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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 +

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The new "average".

Today, I invited Ainan to read an online newspaper article about another child prodigy - this being one who had achieved much, at a very young age, in some cases breaking world records, but who was now a grown adult, living a successful life.

Ainan looked at the article, with, to my amazement, what seemed like growing puzzlement.

After he had read enough to know what it was about, he looked up at me, with a frown.

"Why are you asking me to read this?", he began.

It was not clear to me why he would not know.

"What is special about this person?", he continued, his puzzlement lending his tongue some momentum. "They sound perfectly average to me."

It hit me, then, in an instant. To Ainan, the life story of a child prodigy, filled with what, to others, are amazing feats, is a perfectly ordinary thing. To him, nothing could be more ordinary than growing up as a prodigious child. Nothing a child prodigy did - nothing no child prodigy has ever done - could possibly impress Ainan as being unusual because he, himself, has lived and is living such a life.

It was my turn to wonder. I saw then, how Ainan sees the world. For him, the extraordinary, is "perfectly average" and unworthy of remark or record. I wondered, too, what the ordinary person must seem like to him, when the most extraordinary prodigies, seem "perfectly average", to him. He must, at times, wonder at many of his fellow human beings, wondering why they are the way they are - and how it must be, to be like them. This is a matter, however, which I have never raised with him, since I think it a dangerous topic. But then, again, his little remark, today, told me much of what his perspective must be.

As he grows to adulthood, he will have to search far and wide, to find his intellectual counterparts. Hopefully, he will work in some area in which they are concentrated, then it will not be so difficult to find people who can satisfy any need he may have, for intellectual companionship. Yet, it might be a difficult task, in some ways, when the most prodigious are seen as "perfectly average".

There are many challenges for a young prodigy. Today, unknowingly, Ainan identified one of them. Now, of course, I have to think what to do about it. It won't be easy.

(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:
http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html

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: http://imdb.com/name/nm3438598/
Ainan's IMDB listing is at http://imdb.com/name/nm3305973/
Syahidah's IMDB listing is at http://imdb.com/name/nm3463926/

Our editing, proofreading and copywriting company, Genghis Can, is at http://www.genghiscan.com/

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

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:41 PM 

42 Comments:

Blogger Demel said...

ouch. That sounds like it could easily be misinterpreted as intellectual elitism by others. @_@

7:18 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It would be a misinterpretation Demel. Ainan is just a young boy. He is not playing games of elitism. He is just looking at the world from his own experience and is genuinely puzzled that the prodigy I asked him to read about, should be in anyway deemed unusual. For him, that is what young boys are like. It is his version of normal. It is "average". He can't see the essential oddness of the prodigy concerned, because that would mean conceiving himself as unusual - which he will not do: he sees himself as the normal reference point.

I see your point though. However, if anyone thinks that, they haven't thought about what his perspective is.

Thanks for raising the matter, though.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Pashupati said...

(Pardon my syntax, I'm french and just learned english)
That's funny.
It happen to me all the time when I read about people who weren't seen as average.
Like for the youngest crawler who was 4 months, according to my family I crawled at his age and, this is a litote, I'm not a very physical person, so I didnt see the point. But maybe it was only the youngest crawler of America, maybe they develop later than Europeans on the physical things.
That also happens with intellectual things, but I don't see the point in saying that you can't know some random thing before some random age, it's perfect nonsense for me even if I'm not exceptionaly gifted.
God, this may seems egocentric, I'm just talking about myself.
I also wanted to say that I admire what you do for your children. Many parents of "normal" children don't take care of them that way.
And I also wanted to know, who was the name of the prodigy you asked him to read about? Just out of curiosity.
Have a nice day!

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

may i ask who the article was about?

4:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This strikes me as very unusual for age ten. Does he spend time with children his own age? If so, it seems really odd that he doesn't understand what is typical for the age group. Does he have difficulty reading social cues?

11:24 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hello there in France.

I understand your curiosity but it would not be fair on the other prodigy, to name them, given my son's response to their life story...so I will keep quiet about it.

Hmm...Ainan was crawling at four months, too.

Thanks for your comment.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. typical for 10.

He is judging the world by his own internal standard, not by any external one. By his internal standard, the prodigy I had directed his attention to, seems, "average"...that was his assessment. He was not comparing the prodigy to normal people, but to his own standard of what is normal.

Re. social cues. He has plenty of friends and is OK in that department. He seems socially much better adjusted than most prodigies I have read of.

I think he is someone who looks to his own judgements rather than basing them on external standards...that is all.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

He spends a lot of time with young adults, though. So, any external references may be affected by that of course.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous William said...

This comment is going to be a bit off topic but I'm going to ask it anyways. I just finished watching "the world's cleverest child and me" documentary (it was posted on youtube). First off congradulations on ainan successfully entering university full time. This was obviously something that you guys were struggling to get done at the time of the documentery filming. In the film, the host/ interviewer was obviously playing devil's advocate by repeating some of the common complaints/ misunderstandings repeated when one encounters a precocious child who's parents are not stifling their gift. I think you handeled these arguments with remarkable eloquence and fluency. You hit the nail on the head! I would like to ask you, however, what you thought of the child 'Adi Putra'. In this case, I think that the host's concerns with regards to this child were well justified. This is a case where I am really concerned for the young prodigy's well being. Adi's "agent" was completely exaggerating the boy's abilities in his conversations with the host. He was making stuff up left and right, not to mention lying flat out. He even went on to claim that Adi has the greatest mathematical ability of anyone in the world! I'm not sure if you noticed, but the 'formula' that Adi 'discovered' is really not all that impressive. It's a mathematical trick that makes doing a few arithmetic problems a bit easier. He's marketing himself even though he really hasn't done anything very impressive. And the brain pills are obviously bougus as well. I mean if he invented the product, how could he forget what is in the pills?!?! This worries me as the precocity and abilities that the boy does have are being completely blown out of proportion by a bunch of charlatans and snake oil salesmen who are taking advantage of him. Although this may seem simililar, this is the antithesis of what Adora Svitak is doing. Adora actually has accomplishments that are impressive and what is actually being marketed (her books, tapes, etc) are obviously of high quality.
I am asking you about Adi because I have really never seen anything like his case. I've seen child prodigies who were challenged, given appropriate educational material and brought up the right way. And I've seen the opposite- ignored, utterly unchalenged. And of course many in the middle. Though I've never seen prodigies taken advantage of by crackpots and scam artists. It is quite unfortunate, but this is what I see Adi himself becoming. I'd like your insight on this issue...

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ppl who feel offended don't realise that Ainan made this comment precisely because in spite of his intelligence, he doesn't think of himself as superior.

but anyway, I supposed as he grows up and becomes aware of himself and the world, he would gradually learn to socialise with ppl who are different from him. because otherwise, to the average person, such a comment would come of as arrogant, and society is generally less forgiving towards an adult.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

im really intersted in finding out who the person was. I dont understand how it would be unfair? if anything it would be a compliment to the person as he is regarded as an intellectual equal to ainan by ainan himself? THe only way it would be unfair is if ainan isnt prodigious.

2:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He was not comparing the prodigy to normal people, but to his own standard of what is normal."

It would make perfect sense to me if he said that the kid sounded normal just as he feels he is normal. And, it would also make perfect sense if he said that the prodigy was no better than any other ten year old child because that is also true.

What I found to be really unusual for his age (and perhaps suggestive of some difficulty reading social cues) is that he doesn't seem aware of what is average. To believe a prodigy is average would suggest either that Ainan is really socially isolated from other children or that somehow he's interacting with other children but unable to observe and understand what might be typical interests and accomplishments for the age. As a parent that would concern me. Of course kids develop awareness of other people at different ages and it isn't necessary to be universally mature in all areas, but the lack of awareness of what is typical for ten year olds is something I'd keep an eye on.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_486723.html

Another Singaporean Malay boy who is prodigious in Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. He scored As in the 'A' level papers when he was just 12.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for the link. I hadn’t heard about him.

Yes. He is doing very well for a thirteen year old (as the article notes that he is: he was over 12 years and 11 months, at the A levels)…and he should be congratulated on his A levels. However, I am not sure if you are aware of the definition of what is prodigious…the common definition puts the cut off at 11 years of age, for adult range achievement, so this boy doesn’t qualify under that definition. He does, however, qualify as “precocious” and no doubt has a successful career as a doctor ahead of him.

I find it most interesting that he is a Malay boy, though. The Malays are often thought of as low achievers…but his case and the case of my son, and the case of Natasha, the top PSLE scorer, are strong counter examples to that.

Also interesting is that he is in Year 2 at NUS High (noted elsewhere). Ainan was there, in the same year, when he was 7 – but he didn’t find it very productive, so he left. (They assigned him to a class below his then knowledge and ability and wouldn't let him do practical classes). I wonder if he also finds it less than productive, since I read elsewhere that he was given a leave of absence (for a year, it seems) to focus on his A levels. That would seem to indicate that his family thought that homeschooling would be better than NUS High. I think he has proved it is.

I wonder if these few examples will lead to the better appreciation of what the Malays could contribute to Singapore, given a chance (because they are rather marginalized, in many important respects).

5:32 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Average.

Like I said, Ainan has his own view of what is average, based on what he himself has done. By using the phrase, he means, "those achievements are not special, in my view" - and compared to his own life story, they are not.

Ainan knows what other kids can and cannot do. I haven't asked him what he thinks of them. I feel he doesn't label the issue. Perhaps he doesn't feel it productive to label them - he just accepts them as they are.

I am curious: in what way is a prodigy not better than any other ten year old? Certainly, in the limited sense of their performance in their prodigious area, they would be functionally superior to almost any kid...surely?

I am not worried about his social ability. He is able to befriend others most competently and is better adjusted than most intelligent kids I have observed. Thanks for your concern, though. It is appreciated.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re Equal.

Ainan didn't say the other prodigy was an equal. He said they were "average" - I didn't enquire further what he meant by that.

I think it would be unfair to mention who the other prodigy is, because they are quite likely to be a reader of this blog and they would probably be insulted at his comment. I feel that would be unkind. I hope you can understand.

It is someone living...a successful, actually famous, adult, who was once a prodigy...and I have reason to believe that they read this blog. So I really can't say more. Sorry.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

re. not superior.

You are right. Ainan doesn't go around thinking he is superior...he goes around accepting others as they are and enjoying their company. For him, Ainan is his own average, his own normal - and I suppose that is a healthy way to look at it...though, of course, it can lead to easily misunderstood comments, like the one above, occasionally.


I think his way of looking at things, is quite good. It is better, I suppose, than wandering around consumed with the wonder of oneself (as some are). Ainan isn't like that. He is actually rather shy, quite quiet, but has an interesting sense of humour and is rather playful. All in all, I am pleased to see how he is turning out.

Thanks for your insightful understanding.

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Like I said, Ainan has his own view of what is average, based on what he himself has done. By using the phrase, he means, "those achievements are not special, in my view" - and compared to his own life story, they are not."

It makes sense if he was using average to mean normal or nothing to worry about. I was assuming as a scientist he was using the word average more precisely as in the middle on a scale.

"Perhaps he doesn't feel it productive to label them - he just accepts them as they are."

That would make sense. I would expect though that he could identify that the prodigies accomplishments are average or typical. If he could not then that's where the social question would be raised.

"I am curious: in what way is a prodigy not better than any other ten year old? Certainly, in the limited sense of their performance in their prodigious area, they would be functionally superior to almost any kid...surely?"

If you come from the perspective that all human beings have inherent worth and value then one ten year old boy is not better than another because he knows more about chemistry.

4:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the Malay with As in 'A' levels:

You mentioned Malays are often thought of as low achievers - that is a generalisation. (incidentally, I noticed some generalisation about Chinese people, Singaporeans, taxi drivers etc. in your posts). Anyway, no one doubts that there are some very successful Malays around.

You might not have access to The Straits Times in KL. Just for info, the news about the Malay boy appeared on the front page with a huge smiling photo of him, and also inside page (contrary to your belief that news about outstanding Malays is not published, or hardly mentioned in ST).

Regards.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to add, it was mentioned in the Straits Times (hardcopy) that Haikal took the 'A' levels before he turns 13. He is now 13.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Firstly, I feel I should address your implication that I have made a generalization about the achievements of Malays. I have not. You have not read my writing carefully. It is a generalization – but it is not my generalization. I have merely relayed what is generally thought of about Malays – but I have gone on to give counter examples to it. You really haven’t understood my point at all, it seems. My point is to REFUTE that generalization. How strange that you have not understood this.

Then again, you claim that I am into making generalizations about lots of things. This is a mischaracterization of my style of writing. I almost always write of SPECIFIC examples of behaviour. My stories are anecdotes that illustrate a point. Also, I never make a point, without examples to back it up. So, there are no generalizations out of nowhere. There are typically, specific points made, with specific examples showing those points in action. There are many hundreds of blog posts here, in that style.

Re. front page. How very interesting. I understand that the recent news about Ainan actually getting INTO University, was NOT on the front pages of any newspaper in Singapore, let alone the ST. So, the question is: why is a story about a 10 year old half Malay boy, getting into University, NOT front page news in Singapore, whereas the story of a 13 year old boy who has NOT got into a University, but is “ready for University” front page news? It doesn’t make any news sense if one is being fair to the stories in question.

One question that must be asked is: is this boy actually Malay at all? I wonder because in his photos he looks very Indian and not very Malay, at all. He could easily be a Muslim Indian. I have seen no mention of what his race actually is. One cannot assume that just because he is Muslim, he is Malay. There are even Muslim Chinese people around, you know.

If he is not Malay, then the observation stands re. suppression of Malay stories. If he is Malay then the whole issue becomes somewhat more sinister and personal – for it is true that stories about Ainan have been suppressed and marginalized by the Straits Times. If this is not general to Malays, but is particular to Ainan, then something much darker is going on…a very personal kind of battle.

Your observation re. this boy’s news placing, does nothing to explain or diminish the dozens of times Ainan’s news has been omitted, suppressed, ignored or relegated to the difficult-to-find parts of newspapers, whereas sometimes other stories, in the same issues, concerning less interesting Chinese people have been given prominence. That is a very interesting practice.

If this boy is Malay, we would have to conclude that someone influential at the ST, or in government, doesn’t really care for Ainan very much. Perhaps it is not because he is half-Malay, then, but because he is half-Irish (WHITE!). Either way, it is interesting, for what it says about Singapore.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. generalization.

It is ironic that you generalize about my supposed tendency to generalize.

If you read my blog more carefully, I tend to SPECIFY, more than generalize.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. inherent worth.

You have made a personal comment, which is rather unfair. You have used "chemistry knowledge" as your reference point for what does not make some 10 year old worth more than another. That can only be a reference to Ainan given the rarity of his preoccupation at that age. That is unkind.

Obviously, everyone has inherent value, but you are not thinking the "big picture". Einstein would come into your category of someone with more "physics knowledge" than a typical person. You would go on to dismiss his value as being no different from anyone else's. How wrong you are. Einstein changed the world of physics, his value TO HUMANITY is incalculably more than that of an average person. Are you saying that you think a shopkeeper has equal value to society as Leonardo Da Vinci? One is an irreplaceable genius, the other is doing something that any human, almost any human, could do without thought. One changes the world, the other gives you your change: that is a big difference.

I was looking at the big picture when I implied that a person of rare ability would be of greater value than the average person. They are...of greater value to their societies and, if creative, to humanity as a whole.

If you don't think so, then you equate all extraordinary world changing lives, with the most ordinary world conserving lives. In my view, the two could not be of more different values in the great scheme of things.

Thanks for your remark.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. not yet 13.

Boy oh boy, you really, really should READ what I have written. I have noted his exact age at the time of the exams: over 12 years and 11 months old, as stated in other places. Now, that is not yet 13...true...but it is also as close to being 13 as you can be, without being 13.

Most of your comments are characterized by either an inability to read what I have written, or an unwillingness to do so, or perhaps a refusal to acknowledge what I have written. I have often addressed your points already.

Please look at what is written above.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would you say that any student who passes an O level exam, with any score, before the age of 11 would be a prodigy then?

8:31 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. under 11 O level and prodigy.

That depends on how young they are. We can do a calculation to indicate whether the child is on track for being a prodigy. The commonly understood threshold is adult performance, of some kind, by the age of 11. Young adults, at 18, take A level. They also take O level at 16. So, as an indicator we shall see at what age those exams would have to be taken, at the latest, for a child’s development level to have a chance of being on a par with an adult by the age of 11.

For A level, this really should be taken by age 11, at the latest. Thus the ratio of age to level of education should be at least as low as 11/18, which is .6111. O level is normally taken at 16, so the oldest it could be taken and still be on track for possible prodigy status, would be 0.6111 times 16 which equals 9 years old. However, this is the outside marker for possible acceptance as a prodigy, since it indicates the SLOWEST rate of development that could possibly fit into the boundary condition.

Were a child to get into a University by age 11, that would be an indicator of adult mental performance in some domain. Or they could be performing any other adult skill, in the adult range by that age – be it composing music, playing the piano, painting pictures, solving mathematical problems, etc. It is not so much the area that matters, but the level of attainment and competence in that area, achieved by the age of 11. This is a rather difficult criterion to meet and so there have not been many child prodigies, by this criteria. There are many more precocious kids who don’t meet the criteria, but who are still considerably advanced for their years. Obviously, the number of these increases dramatically with every year above the threshold, as it becomes easier and easier to meet that level of development, with increasing maturity of the child.

I hope this helps bring clarity to the matter.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I tire of the line of argument of one particular commenter and so I am not going to post their comments. I will say this, though: they observe that Haikal's parents have not sought publicity. How odd, then, that they should be on the front pages of the Straits Times. That is not easy to do. How odd, too, that the commenter would know what and whether Haikal's parents have or have not sought publicity, unless they are, in fact, Haikal's parents or know them, personally.

If publicity is not sought, the interview with the ST could have been declined. The fact that it was not indicates, at the very least, open-ness to such publicity on the part of the parents. Had they sought to have no publicity, it would have been a simple matter to decline the interview and provide no details. That was not done...so the remark that they did not wish to have publicity looks very doubtful indeed.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Malay boy.

The online version of the ST article at Asiaone does not mention that he is Malay...though there are lots of Muslim names, this does not mean they are Malay, it just means they are Muslim. I would welcome a link to any article that states whether they are Malay or Indian (which the boy looks like).

Thanks

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

im interested to find out where Ainan places himself on his scale?

8:36 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I don't know where Ainan places himself on his scale. He is quite modest and doesn't overly concern himself with such things.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. somewhat uninformed poster, not posted.

Ainan has embarked on a degree programme. He has a lot more qualifications than you seem aware of.

Have a good day.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

For those who have tried to comment regarding what constitutes a prodigy, here is a link that states the definition I have included. It is not my definition. I did not make it up - as some seem to think. A prodigy is a child who, by 11, has shown some area of achievement in the adult range.

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Prodigy

Scroll down to where the prodigy list begins and it specifies, "at or before age 11"...as I have said.

I find it somewhat irritating that some attempted posters question my statement that reaching adult levels of achievement at an older age, should not be regarded as prodigious, but precocious. These are standard definitions. They are not my definitions. I am simply clarifying for readers what the categorizations are. One poster doesn't like the categorizations...well, go off and argue with the psychologists who defined them. Don't argue with me. I didn't define them.

Thank you.

11:17 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

To the rather uninformed individual who is concerned about matching numbers of O levels and A levels, for establishing prodigiousness: it is not the numbers, but the level of the exams, taken, that indicate precocity, of a particular degree.

Re. Ainan...I think you will find he has taken A level Chemistry exams, too...not just O levels, as you claim. He has also done degree level work since he was 8 years old. You are misinformed, or jealous...perhaps both.

Have a good day.

11:19 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I have received one rather mad sounding poster, who did not believe that any prodigy was reading my blog. Well, on the contrary, we are in correspondence, directly, with several prodigies and their families who DO read the blog - and, have strong reason to believe that the prodigy (a different one) that Ainan was reading about, is also a reader of this blog.


It amazes me that some people are so sure of themselves, that they would doubt what I know to be true of our own lives. Now, that is a bit mad.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. the accusation that I am being “arrogant” (unposted) to remark that someone doesn’t qualify as a prodigy.

How bizarre. You think it is arrogant to point to a scientific definition. I was merely pointing to a mistake someone had made in their description of the situation. It is no more arrogant to do so than it is to point out that something is red, when someone else thinks it is green. The latter person is wrong and doesn’t know what red is. So, too, is the person above…they don’t know what the standard definition of a prodigy is. So, being immersed in all to do with such things, I knew the definition and told them.

Re. Wikipedia. The definition on Wikipedia is wrong by the standard view. The textbook definition has 11 as the cut off date. Wiki is often wrong, as you should know. It is put together by people who don’t necessarily know what is the true, standard definition etc…you will also note from its history that this particular definition on Wikipedia keeps changing as people fight over it.

I am getting bored of your line of argument, by the way. Ainan has done much more than you are aware of. You have not been following his story closely at all – nor reading this blog well. He took AS level Chemistry last year. We didn’t announce it because we had got bored, by then, of the way people reacted – some with a lot of jealousy and hostility – to his achievements. It has been mentioned in recent articles however. At the age of 8, he took EIGHT modules of a Diploma at a Polytechnic in Singapore. Most of the modules were third year options. This is WAY BEYOND A LEVEL. It is, in fact, degree level material. He did very well. He is now on a degree course, in KL. Subjects include computer programming, physics, maths and chemistry – but shall include a very wide range of subjects, including liberal arts, over the next few years. He is likely to have a degree by age 13 or so.

However, beyond exam type achievements, he has done a couple of things much more worthy…but it is premature to speak of them, so I won’t discuss them until later. They will be discussed at appropriate times, later this year. They are achievements that no child has ever achieved, apart from Ainan – and I mean, no other child, ever. If that turns out not to be enough to satisfy you, then nothing will.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi William,

Firstly, I am sorry it has taken so long to reply to you. I meant to reply much sooner…however, I have been rather busy.

You are right to raise the case of Adi Putra. There is something rather unusual going on there. It is even more complicated than it looks. I have heard, for instance, from someone who knows the family, that Adi’s father considers Adi a “saint”. He wishes him to be seen, in some way, as a religious figure. This goes beyond, therefore, the effort to make money out of him (which is being done, of course)…it ventures into the realm of religion, in quite a fundamental way. There is the wish by his family and the people around him, to market Adi as some kind of supernatural person. He is said to have foresight and psychic abilities and was actually deployed to find a missing person, at one time. This is really rather bizarre.

Then, again, there is the money making enterprise. Now, first I would like to say that I have no issues with families of prodigious children who see a way to make a living out of their gifts. In some cases, this is an absolute necessity for the kids to be able to afford the special educations they need. In other cases, there is an understandable wish to “set the kid up for life”, on their early talents. This would seem to have occurred for Akiane Kramarik. I would be very surprised if she wasn’t a multi-millionaire by now. So, now they can cease to worry about money and focus on nurturing their child to greater heights, without any stresses at all. That is fine. (Although I might add that we have not made a cent from Ainan’s talents!...and may never do so: science is a little more difficult to “market” than Art.) However, with Adi, it does seem different. It is different because it is clear that, unlike Akiane or Adora, the “product” does not originate with Adi. It is clear that he did not invent those “brain pills” – otherwise he would have been able to talk at length about them. It is also clear that it is misleading to attribute to the pills his precocious gifts (as is implicit), because the pills came AFTER his precocity was established and his reputation solidified. Precocity is not found in a pill and it is unfair to deprive people of their money on the basis that it will give a child a better brain. I don’t see that happening.

Adi did show early precocity. However, I am not sure how far he has developed since that. There is certainly not enough evidence, that has been made public, to conclude that he is a genuine case of child prodigiousness. However, he does seem to be precocious…the question is: how precocious? We can’t know. He has, as far as I am aware, taken no public examinations. This is a concern in itself since it may indicate that he would not be able to do so. Or it may indicate that his parents don’t consider them important, which is quite possible. Without verification of his level of accomplishment through public examination, it is impossible to benchmark where he is in his development, or to decide how precocious he is. It cannot be determined, on present evidence, whether he is a true prodigy, therefore. He could be…but we don’t know enough to say for sure.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yet, we can say things about the people around him. You are right that one of the people interviewed did appear to be making things up. Clearly, Adi could not do what he said he could do. Adi is not a polyglot, though they say he is. I have seen nothing to suggest that he is a true polyglot. Indeed, the standard of English of those around him, and of his own, is below what I have seen in middle class Malaysians, in general. I do not see great linguistic faculty here.

It is difficult to say what is going on here. It may be that the people around him, genuinely believe all the things they are saying. Maybe they have a somewhat offbeat view of the world and Adi somehow fits into that. Their view is clearly quite a religious one. Adi somehow fulfills a place in that. If their outlook is religious, it would not be possible to get them to see clearly what they are doing…for in their eyes, it would be plainly true.

The one thing that makes me most uncomfortable though is the idea that Adi is President of his company and that he is some sort of child prodigy entrepreneur. This one I can’t believe. You see the role of a businessman is very dependent on social insight, skills and experience. It is not something a child would be able to do well, no matter how bright because they don’t understand the world well enough – they don’t have the experience. Thus, to see Adi in a business suit, trying to look like a tycoon was most unsettling. He did not seem to have a good grasp of how to present himself in that role.

Maybe Adi will be a businessman when he grows up…but I don’t think he is one yet. I am also puzzled why the people around him see the need to make out that he is the guiding force in this. He couldn’t answer questions about his products…so clearly he is not the guiding force at all. Why can’t they be honest about it, and just let him endorse the products and be done with it?

In the end, I don’t know enough to be able to fully analyze this situation. However, I can say this: not enough genuine evidence of what they say about Adi, is being presented to the world. There are no examination passes. There is no convincing tale of the creation of their products. There is no sight of him conducting business in a mature and controlled manner. There are no taped spontaneous conversations in multiple languages. I could go on…but you get the idea. There are statements about abilities and achievements…but nothing that would constitute evidence, proof or even corroboration, in most cases.

In the early days, Adi did do a public show of what I believe was mental arithmetic. He did very well and trounced over two hundred kids up to twice his age. That was a tantalizing glimpse of mathematical ability. Yet, we don’t see any evidence that he has developed beyond this. There is no subsequent demonstration of more complex faculties. We don’t know where his abilities are going or how far he has gone. Everyone is basically in the dark about the present state of Adi’s intellectual growth. We don’t even know if he is still interested in mathematics at all…or has he given it up for other interests? It would be good to be able to answer these questions. Thanks for your questions, regarding him. I am sorry I don’t know enough to give a full answer.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous William said...

Thanks, Valentine. That was a very complete answer.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi William. That is OK. I wish it were more complete but that is the best I can do, with the information I have available to me.

Thanks for raising the matter.

3:49 PM  
Anonymous Anna said...

I'm aware that this is an old post, but I've been reading your discussion about Adi Putra.

Just thought I'd share this news article about him in case it's new to you. RM600k of his 'natural' supplements were seized and found to contain steroids!

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2010/1/18/nation/5492007&sec=nation

6:07 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks Anna.

Yes, it does seem that that family has got involved with matters they should not have. There are, I would think, better ways to make a respectable living.

6:21 PM  
Blogger E said...

Your calculation on at what age passing O levels should be seen as being on track for providing evidence of being a prodigy assumes that increases in ability with age are linear to age 18. Actually the rate of increase in raw scores on tests of mental ability (including crystallized as well as fluid g correlates) declines continuously from the earliest ages, turns the corner at about 12 and has gone completely flat for nearly all subtests at 16. Not that intelligence alone is quite demonstrative of being a prodigy, but the need for greater than average 16 year-old equivalent mental ability places a floor on when adult academic performance on other tests is possible. The overall shape of the improvement curve is generally similar for everyone, but there are substantial variations along the way for individuals which make. I could go on here about Rasch measures and the gigantic age-equivalent and tiny percentage differences in absolute intelligence they show between people, hard and soft ceiling effects, low test-retest correlations in the upper ranges and the tremendous difficulty of forecasting improvements with age for a given person on any test, but suffice to say that there is no hard and fast definition for prodigiousness, and any real test is going to have cases where it can't reliably distinguish between prodigious and precocious for any definition of the two one adopts.

Ainan falls clearly on the prodigious side for reasonable definitions, but one can't say that someone else is not a prodigy because he took the test later - he might have been able to pass earlier and been held back from taking that or another adult-level test through no fault of his own.

10:35 AM  

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