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, November 07, 2009

The problem of genius in Singapore.

Singapore is notable for proclaiming itself as "No.1" in everything it can. At times, this is amusing, as ever more minor matters are proclaimed to be supreme achievements. Yet, in the realms of true achievements, Singapore is distinctly lacking. Where, for instance, are Singapore's geniuses?

By "genius", I do not mean people adept at examinations (Singapore has plenty of those...the whole educational system is dedicated to "results"), I mean people who go on to make a plethora of important creative contributions. By this measure, Singapore has no known ADULT, native-born, geniuses (though, as I have pointed out, there is the odd child prodigy, who might, with support, become one).

Now, the usual excuse trotted out by Singaporean leaders when Singapore is unable to do something is that it is "too small". So, no doubt in the case of the lack of genius, they would proclaim Singapore's lack of numbers. This excuse is no excuse at all, since smaller countries (in terms of population), like Ireland (my own), have no trouble littering their history with a respectable abundance of geniuses. No: size is not the trouble...the nature of the society is. Genius cannot thrive in a society that gives it no freedom to live. Singapore is one such place. It is a place of so many restrictions, constrictions, limitations and barriers, that it is a surprise that anyone manages to thrive at all. The truth, of course, is that they don't thrive, in the ways which are important. Yes, they live prosperous economic lives, but they utterly lack intellectual lives. The average Singaporean never has a thought in their lives, that is their own. They compute by imported, second-hand thought and live, thus, second-hand lives. It is a nation of people who yielded up their rights to an inner life, sometime in early childhood. The result is clear to see: no-one here has the makings of a genius.

I came across a quote by the writer J. B. Priestley (1894 to 1984) that I thought eminently explanatory of Singapore's situation:

"We should like to have some towering geniuses, to reveal us to ourselves in colour and fire, but of course they would have to fit into the pattern of our society and be able to take orders from sound administrative types".

These words, at once, seemed to describe Singapore's situation. It is a place in which the dullest of people are in charge, resulting in dullness seeping through society, top-down. They exert themselves solely to control the lives of those "below" them; to put in place rules and structures, that make for an orderly society. Of course, the result of all this, is that anyone with the potential to be a genius, finds that they live in a society that does not welcome their nature. Singapore seems deliberately designed to be hostile to genius. It would be difficult to conceive of anywhere less likely to foster an independent thinker, than this small, anally-retentive, city-state.

Singapore will remain the natural breeding ground of "sound administrative types" for as long as it focusses on the control of its people. As long as Singapore prioritizes the "moulding" of minds (as so many of its schools disturbingly proclaim on banners, on their perimeters); rather than the freeing of them, Singapore will be a country notable as the No.1 place not to find geniuses. They will be, instead, No.1 in "Sound administrative types". Wow. What an achievement that would be...No.1 in "human dullness"; No.1 in "conformity of thought."; No.1 in "We know better"; No.1 in "That's not allowed."

Singapore is very much like Priestley's quote: they state that they would like to breed creative people...but they insist on an environment which is hostile to them. Basically, they want creative people to grow up in an environment designed to destroy that they can have the benefit of their creativity, whilst not yielding up the control of people's lives, and minds. Oddly, it has never occurred to them, that their two aims, are incompatible. Singapore cannot control the lives and minds of its people, to the level it presently does - AND have geniuses. The former will destroy the latter.

If Singapore truly wishes to be the birthplace of an abundance of geniuses and lesser creative thinkers, it must become free in all ways that it is possible to be free. The first freedom should be the right for anyone to say anything they please, at anytime they please, about anything they please. This single change to the social landscape of Singapore would free tongues that have long been silent, to begin to speak. There is no telling what they might say...but one thing is for sure, it would be a whole lot more interesting and a whole lot more creative, than a nation dominated by "Sound administrative types".

As I have noted, in one post before, Singapore, as it is presently constituted, will one day be completely forgotten. I mean not just this era and these people - but the whole nation. As hard as it may be for Singaporeans to imagine, there will come a time when not one person, on Earth, or beyond, has ever heard of Singapore, or Lee Kuan Yew and the family Lee. No-one will ever have heard of them. The reason for this is that history is long and filled with too much information. As time passes, it becomes longer...until, eventually, the only things that are remembered are the greatest of events: the greatest wars, the greatest conquests...and the greatest people. There is only one way that Singapore will ever be remembered: and that is if it is the nation that gives rise to at least one true genius. So far, no adult Singaporean, in its history, has ever achieved that status (state propaganda notwithstanding). Should no Singaporean ever achieve the level of true historical genius (a Leonardo da Vinci, or an Albert Einstein, or a William Shakespeare), then there will be no reason for Singapore ever to be remembered. A nation of "Sound administrative types" is unworthy of note in the modern world, and utterly without any reason for recall for posterity.

However, the nation where Mr or Miss Genius X, was nurtured, is a cause for remembrance. The world will forever know Vinci, for its genius, Leonardo. Will Singapore have cause to be remembered in a thousand years, or ten thousand? Will it be a land of a genius? Or will it be an unregarded nation of "Sound administrative types". It is for Singapore to decide. If Singapore wishes to be remembered, it would do well to forget the notion of pervasive state control of its people. It would do well not to be overly sensitive to the comments of its citizens and others. It would do well, to let them be free, to be. Only then, will Singapore do anything worthwhile, in the ultimate verdict of posterity.

(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.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:03 AM 


Blogger Daniel said...

This reminds me of your earlier post about the "No. 1" mentality, which I keep on thinking about. I feel the US is (and has been probably since the Industrial Revolution) headed along the same track.

I see this, for instance, in an industry like journalism, where they ask for innovation and then disregard anything that doesn't conform to their old order of business. There are exceptions, but I think the average attitude is like the one you're describing here.

This is why it's so important to foster a spirit of independence that puts ideas above "fitting in."

7:18 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Daniel,

I am sorry to hear that these tendencies are at work in the USA, as well. Although I would point out that they are ostensibly much, much stronger in Singapore. (After all, the US is a much innovative/creative society than Singapore is.)

We don't live in good times, for creative people...mythology to the contrary notwithstanding. We actually live in an era of DECLINE in such matters.

Therefore, it is all the more important that anyone who is creative refuses to be submerged in the conformity all around them. Be yourself...fight on!

9:33 AM  
Anonymous moby said...

I left a reply strongly criticising one of your posts last year. This time, my response is the exact opposite, because the contents of this post matches exactly with my own thoughts about the Singaporean construal of "genius". Very astute post.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Moby, for your approval of my thoughts. I am glad you appreciate some of them!

Best wishes

12:45 PM  

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