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 17, 2010

The fleeting nature of TV fame.

About a week ago, I was surfing the Internet and I came upon a list of well known individuals in science. It was an accidental moment of surfing, since I had been looking for something else.

Ainan was looking over my shoulder and perused the list, briefly. It had the usual suspects: Einstein, Feynman and so on. Amongst the names, Ainan singled out one, for comment: "Carl Sagan".

"Who is he?", he asked, slightly miffed to see Carl Sagan's name. "I have never heard of him."

"Oh Carl Sagan? He is famous. He was an astronomer."

Ainan's eyes widened a little in surprise, with a hint of disbelief that such a thing could ever be.

I decided to explain further. "He was famous mainly for his TV programmes."

"Ah. I knew it had to be TV - no-one gets famous by being an astronomer." He seemed somewhat relieved that his world order had not been upset and that his presuppositions about who is accorded fame, in the modern world, proved to be correct.

His reaction to Carl Sagan's name set me thinking, however. Carl had been a prolific writer in his lifetime and was author or co-author on many papers in his field. Yet, none of this work had been distinctive enough to create a reputation for him, independent of his TV shows. Ainan was too young to have seen his shows since they stopped showing them before he was born. Thus, Carl Sagan's entire life and output had left no mark upon Ainan at all. Then again, none of Carl Sagan's academic work was being publicly quoted and referred to as part of everyday discourse - as the work of Einstein was, for instance - so there were no reminders of Carl Sagan in his cognitive sphere. Basically, no matter how famous Carl Sagan had been in his lifetime (and for most, he had been a bigger celebrity than Einstein at the height of his TV fame)...there was no real trace of it in modern life. Carl Sagan was dead - but not only that, his reputation was fading too. There is a whole generation born since his death, in 1996, who have no idea who he was. Ainan is one of them.

TV fame is a funny thing. Those who achieve it probably feel that they are going to be famous forever...but this is just not so. Almost everyone who ever achieves TV fame, of any kind, is going to be forgotten - completely forgotten as if they had never ever been - once the generation that saw their programmes, passes on. The generations that come, thereafter, will, at best hear only whispers of the "famous person" who once had been - and it will not be long before even those whispers are gone. TV fame is not fame, at all: it is momentary awareness, temporary adulation - followed by an endless nothingness, in which, no-one will know the "famous" person had ever been.

Lasting fame, comes from creating ideas or products, of some kind, that have a durable utility to the cultures that follow. If, for instance, the first person to invent the wheel had actually autographed his work and all wheels thereafter had carried this mark, we would know, today, the identity - or at least have a symbol for - the inventor of the wheel. Such a person would still be famous today, for their invention still has use today.

True fame, therefore, comes as a side effect of worthwhile creativity. Carl Sagan's fame will not last, precisely because the vast bulk of it, came from a kind of documentary style entertainment programme. When that is no longer shown - as it isn't - the fame will pass.

It is notable that all the names of people who had contributed worthwhile scientific ideas to the world, were known to Ainan. Thus, young though he is, at but 10, every single one of the scientists who had made a substantial contribution to thought, were "famous" to Ainan. None of them garnered their fame, however, from TV programmes.

So, if you want to be famous, really famous, forevermore, think of something that hasn't been thought of before and communicate it to the world. If fame is what you really want, I wouldn't be too concerned about TV, however - for that is only fame for a day, and not fame for eternity. (Well, as long as ideas are relevant to Mankind, anyway).

On a final note, I must say I enjoyed watching Carl Sagan as a young boy - and at that time, his presence on TV did make him seem famous or "important" to me. But then, I was very young when his programme began to show - 12 - and had little time to understand what true fame is. Nevertheless, I did enjoy his work and it was a pity that he died so young, at 62.

At least one cohort of people will remember Carl Sagan, for the duration of their lives. That, unfortunately, is the duration of almost all TV fame.

Rest in peace, Carl Sagan.

(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 @ 10:34 AM 


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