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, February 08, 2010

Can a prodigy be a genius?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is, "that depends". I shall explain.

Many prodigies are very adept in their area of skill, whether it be passing exams, or playing the piano. Their skill is supreme. Yet, those prodigies known for their skill are, quite frequently, lacking in one respect: creativity. Without creativity, a prodigy cannot be a genius and will never be a genius. However, with creativity, there is a high probability that that prodigy, will grow to be an adult genius.

Many of history's greatest geniuses began life as prodigies. Mozart is the most famed...but there have been many, many others. Picasso showed prodigiousness in Art, so did Leonardo da Vinci. The inventor of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, was an academic prodigy and so on. There are many such examples. Yet, it is also true that many prodigies grow up to be something which is not a genius at all: an expert. So, how can we tell which is which? Which prodigies will become geniuses and which will become experts?

(An expert is someone skilled or knowledgeable in an area, but not needing to show any creativity in that area...they work with what is known, but do not add anything new to it.)

We actually don't need to know that much about prodigies, to have a fair idea which ones are likely to be geniuses and which ones are almost inevitably not going to be one. We can look simply, first, at what they want to be. This provides a big clue as to their natures.

I have seen a prodigy who wants to be an actuary when he grows up. This, to me, is a very strong indicator that the child in question, though skilled, is not creative. No creative person would ever want to be an actuary since there is very little opportunity to contribute creatively or to show creativity in that domain. A creative child, gifted in numbers, as this one is, would, instead, aim to be a research mathematician, or theoretical physicist etc - that would be an indicator of a creative disposition.

I have also seen several prodigies or precocious children who want to be doctors when they grow up. Now, a doctor is a type of expert: one knowledgeable in the ills of the human body. Again, it is not a creative profession - indeed, a creative person might be quite dangerous as a doctor, if they don't follow established procedures etc. So, again, a child who wants to be a doctor when they grow up, is almost certainly not the stuff of genius - they are predisposed to being an expert. A creative child, however, who was interested in biological science (which is related to the work of a doctor), would choose to be a research biologist of some kind. They would not choose to be a medical practitioner, since there is little creativity involved in its pursuit (unless they choose to be a clinical researcher - but, again, this is not the expressed desire of these children).

So, a prodigious child who aims for the professions - as many do - is destined, almost certainly, to be an expert - but not a genius. However, a child prodigy who aims for a creative pursuit - be it research scientist, artist, composer, or writer, is infinitely more likely to have the stuff of genius in them - for they are looking inward and realizing that they have something to contribute/say in these areas. These are the children to whom one should look for careers as adult geniuses, when the time comes.

Of course, for a more accurate assessment, it would be better to have more information about the creativity the children show in their lives - but often that information is not available. What we can usually find out, though, is what they want to be and that, in itself, is a powerful indicator of whether genius is present. Should there also be information concerning actual creative achievements in childhood, then that would be an almost certain indicator of genius to come - for the child would already be showing the mindset of a young genius at work.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

My Internet Movie Database listing is at:
Ainan's IMDB listing is at
Syahidah's IMDB listing is at

Our editing, proofreading and copywriting company, Genghis Can, is at

This blog is copyright Valentine Cawley. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited. Use only with permission. Thank you.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:47 AM 


Blogger Pashupati said...

« (An expert is someone skilled or knowledgeable in an area, but not needing to show any creativity in that area...they work with what is known, but do not add anything new to it.) »
That's a part of your article I don't really understand.
« do not add anything new to it », but what if they add something new but very little, or that isn't important at the time but will be in 50 years ?

9:49 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


Thanks for your thought. If someone makes a contribution that isn't recognized for fifty years, then, at that time, their life would be reviewed and their status - as expert or creative - altered. If an expert starts making creative contributions then they are going beyond what is normal for a simple expert. Should they make enough contributions so as to get their creativity noted, then it may be that their status could be changed to "creative person" or even "minor genius". I don't think someone who makes very few contributions would be recognized as a genius unless one of them was very important indeed. Some geniuses are noted for one single major contribution (Charles Darwin...evolution...for instance). So it is possible for a single contribution, only noted fifty years later,to make someone into a "genius".

1:15 PM  
Blogger nobody in particular said...


I am sorry but your comments on actuaries and a lack of creativity just compelled me to respond. While an actuary does have a stereotypical image of being cooped up in a room doing calculations, and many of them do do that, there are areas where creativity can be shown.

For example, as I am sure you know, actuaries traditionally specialised in life insurance mathematics but have in recent years shifted towards applying actuarial math towards investments and areas of Finance, thus deriving new mathematical techniques and applications. While this may not be as lofty a goal as finding a Unifying theory in Physics, it does not imply a lack of creativity as you suggested because it is a new application derived from existing tools.

Analogously to doctors, if a doctor came up with a new procedure based on current knowledge is that not also creativity?

I think what you needed was a clearer distinction between innovation (what I have mentioned) and invention (what you define to be creativity). Since to me, both skills require creativity, just perhaps to differing extents.


4:34 PM  

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