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, November 02, 2010

Child genius competitions USA.

Now, my title, "Child genius competitions USA", is not of my own writing. In fact, it is a quote of what a searcher used as search terms to arrive on my blog. I found their search quite startling. Now, I don't know if there are any "child genius competitions" in the USA (apart from one), but I do know that someone in a town called Wall, in Northumberland in the UK certainly believes so.

Let us accept the idea that the reason someone in the UK is searching for American child genius competitions is that such competitions exist in the USA, somewhere. Indeed, I have heard of one competitive TV show involving child geniuses pitted against one another on their special topics, so I suppose that there must be, at least, one such competition. The reason, however, that I am moved to write about these reputed competitions, is that I view them as completely failing to understand what "genius" is actually about. True geniuses don't compete, they express themselves, in unique fashions. Being unique, they cannot truly be in competition, in the conventional view of competition, for they each have something special to offer. If a genius is a genius, then, in some fundamental way, they are unlike any other intellect that has ever lived or ever shall live. There is something fundamentally original about them, such that they are able to do something which no other individual is as well-suited to do. This concept of genius is easy to understand if one is to look at creative artists. It is self-evident that there will never be, can never be, in any way, remotely, another writer like Shakespeare. His way of expressing himself came into this world, but once, and never more shall his like be known. All the elements that went to form his genius - his genes, his culture, his time in history, the very people who shared life with him, are all gone, never more to be. So it is that the genius he embodied can never be again. So it is, with all creative artists of genius: they each embody unique minds, capable of unique acts of creation that can never be emulated by another human, no matter how smart they are, in anything but a pathetic shadow of a degree. It is easy to see that this is self-evidently true for artists - whether they be writers, or painters, poets or composers: they are each one off creations and one off creators. Yet, so it is, too, to a less obvious degree with scientists. Thinkers of genius are uniquely placed to solve particular kinds of problems or propose particular kinds of theories: their minds are open to a certain kind of scientific advance that all their disparate skills and dispositions unite and make them aptly suited for. Another equally well educated, equally intelligent person might completely overlook what the scientific genius sees so clearly. So, it is, too, that scientific geniuses are one offs, never more to be.

Now, given this uniqueness of genius, this unparalleled nature of it, it makes no sense at all, to set true geniuses up in competition with each other: for how is one to judge their merits? Their natures and achievements are unique, who is to say, therefore, which is the worthier? So, too, it is frankly silly to give them a task less than they are capable of achieving, just so as to see who is "better" at something than the other. Any task chosen will be more or less suited to each "genius". The outcome will therefore be a random reflection of the fit of the task, to the selection of geniuses to hand. It will not truly determine who is the "better" of the geniuses - it will simply determine whom, by chance, is best suited to the task in question - a task which may, in fact, have little bearing on those qualities that make them a genius in the first place.

So the idea of a competition between geniuses is quintessentially silly. Each is a genius and therefore each has as much importance as each other for, if they are true geniuses, then their contributions will be, in some way, unique to them and thus most unlikely to have arisen in another. Who is to say then, of a selection of unique beings, who is the more valuable? All of their contributions will have value, all will, perhaps, have been unachievable by anyone should we not think of them, then, in some way, of equal importance, in the sense that each does what no other can?

Of course, my objection to the wisdom of a child genius competition is on the assumption that the children selected are genuinely geniuses - that is, children showing great creative gift in addition to mere intelligence. In some cases, such children may just be intelligent, without being particularly creative. In those cases, the label of "genius" is misapplied, though many other positive labels may apply such as "gifted" "intelligent" "precocious" and so on.

Child geniuses should not be entrained to compete. They should be urged to express whatever is unique about their points of view. They should embody their unique inner worlds, in outward form. That is what genius is for: it is not for competing, like some faux Olympics, for medals and winners and game show prizes. Genius is that which is irreplaceable and irreproducible, but sadly, not irrepressible. Genius can be distorted, misdirected and wasted. Setting geniuses up in competition with each other is likely to encourage a misapplication of talent, in a way which leads to unproductive ends. Genius is not about scoring points and winning prizes in fatuous competitions: it is about doing what no-one else can do, it is about timeless actions in a world that is too short-sighted to see their value. Genius is not about the "now" of winning a momentary competition, but about achieving something that is, in some way, eternal. It is about making the world forever different in a way, that, before it happened, was unforeseen by all but the genius. Such acts, words and deeds, have far more value than any Olympics like competition between minds. Genius is not about winning, in the moment, but creating forever. America, or parts of it, once knew that...but it seems to have been forgotten in the modern era, of winners, competitions, medals and accolades.

Geniuses do not need to be set up in competition against each other. What they need, however, is often not given to them: the time, the space and the resources, with which to create. If that were done for every genius, the world would be a much more interesting place. Perhaps there should be competition to give geniuses what they need to enable their creativity. There was a time, when such competition took place, among the great and the good. It gave the world the Renaissance. Perhaps, that should be the kind of competition America should be invested in, with regards to its young geniuses.

The result would be a whole new world...

(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.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:46 PM 


Blogger tearsunderstars said...

I really dislike the idea of competitions sometimes. If one abides by such an idea, then he/she will always think about how to be better than the next person rather than focus and develop on one's own abilities.

As I live in this competitive society, the thought of competition often crosses my mind inevitably, which I think is...very binding. It's like, someone is better than you at *something*, then you fear that person will take your position in *something*, and therefore, all the rewards/benefits that come with it will belong to that person instead of you. I really hope to rid myself of a competitive mindset. I believe doing so will set me free (in mind and soul).

In fact, I think it's annoying. Each person has their own paths, own minds, but to compare them by certain criteria, is really stupid. Like in my case, a friend of mine was saying, "I thought musician A was better than musician B." The truth is, musician A publicises more than musician B, and therefore enjoys more fame. So, to her, A was more famous than B, so A is "better". I felt really bad for musician B, because B's a really good musician in her own right, and she does not seek fame, unlike A. That being said, I believe great musicians spend more time with their music than publicity.

Sometimes the idea of competitions make me want to isolate myself from this world and just let me do whatever I want, rather than to be seen by the world as "lesser" than someone.

I agree, that there should not be competitions especially for geniuses. It is likely that geniuses will think less of their abilities if they don't win the competition, which is undesirable. It makes much more sense, to have competitions only in sports/games, or any other field which will encourage higher standards (such as the monopoly of many different services in Singapore), instead of putting down different geniuses who are just simply different and not "worse".


2:53 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I think Singapore is an ill society, with its fetish for competition in all things. The USA too, suffers from the same problem. They are sick places...but no-one seems to realize it.

By all means seek a free place away from competition and just be. You will be happier for it.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Straight Grandmother said...

Hmmmm well being an American I think I need to send you a big Hrrrrmp. :(
I don't think we have to make any excuse for being competitive. We are not a socialist country where you ahve to have a good reason to fire somebody. In the USA the employer needs no reason at all to terminate you (unless you have protections of a union). Of course this makes us very competitive to to be part of a work team that brings in more sales, cuts the most cost etc. etc. I hardly think that you owning your own business are not competitive to win every sale you can. I tend to think competition bring out the best. It sharpens you to always do your best. Peronally I don't think I see anything wrong with that. What is wrong with striving to be the best?
If I might offer, the way you describe it you would be most comfortable in a Communist society.

5:05 AM  

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