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 +

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Fintan's battle cry.

We were playing a card game, a week or so ago, beneath the setting sun, outside our home. It was just my three boys and myself, and the fresh evening air. I recall feeling very content, at the time, looking around that table and seeing the three of them, enjoying themselves.

The game had held its little surprises and, oddly, at that moment, Tiarnan was winning. It was a Monopoly themed game, and Tiarnan, though just four, had managed to become the richest, most promising player at that time. His smile to himself, eyes agog at his pile of "wealth", said quite clearly that he was well aware of his leading position.

It was Fintan's turn and, just as he began to place down his first card, he cried out: "Bring on the babies!"

It was a surreal instant. The phrase hung over us, utterly without perceptible meaning. Fintan laughed, seeing my mystification, perhaps, or just sensing his own eccentricity and enjoying it.

"What does that mean?", I asked him, unable not to smile.

He mumbled something about people carrying babies, but I couldn't quite understand what he meant. I let it go.

It was clear to me that the phrase meant something to him - something funny, too. It reminded me, then, of Fintan's curious combination of good social skills, and quirky thoughts. What, I wonder, will he make of this combination of dispositions? Should he ever become some variety of creator, I am sure he will be psychologically equipped to communicate his thoughts, successfully - and do so with an engaging charm, that gets others on his side. I rather feel that this is a better combination of skills than many other more obviously blessed ones.

It strikes me now, that what is most memorable about my children, is the things they say, that I have never heard anyone else ever Fintan's battle cry. Is it possible that Fintan is the first person to ever say such a thing? He certainly is, in my acquaintance, but then I am not acquainted with all utterances in human history. More important, I think, than mere intelligence, is the ability to be different from all others: if one's thoughts are distinct, they will have more impact on the world, than the smartest, but more conventional person, one can possibly find. It is not intelligence, alone, which makes culture grow - but the capacity to be different. My children have both attributes - but of the two, that disposition to be different, is vastly more important than the mere other.

Carry on being your distinct self, Fintan...even if sometimes I don't understand what you mean!

(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 @ 10:46 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this will likely help Fintan in the future. His creativity in language will surely come in handy. Some children may shy away when it comes to quotes like these. Of course, this isn't a bad thing, but I think it is like a social gift, Fintan has, to say things like this.

Have you ever viewed him as an activist? I am just wondering this because with these quotes he comes up with, I find it could help someone speak for the things they care about, get people's attention, and persuade them to believe in these things as well.

6:22 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hmm...I hadn't considered the activist angle, Alex - but now that you mention it, that does combine creative use of language with social skills, if it is to be done well. You never know, whether he becomes an activist depends on whether he decides that the world needs changing in some way.

Yes. Some children may look askance at unusual utterances...but those are not the children who would grow into adults who would appreciate him, either. Other children might like his use of words and ideas.

Thank you for your thought, Alex: it is one I had not considered, much appreciated.

8:38 AM  
Blogger E said...

"Is it possible that Fintan is the first person to ever say such a thing? He certainly is, in my acquaintance, but then I am not acquainted with all utterances in human history."

That's an interesting thought - "all utterances in human history". How big would that be? A rough upper limit would be 100 billion people * 40 years each * 10,000 words per day * 7 characters per word = 100 million terabytes, which is likely less than the current yearly production of hard drives. How compressible would that be though? How many trillions of repetitions of ritual greetings, stock phrases, and jokes about traveling flint traders and mammoth hunters' daughters could be stored once and represented by a short tag?

Compressing large text databases like Wikipedia, the best compressors manage about 5-8x, but daily speech is more repetitive, so perhaps 10-15x should be possible. Much of that compression is possible due to the fact that people use the same boring old individual words over and over rather than coining new ones. Still, even taking 10-15x at face value, that means that most people produce the equivalent of several pages of novel utterances every day. Most of the novel utterances will not be conceptually novel, though.

I wonder how big the space of past novel thoughts is? Could it be measured in bytes? How could thoughts in different brains be compared even in theory if unexpressed? Is it even right to think of them being in heads rather than some preexisting platonic space? Can two people ever be said to have precisely the same thought, and could there be any measure for the degree by which they differ?

9:23 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Interesting musings, E.

I fear, however, that you underestimate the compression of human thought, possible, and overestimate the novelty of most human expression. I have met, I must note, to my misfortune, many an individual who appears to never have a single novel thought, utterance, feeling or perception, in their observable lives. I rather think most people lack the capacity to be novel, to any noticeable degree. Should you try to measure their novelty, your answers would be just novel ways of saying: ZERO.

At least, that is my view of people, garnered from a lifetime of watching them, often from a relatively reserved stance.

Well. Thoughts could be considered identical, for all functional purposes, if the same words can be used to express their totality. That is, if the words used fully, completely and ONLY express that idea. Should this occur twice in two individuals, they are functionally identical thoughts.

Much of life is along these lines: "Hello, how are you?"

"I am fine thanks...and you?"

"How are the kids?"

"My they are getting big"

"Isn't it hot today?"

"I see a storm coming"...

...and on and on and on and repetitive hell. I would say virtually nothing that people say is in the least original or interesting in any real way. The world would know no loss, at all, from the elimination of almost all conversation. It is just emptiness.

Thanks for the musing.

9:44 AM  

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