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 +

Monday, April 18, 2011

Does Ainan Cawley exist?

This might seem like a strange question for the father of said child to ask…but it wasn’t me who asked it. An Internet surfer arrived on my blog a couple of weeks ago, using the search terms: “Does Ainan Cawley exist?”. Amusingly, for me at least, they only read one page. I think the existence of this blog, alone, was enough to answer their question.

Now, it would be interesting to be able to discuss where this person was from – but their visit record notes their country of origin as “unknown” and their continent as “unknown”. This sometimes happens, though it is more usual for complete details to be available. So, I can’t make any anthropological observations, of any kind, in this regard. Yet, I can say this: that someone would be led to wonder whether Ainan Cawley exists, does lead me to think they have a very limited understanding of the possibilities inherent in humans.

“Humanity” is a very broad category, in some ways. There are those completely incapable of speech, or coordinated movement, of intelligence more rudimentary than some other animals, that we would still call human. Then there are those whose capabilities so far exceed the norm, that some people, like my unknown surfer, are led to question whether they are merely legendary.

In most parts of the world, these days, the expectations and requirements of children at particular ages, are standardized. Education has become codified and “set in stone”. We come to know what to expect of children of different ages. Differences between children, in such a regime, can end up being hidden, because nothing new is demanded of children capable of delivering more: they are all required to do the same and so, in some ways, end up looking the same. In such a world, it is easy to overlook the huge differences that exist between children, in their innate abilities. Then again there is the question of rarity. A child like Ainan has occurred but once, to my knowledge, in Singapore, a city of five million people. Now, very few Singaporeans, for instance, have had the chance to meet Ainan…perhaps only hundreds, to the low thousands, have personally encountered him, in the course of his life. Were it not, therefore, for the media, having covered him, in his native country, it would be unsurprising, if some of the millions of Singaporeans who had not met him, might be led to wonder if his story was true, or some kind of modern fable. In fact, funnily enough, in the early days, I did see rather paranoid comments on forums from Singaporeans positing the idea that Ainan was some kind of PAP propaganda campaign. It never occurred to them that the PAP would never choose a NON-Chinese boy for such a representative role, thus it is quite impossible that such should be the actual circumstance. However, it is interesting that these commenters thought it more likely that Ainan was a PAP fabrication, than that they thought him real. Nowadays, however, I see no such comments, so it seems Singaporeans have come to accept his reality.

The essential problem with children like Ainan is that they are so rare, in the human population, that the typical person will NEVER meet such a child, in their entire lifetimes. They will only hear of them second hand, as rumours, or press stories. They will never have any real, verifiable, personal contact with them. Instead, their experience will be defined by the more common varieties of “giftedness” that they meet. Everyone, for instance, we will meet many moderately gifted children, in their lifetimes (rarity 1 in 44). So, it is understandable if people’s view of what a gifted child is and can do, is formed by what they observe that moderately gifted children are and can do. Yet, the difference between the category of child that Ainan fits into, and a moderately gifted child, is much greater than the difference between a moderately gifted child and an average one. People, however, having no experience of this distinction, have no insight into just how different children like Ainan are from the typical “gifted” child that they have met.

My blog traffic is very informative as to how people view prodigious children and geniuses in general. For instance quite a common search to arrive on my blog is the question: “Did Leonardo da Vinci exist?”. It may startle you that people can frame this question, despite the plethora of physical and written evidence of his work and life, that still exists today. Yet, people question his reality, because they cannot personally conceive of anyone so much more gifted than a typical human being. The same kind of thinking is applied, by some, to Ainan – because they personally know of no child like him.

The fact that people can doubt the existence of the more gifted members of society and history does suggest that gifted people have much work to do in creating awareness of their nature and capabilities. This skepticism as to the reality of gifted people is a problem – for those who doubt the existence and capacities of such people, can lead to frustrations for the gifted people, in gaining access to the resources they need to do what they can do, given the chance. Quite simply: if gatekeepers don’t believe in the existence of such children, why on Earth would they open the doors to them? The parents of such children can end up being ignored or dismissed, without any proper checking having been done, as to the truth of their statements, being done.

This is a very big problem in some countries as far as I can observe. In Japan, for instance, there is a phrase used to describe parents who think highly of their children and who describe them in terms reserved for the gifted. I have actually seen this phrase used to describe the parents of a prodigy, who had been met with doubt by the Japanese. Guess what this phrase translates as? Well, it essentially says: “Stupid parents”. There appears to be a resistance there, to believing that such children can be. They prefer to think that there is something wrong with the parents. It is not hard to imagine the difficulties the parents of a prodigious child would encounter when faced with such attitudes.

There is a remedy to this reflexive disbelief that some people have when they hear tales of people whose gifts surpass those they are personally acquainted with: public discussion. The more people speak of such people, the more familiar people become with their capacities, the more comfortable people will become with them. The appearance of such people in the media, will gradually educate the masses as to their existence, and abilities. In time, they will come to be accepted – as happened to Ainan in Singapore. The doubters on forums, vanished after a few appearances in the media. Yet, I must say, it took a couple of years to reach that point: there was a lot of paranoia on the way, on the part of some forum commenters.

In a way, therefore, the fact that some people doubt the existence of Leonardo da Vinci, and Ainan Cawley (and no doubt, others too, of a similar ilk), is a failure of communication. The more gifted have not done a good enough job of communicating to the wider public. In that sense, this blog is serving a useful purpose, in that the more I write, the more people become acquainted with what I have observed of Ainan. This is a help to all prodigious children, everywhere, in that they are less likely to encounter the sheer disbelief that they could ever be. Oh. That reminds me. More than once I have received searches for the terms: “Are child prodigies real?” and “Are child prodigies just a myth?”. It is clear that there are people out there, who not only disbelieve in the existence of particular prodigies or geniuses, but who disbelieve in the entire concept of child prodigies. For them, no such children could ever be.

Better understanding of prodigies, can only make their lives easier and make their access to educational and other opportunities less problematic. Thus, I shall continue to write what I see and understand, in the hope that it leads others to understand, too.

(If you would like to support my continued writing of this blog and my ongoing campaign to raise awareness about giftedness and all issues pertaining to it, please donate, by clicking on the gold button to the left of the page.

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To learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 7 and Tiarnan, 5, 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 @ 3:30 PM 


Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Your sentiments, Starrywind, are a little too harsh to print, on what is, after all, a family blog, which can be read by my children.

Firstly, I must point out how little you actually know about Ainan’s achievements. It is clear that you haven’t got a clue. At 7 years and 1 month he became the youngest person ever to secure an O level passing Chemistry. At 8 years old he started studying Chemistry at a tertiary level. Also at 8 he discovered a new human sensory perception, and co-authored a paper on it. That made him the youngest person ever to discover anything in science, or to write a paper. He also contributed to another paper on the causation of prodigiousness at the same age. By the time he was 9 years old, he also had O level Physics and AS level Chemistry. At 10 he started an American degree programme at a Malaysian University. You are only seemingly aware of one of these achievements.

You express the belief that geniuses don’t contribute much to the world. This is quite astonishing and shows that you know nothing about the history of thought, science, or culture. Everything significant in the world around you, owes itself to one of history’s geniuses. The only genius you are prepared to recognize is Einstein. Whilst Einstein’s work was revolutionary and significant, there are many other geniuses in history whose work was as important in their own fields. Again, you show limited knowledge of who made what contributions and how important those contributions were.

Oddly, you invite me to compare Ainan’s childhood to Einstein’s. You suggest that I will find no similarities between them. This is actually rather funny – and again shows that you know little of what you speak. Both Ainan and Einstein were precocious as children. However, Ainan was much more precocious than Einstein, developing faster in every way. So, in that respect, he certainly does not compare unfavourably. Also Einstein had a tendency to challenge authority with his own views. So does Ainan. Einstein trusted his own thought to that of anyone else’s – so does Ainan. I could go on, but this is somewhat boring to me. Ainan does not show any less promise than Einstein did as a child, in any way. Furthermore they do share certain dispositional characteristics. It should be noted that Ainan has already made scientific contributions. Einstein had not at such a young age. So, I do think that your implicit notion that Einstein’s childhood somehow outshines Ainan’s, is way off the mark.

You dismiss the value of the Arts, saying, essentially, that they are a waste of space. You might discover, however, that a knowledge of the Arts would be of great value when it comes to writing and expressing your ideas. There is much you could learn in that area.

1:26 PM  
Blogger E. Harris said...

"Does Ainan Cawley exist?"

That question leads immediately into deep philosophical waters. Buddhists have written shelves and shelves of books on the question of the continuity of identity. Is Ainan age 7 the same as Ainan today? What about Ainan age 87? There are certainly differences, but also a large degree of shared memory and personality. The orthodox Buddhist view is (as best I can express it) that there are no permanent things, names are merely a convenience or a way of speaking, everything is a process, a flow, all appearances at any given time are transitory.

Personal attributes may be illusory in a sense, being partially relative to the perception of the person perceiving them and to the specific time that perception occurs, but nevertheless there is a common thread of identity which persists, not forever, perhaps, but which it would be foolish to deny. Any given cloud is unique and has a distinct continuity of identity for a time, but it is impermanent. It may merge, morph or evaporate. Nevertheless, similar clouds existed a billion years ago, and will exist a billion years from now. Yet the cloud as it is now will never be reproduced exactly. So also with us.

4:30 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

I like your philosophical musings, Enon. I have not infrequently pondered the very same questions, of identity and change and have, in fact, written about it, in unpublished writings.

Yes. Ainan is changing, but there is a definite core that is essentially the same in character, if complexifying over time. I would very much like to see what he is like as an old man, but I doubt that I will be around to witness it. I shall have to imagine that path for him, through my own direct experience of it. I am sure, however, that there will be much wisdom there - and that, in some ways, is one of life's sweeter, if unregarded, fruits.

Thank you for your thoughts Enon. It is refreshing to read one who reflects on deeper matters than celebrity gossip!

11:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found it interesting when you brought up the fact that Ainan is quite different from the typical gifted child. Reading your blog, I have definitely noticed this. However, I have been having trouble figuring which characteristics make him different from other gifted children. Many gifted children share similar characteristics, and I'm sure Ainan shares these too. I don't have enough knowledge on gifted children to figure out which of Ainan's traits are found in typical gifted children, and which ones are unique to him and few others. If you could tell me some of Ainan's unique traits, that would be great. Thanks in adavance.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Alex,

You have asked a very difficult question, one which it would take much effort to answer fully. In a way, this blog answers it, post by post for over 1500 posts.

Briefly: there are two types of distinction with Ainan. There are things which quite a few gifted children have ie. precocity, which Ainan simply has a more extreme case of. There are other things which Ainan has that no other kid we know has. These include his unusual sensory perceptions, such as Velociperception (he has others too...subject to research announcements in the future). There are things he can do, which I have not heard other children doing. For instance, he is able to search his memories of five seasons of Dr. Who and three seasons of Fringe and note elements which appear in the BACKGROUND of various episodes. He is able to state which episode these elements appear in, how these elements progress from episode to episode and how they foreshadow events in future episodes. This requires a rare combination of intense and detailed memory with great observation skill. Please understand that these are elements that most people wouldn't even notice, since they are in the background of scenes and are not ever highlighted or brought to the fore.

There are many such strange attributes. I don't have time here to address them. I will give the question more thought however at another time.

Thanks for asking.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

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2:59 PM  

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