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 +

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The time before Time.

Tiarnan, my youngest son, is four years old. Unlike some children, though, he is acutely aware of how limited this time span is. He has no illusions about his temporal place in the world.

Yesterday, he was looking through some computer game discs, which I have little enough time to play. He picked one up: a scene filled with futuristic soldiers, starfarers, spaceships, aliens and strange planets, on its cover.

“Daddy,” he asked, his eyes filled with wonder at a thought that consumed him, “Did you play Mass Effect, before I was born?”

“No, Tiarnan. I have never played it.”

“Where were you, before you were born, Tiarnan?”

He reflected for a moment, on the absence before the beginning.

“I don’t know Daddy.”

He stared at the cover for awhile, absorbing the message as to its contents. “This is for Daddies only, isn’t it?”, he further asked, tapping at the 18+, symbol on it, “18 plus”, he read.

“Yes, that is right.”, I agree.

He accepted that, in the way he accepts all other issues pertaining to his situation and age. He didn’t, thereafter ask to play it.

What I found interesting about his question to me, is that he conceived that many things could have happened before he was born. He had never seen me play Mass Effect (a pc game), yet he saw that I had it. His solution was to imagine that I must have played it, before his birth, and before, therefore, he would have had a chance to see me play it. This is a perfectly reasonable explanation, since it would explain why, though I have a copy, I seem (to him) to have no interest in playing it (perhaps because, he supposes, I have already played it).

His question shows that he has an understanding of his place in time and the social world. He knows that there was a world before his time, a world which might have effects on his time. He knows that Daddy and Mummy were alive in that time before his time – and that we may have done things, then, that he does not know about. Not only that, but he is also able to imagine what those unseen prior events might have been – and is using them to explain the present. He is, it seems, developing an intuitive sense of the idea of history – of the idea that the past underlies the present, and has, in fact, given rise to the present: it is the cause of today. Tiarnan is inferring the past hidden causes of present events. To my mind, that is a surprising way for a four year old to be thinking. It also shows that he knows that present circumstances are not the way they are, arbitrarily, but that some past event has led to their present disposition.

As he gets older, I will tell him more about my life and Syahidah’s life, too…so that he might come to know the true causes of the life that he experiences. In the meantime, it will be interesting to hear him imagine the prequel to the present.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 7 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 @ 6:08 PM 


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