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 25, 2011

Source Code: Tiarnan's review.

Yesterday, we took the kids to see Source Code, the film by Duncan Jones, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It was very interesting to watch the boys’ reactions to this somewhat unconventional film. In particular it was Tiarnan’s response that intrigued me most.

Those who haven’t seen the film should note that it has a cyclic, repetitive structure for much of it. I won’t give away any details by telling you why...just note that this is so.

Tiarnan, five, was silent at first watching the film, but gradually a degree of puzzlement grew in him. He started to behave oddly. At one point, he even seemed to go to sleep, but then, after some minutes, opened his eyes, too quickly and too alertly, to have really been asleep at all.

He turned to his mother, leaning into her ear.

“Mummy, what is it with this film? When I go to sleep, then wake up, it is the same!”
She smiled to hear his words, but had no explanation – and it was not the place to give it. She urged him back to the screen.

He continued to watch the film, but his mind seemed to be contemplating more than just the plot. He seemed to be thinking very deeply indeed. He reached out to his popcorn and carefully ate it all up, bit by bit. He studied the popcorn carefully, as if satisfying himself that it was genuinely eaten. Then he looked up at the screen again...and looked somewhat exasperated.

He leaned into his mummy again.

“Mummy: when I finish my popcorn, the movie is STILL the same!”

She gave him a hug. Explanations could wait until she was out of the cinema.

At the end, she asked him: “Did you enjoy the film?”

She did not expect a positive answer, given his comments.

“Yes.” He nodded, seriously, for such a small boy. “I did, by the end.”

Now, to my understanding, Tiarnan’s response to the film was very interesting and very complex, indeed. When he saw that the film was repeating, Tiarnan, who had never seen a film do this before, was led to question his own understanding of reality. He was unsure whether the film was genuinely repeating, or whether there was something wrong with his own experience of reality. His question seemed to be: was the film repeating, or was Tiarnan’s world repeating?

Tiarnan, however, had a solution to this dilemma of whether it was himself or the film, at fault. He tried to create parallel changes in his world, of which he could be certain, and then tested them against the film, to see if it also exhibited changes. Thus, he pretended to sleep, knowing he had “slept” and knowing, therefore, that time had passed, in a different way, leading to the expectation that the film would change. Yet, it hadn’t. This only increased his puzzlement more. Thus, he conceived of another reality test – a more tangible one. He decided to eat all his popcorn and make an irreversible tangible change in the world of which he could be sure. Sure enough, all the popcorn vanished – but still the film was basically the same. This, however, reassured him that the film was at fault and not his own experience of reality.

Tiarnan’s thinking, to my mind, was very complex in this situation. He genuinely seemed to be considering the two alternatives: that it was the film, or his lived reality that were at fault. Then he devised tests to distinguish which pertained. It was a very subtle piece of thinking for a five year old. It was also one that showed a certain open-mindedness and maturity: open-minded, to consider that he might be at fault, mature to invent incontrovertible tests to distinguish the possibilities.
For me, Tiarnan’s reaction to the film was the best part about it. I did enjoy the film, but I got far more out of seeing what he made of it. Just watching my children explore and understand the world gives me rewards I could not have imagined existed, before I became a father.

Thank you, Tiarnan, for showing me what you thought of the world, yesterday, and of what was possible for it.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:30 PM 


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