in some way, one should be envious of them. This is, I think, a misplaced envy. Genius is not an easy burden: it is to carry the weight of expectations of a humanity unwilling to help. Everyone expects great things of the "genius" - but they expect them begrudgingly, not really wanting the genius to accomplish them, for how "bad" it would make the ordinary person look by comparison. Thus, the achievement is both expected and resented beforehand. It is a strange circumstance, for the genius is resented for things not yet done: a jealousy permeates the air, for achievements not yet made and which may never be made. It is most bizarre. It is as if the whole of the rest of humanity, imagines the genius' "fated" future life and begrudges them for its lustre - then sits back and hopes desperately that it doesn't happen - or does, more to the point, everything they can to frustrate all progress.

No-one, on Earth, is more hated than a genius, in their early years. Their self-evident gift is a spur to every darker emotion in people: hate and envy gleam in every eye - and for what? Because those others, see, they know that the genius is "better" than they are - and they loathe them for it.

To be a genius is thus to be barred from acceptance by humanity. It is to be thrust out, by an essential difference, into a category of one's own. It is a great thing to be a genius - for, Humanity is only ever united in the presence of one: united in envy of the "Great One".

It is a truth, that all of significant talent, come to observe - that the only admired genius, is a dead genius. It is, you see, impossible to be envious of the dead. Thus, only when a genius is safely interred, will the envy slough away, and the admiration come to the fore. Geniuses have the bizarre distinction of being universally hated in life, and universally loved in death. Most people would rather choose the opposite condition - but it is not for the genius to choose: they were born the way they are and cannot trade it for the alternative. So long as they rise far above the common herd of man, that herd, that sheep-like mass, will despise them for it. That leads us to why so many geniuses "fail".

The only course of action, for a genius who wishes to have a happy life, is to give up being who they are. A genius who "fails" is an ordinary man, once more. A genius who "fails" may be accepted, finally. A genius who "fails" is one who succeeds, in life. For, it is clear, that if a genius fails, they come to be seen to be human again. They can, for the very first time, be embraced as "one of us" - and so, at last, at long, long, last, be befriended by the bulk of Man. A genius who "fails" is a genius who learns how to be loved in life - and forgotten in death.

So, the dilemma of a genius is a difficult one. They must choose either to succeed in becoming who they should be, in expressing what only they can see, and, therefore, step so far outside the limits of the common Man, that there could never be anything in common with that Man. Or they can choose to hide their essence, to leave their thoughts unexpressed and undeveloped, to muffle their inner longings to create and become a semblance of what others are. They can choose to be "normal" or, at least, seem normal in every functional way, by not functioning outside of the norm. If they make this choice, they lose the happiness and sense of fulfilment that attends the highest creative activity - but they gain, in return, acceptance by the wider world; they may be embraced by the community, loved as every "ordinary joe" is loved - in that diffuse kind of way, that comes from thinking that "you" are "one of us".

So, it is not geniuses who fail in life. It is life that fails geniuses. Life fails geniuses by not allowing them the space to be. A genius must choose either a life within the community - or a life outside of it, in a very real sense. You see, if your work, the products of your mind and, indeed, the fullness of your inner thought, are beyond the understanding of the common man, then you, truly, have nothing in common with that man. There is no means to find genuine mutual understanding. It is to be a natural outsider - and, as you probably know, most people never reach out to the outsiders of this world - in fact, they enjoy debarring them, from the shared discourse of all. They feel unified by their act of exclusion.

Geniuses fail, because no-one wants them to succeed - or at least, no-one wants a living genius to succeed. They are quite happy to note that a dead genius, did, since there is nothing threatening about the mental powers of a corpse. Indeed, most living people have the mental powers of a corpse - so they probably feel quite well-disposed to one just like themselves, once the genius has died.

Geniuses discover that there is nothing more adept at working together, than the whole of Man, against the genius, if they are so foolish, as to reveal themselves. Thus, the socially skilled genius (no doubt there are some), notes this and chooses dissemblance - and the most effective means of disguising genius is to do nothing with it, at all. There. Done. "Happy"...but unfulfilled.

Indeed, it seems to me that the only geniuses who would not choose to make this choice are the socially inept geniuses. These would not, perhaps, understand the problem, would not act appropriately upon it, and persist in - oh the cheek of it! - being true to themselves and continue to create their works that so offend Man, whilst they live, but shall so delight them, once they die.

Thus, it is not that geniuses lack social skills - it is just that the only geniuses that we come to acknowledge as geniuses (usually after they are safely decomposed) - are the ones who lacked the social skill to work out how to "fit in" and be socially accepted.

So, there is one thing that a genius may never do, in public, and be accepted - and that is: create! As long as the genius persists in being incapable of being a genius, then they will find themselves quite capable of being loved by all.

So, if you are a genius - what choice have you made: to be loved in life, and forgotten in death...or loathed in life, and loved forevermore, once you are no longer able to feel it?

It is not much of a choice, is it?

Well, there is a solution. Any society which welcomed genius, would suddenly find that it had more of them. Thus, the answer is in all your hands: accept geniuses for what they are, love them for what they do - and don't for a minute feel a twinge of envy. If you can manage this, if the whole of Mankind can manage this, life for all would improve at an immense rate, as all the world's dissembling, self-defeating, "fitting-in" geniuses suddenly get to work, without fear of being loathed for it.

Overnight, there would be a revolution in the fortunes of Man - and all you have to do is stop hating and start loving. Now.

(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:

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:03 AM 


Blogger Christine said...

I understand. I was a big fan of National Geographic at age 6. (I still am). I spent a lot of time reading World Book Encyclopedias when I was 7. I was the most picked on kid in class.
I did well in piano, but I quit piano because it "wasn't cool" and wasted time on video games. I made the National Honor Society in high school without trying hard.
I always felt misunderstood. My own family didn't understand me. My mother thinks a "good job" is something that makes lots of money and is stable. She thinks I should be cleaning teeth for a job because it's "good". I would be so bored. I just got accepted into a graduate school for Public Health. I think that's more interesting.
I do wish that society would recognize their geniuses while they are still alive. I do wish that families would also want their child geniuses to achieve what they want, rather than trying to put them in boxes like sociey does.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Demel said...

A rather personal question: Would you be fine if your children decide to take the path of fitting in?

2:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Christine, the modern era is one of anti-intellectualism. It is a shame. So many of the gifted just give up on being themselves, for that self is unacceptable.

Good luck on doing something that makes you content.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

A good question, Demel.

No, I would not be fine, really...though I would understand why they might choose such a path. I believe conformity to be the ultimate in self-defeat - so I would be saddened to see them choose such a path. Yet, they might be happier to choose it (though I would not be.)

Thanks for the question.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Miao said...

This is a very eloquent, inspiring post. Thanks for sharing.

3:23 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Miao for your kind approval. It is long since you have visited...or at least commented. I hope you are well - and doing fine.

Kind regards

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Demal: I don't think anyone would be genuinely happy trying to be someone they're not.

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No-one, on Earth, is more hated than a genius, in their early years."

Wow, that's really a statement. Has that been your experience with your kids? Do people hate them?

I see the bigger danger that there can be excessive adoration and pressure of expectation.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Anon...I quite agree, however, there is such a thing as being relatively less miserable. It is miserable being actively loathed, envied, being simply unfulfilled might seem heavenly by comparison. That is the choice many people who are born to be geniuses have to make: social success or creative success (and social failure).

Best wishes

11:17 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

No. I am protecting my kids from that reaction by choosing their environments. However, it was my own experience (whether you consider me a genius or not!). I had a truly awful time in school surrounded by very jealous and aggressive boys.

Re. adoration and expectation: I think that depends on culture and upbringing. We haven't made that mistake so far, either.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you believe it is possible to have your children in the media and to blog about their genius and at the same time protect them from expectation? How does that work?

12:01 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, it is possible. You see it is only important what we expect, not what others expect. The expectations of strangers are not our concern, or interest...let them expect what they will. What we expect is for our kids to seek things that they enjoy doing and make them happy and to help them along the way. That is all.

Best wishes.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the only thing that matters is what the parents think then where is the danger of hate, jealousy and so forth coming from? Assuming you are not jealous or hateful toward your children and that you are right that children are immune from what other people think - then why do you perceive such great risk for them based on their genius?

Also, if the main goal is simply for kids to enjoy what they are doing, why invest so much energy into establishing them as prodigies or geniuses?

3:47 AM  
Blogger Miao said...

Hi Mr Cawley, I have been busy with my studies these days, and thus I spend less time online now than I did before. However, I do still visit your blog from time to time.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are generalizing the situation with respect to expectation into unrelated areas. It doesn't matter what strangers expect, if the parents expect something different, because I don't think that the strangers' view is as important to the children. However, hate is something which inflicts direct harm at the point of impact, no matter what you think of it: it is a very unpleasant of course that danger exists, no matter what the parents think. However, the parents can shield the children from that by choosing their educational and social settings.

Re. efforts to establish. I am not making such efforts, in the way you seem to think. I am just trying to provide growth opportunities for my children as they show the need. It is called raising your kids with the least impediment to their self-realization.

Thanks for your comment.

11:07 AM  
Blogger M. D. Butler said...

Great post.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you M. D. Butler.

12:07 AM  
Blogger Azahar said...

Thank you very much for this post. This explains a lot about the lot of the gifted elect, although the proffered solution towards the end sounds a bit too utopian to be actually serviceable (please let me know if you manage to establish such a society though!). The best that I've been able to do so far is to just accept my creativity for what it is and not expect acceptance from the "sheep"; invariably, a few people might come to appreciate me for who I really am, but I don't look for it actively anymore. More and more, I tend to just let relationships fade into the background as these have become the cause of some major frustration and disappointment in my social life. I still welcome social interaction but do not expect much from it anymore. The inner life of creativity and contemplation offers greater solace and comfort than any "diffuse love" of the masses can ever offer me. I am alone but I am content. :)


3:31 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am happy to hear, System Jammer, that you have chosen creativity over the social world. Ultimately, I believe that the former will lead to far more happiness for you - and fulfilment.

Best wishes on all your creations.

12:26 AM  

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