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, September 21, 2010

Hope for the future.

I love to write, in the manner in which other people love to eat. I do it to live, and it satisfies, to a degree, an appetite for self-expression that has been with me, since earliest childhood. In short, I have things to say, and a need to say them. That is the first good part about being a writer. The second good part - in fact, the better part, comes from something I read, by chance, in my random meanders across the Internet.

In a book entitled "Aging and Old Age" by Richard A. Posner, I stumbled on this statement, that imbued me with a definite hope for the future:

"Writing ability, which in the best judges can fairly be termed literary, is an aspect of crystallized intelligence, and is one of the aspects least likely to decline with age until senility sets in."

Later on in the same paragraph Posner notes: "Comparison of the writing style (not intellectual creativity) of the same person at different ages often reveals steady improvement to a quite advanced age, with no decline from that late peak, until shortly before death."

To me this is a phenomenal statement, for it unseats what people generally think of old age. There is, in most people, a belief that old age is decrepit, mentally and physically and that the old are less capable than the young. However, with respect to writing ability, it is clear that the opposite holds true: the old are MORE capable of writing than the young. This, of course, overturns the beliefs and habits of modern publishing - for is it not the young, beautiful, marketable, "star" that they ever seek to highlight, to give big advances to, and to hold up to us, as the greatest of the great? Yet, it is simply not true. That same youngster will be far better in old age, should they continue to write, than they ever could be, when so young. So, too, other, perhaps unknown and unheralded older writers, are likely to be much better writers than the ones who are selected for youthful stardom.

However, that is not to say a young writer can't be brilliant at writing, at choosing just the right words and fashioning beautiful prose (or poetry, for that matter) - of course, they can. Yet, what this distillation of research is saying is that they are likely to be much better in old age, than they were in youth, as long as they continue to write.

Writers don't get old, they get better. However, it is the young who get publishing contracts!

So, should you have your eyes on a young writer with promise: know this, that as the years pass, their talent is not likely to fade, but to grow. That young writer you so admire is likely to grow into a writer you admire even more. Now, isn't that a hopeful thought to hold in mind, as you assess any writer you read? The future of a writer, may very well be much better than their past.

Thus, if you are a writer, don't fear to age, for your talent will grow as you do. If you are a reader, don't fear the aging of your favourite writers, for they will only offer you sweeter words than the ones you have already read, by them.

I am glad I read that article - it makes me feel altogether better about the passage of time. It gives me the hope that, if I am lucky and my health holds out, that the years ahead will be more fruitful than the years behind and that I might grow, one day, into a writer, so much more skillful than I am today. That makes age something not to fear, but to welcome and look forward to, in anticipation of the written works to come.

Your favourite writers are only going to get better.

Happy reading all.

(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: 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.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:43 PM 


Blogger Demel said...

I'm sure this is a conclusion that would apply to many other crafts in life.

A book I read rather recently (Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell) also talks about something similar - the 10,000 hour rule. People take an enormous amount of time to become highly competent at a field, and a good estimate of the time taken to achieve this would be about 10,000 hours.

Perhaps it could be applied here as well? Authors who don't fade into the background and CONTINUE to write are certain to get better at the craft of writing - they have the experience and can turn good writing into a perfect prose!

I haven't read your book before, and I might have been proven wrong in the book, but isn't it possible that this conclusion about writing applies to other fields that are mental in nature? Composing or painting, for example.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Funnily enough, Demel...composing, painting and sculpture are other examples of skills which don't fade as one gets older...they are sustained lifelong. However, it does NOT say that they improve with age (though it doesn't say they don't) just notes that they are sustained to the end of one's days (there are even senile painters noted!)

I haven't read the entire book - but writing is specifically flagged as a skill which improves notably with age.

I think it is different to the 10,000 hour rule (which wasn't Gladwell's wasn't really even Ericsson's is an old idea about a century old or so, now). I am not convinced by the merits of that rule, since I can think of exceptions. Remember this: the people who improve with age, in writing are ALREADY very good at it. So even those who are apparently gifted in this department will get better with age, if they don't stop writing.

Thanks for your comment, Demel.

1:11 AM  

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