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, November 14, 2010

Super sensory perception

Sometimes, I wonder what I miss in the world. You see, my wife, Syahidah, in particular, notices things I do not, sees things I do not see, hears things I do not hear, smells things I cannot smell. She is gifted in sensory terms in a way that seems, at times, to be almost miraculous. That is, to one who could never perceive what she does so readily, it does seem like a miracle. She often reminds me, simply by perceiving the world, that the world I see, is not all that there is to see.

A few days ago, we were out, at night. I stood by the roadside, with the cars rumbling past and she stood on the pavement, about one and a half to two metres away (I had just turned back to speak with her, whilst approaching the road). There was quite a bit of background noise and conversation required acute attention to each other’s voices.

“Why don’t you check out that Korean restaurant – and get a menu?”, she asked, looking hungrily across the street, for Syahidah is a bit of a foodie.

I took a couple of steps into the road, for it was free of traffic, at that moment, so I was, by now, perhaps three metres away from Syahidah.

“Is that your phone?”, she called after me.

I stopped and listened and heard nothing.

I reached my hand into my pocket and my phone did, indeed, seem a little agitated.

I pulled it out. Sure enough, someone was calling me. As I answered, I had one thought in my head, which I said aloud to Syahidah, before I turned my attention to the caller:“How did you hear that?”, I asked her, with a raised voice – for such a voice was necessary, I thought, for a normal person to hear me, at that distance, and with that background noise.

She shrugged, having no answer, or explanation herself. She just heard it, that is all.

As my call proceeded, my mind was half on Syahidah’s miraculous hearing.

Think about it: my ear was about 1 metre from the phone. Hers was about two and a half to three metres away. Given that the sound energy intensity will decline by an inverse power square law – that is it will be proportional to 1/distance squared, the sound intensity at her position would have been about 1/6 to 1/9 of what it was for me. Yet she had heard it and I had not. That means that her hearing, at the frequency of the phone ring, is at least around 6 to 10 times more acute than mine. I find that quite startling.

She often tells me of noises I have not heard, of people approaching or things happening, that are too far for me to be able to perceive – yet she is right, every time. She will hear the voices of people in the street at night, far from our house, long before they are near enough for me to hear. Her perceptual range is thus far greater than my own.

Now you should note that my own senses are not in deficit: I see, hear, taste and smell just fine. It is that her senses are more sensitive than is normal. At least, her hearing and smell, in particular, are.

Observing her perceiving the world is a bit humbling. For she tells me, just by her effortless perception, that my world, the one I sense, it is not as rich as hers: she hears softer sounds, smells fainter smells, notes things at greater distances and senses an altogether greater variety of things, than I am able to. We live in the same world, supposedly – but, in a way, I know that is not true: for her world is in “higher definition” than mine. Indeed, her world might be said to be HD colour TV – and mine no more than an old fashioned low definition black and white TV. That would seem a fair comparison given how much more sensitive her senses are, than mine.

I wonder, now, what effect having such a mother, has on the senses of my children. I do not know enough, yet, about how they perceive the world, to know if they have inherited her greater acuity of sense perception. I hope so. For if they have, they will see a richer world, for the duration of their lives, than I know – and I would be happy for them, if that were so.

I shall endeavour to observe what they perceive and so come to a better understanding of just what their threshold of perception might be. I already have hints that they may have better senses than one might expect. Future posts will report my observations.

(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 @ 1:32 PM 


Blogger Bronwyn said...

I think what you are encountering may not just be a heightened perception by the senses. I think a lot of it has to do with the differences between men and women.

It is said that men do one thing at a time usually and are not as well able to multi-task as a woman so perhaps when your phone rang you tuned out the sound because your brain was too busy focussing on something else - so perhaps the neuronal pathway was there and was active but perhaps two neuronal pathways cannot be interpreted at the same time - in other words there was less wrong with your hearing than there was with your conecentration. The only thing that would be able to prove whether your wife's hearing is indeed better than yours though is to have both your and your wife's hearing tested.

A woman's world probably is more highly sensory than a man's because of this. Scientifically I have never found a reason for this and I have no proof, but when I read your article it did strioke a chord cause I have heard many married men and women complain about something similar in different contexts but perhaps not with the same conclusions you had and not with the fascination with which you write.

4:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very interesting, Valentine. Indeed, Syahidah has great perception. What I have always wondered is how this is so. How do certain people have better perception than the average person? I have a book on neurology that I pulled out once I was finished reading this post, and found nothing to explain this. However, I did see a chapter titled "Synaesthesia - Blending the Senses." I then remembered the interview you spoke of a few weeks ago, and how you spoke of Ainan's synaesthesia. Of what I know, synaesthesia is caused by a sort of cross-wiring of senses in the brain, but perhaps Ainan's synaesthesia is related to Syahidah's amazing perception. No matter what the cause, I think it would be very rewarding to have such an "Hd" life

7:58 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Bronwyn,

Yes, maybe this has something to do with gender...but it should be pointed out, that even when I was told my phone was ringing, I couldn't hear it, so close to traffic, as I was. Syahidah, however, though further away was able to do so. So, I think there is a difference of sensory acuity at work, too.

Thanks for the suggestion.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hmm...Alex, yes, I had considered whether there was a connection between Ainan's synaesthesia and his mother's sensory sensitivity: perhaps there is. It is certainly a question worth looking into.

I, too, would like an HD life...but I will have to settle for the one I have unless nanotech allows for change, one day (when I am quite old, no doubt).

Thanks for your thought.

Best wishes

5:05 PM  

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