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, June 12, 2011

Are there real child prodigies?

This question was asked by a searcher from Texas, Dallas. Funnily enough, that search brought him to my entry on “Does Ainan Cawley exist?”, which was a search by another searcher who doubted the reality of child prodigies.

Now, I am going to make an assumption about why this question was asked. I put it down to the influence of television and film. In Hollywood, so many varieties of “hero” are deployed in films, that, perhaps for an uninformed viewer, it can become difficult to distinguish a cape wearing “superhero” – obviously fictional – from a child prodigy – which they may also categorize, therefore, as another variety of fictional hero. It may be that the effect of television by promoting such characters as “Dougie Howser”, for instance, is to undermine the very believability, in the public eye, of the notion of a child prodigy. The prodigy becomes nothing more real than any other fictional “superhero”.

There are real child prodigies. Though, there may not be a child as qualified as a doctor, as young as Dougie Howser – simply because it takes too many years to pass through all the hoops, even for the very brightest. There are also child prodigy musicians, in the real world, not just “August Rush” who, in some ways, is less impressive than a real prodigy, like Mozart.

The problem with film is that it can make a true story of a prodigy’s life, seem fictional. So often is the plot of a prodigy’s arc of life used in film, that when it happens in the real world, it can seem too “pat” to people. The public can, as this searcher has, react as if the true story were just another fictional example.

The other problem is that prodigies in fiction are much more common than they are in real life. Thus, the fictional prodigies can set up the expectation that there is a prodigy around every corner. Perhaps my Texan searcher was expressing doubt based on the observation that there WERE’NT prodigies around every corner. Perhaps the dearth of real world prodigies made them think that prodigies didn’t exist at all, outside of film.

If prodigies appeared in film, with the same frequency as they appear in real life, one might reasonably expect to see one prodigy per century of Hollywood output, or so. Thus, it can be seen that the situation in Hollywood films with respect to prodigies is absurd. The films create the expectation of an abundance of one of the rarest manifestations of the human mind. When that expectation is not met, it is understandable that people begin to doubt the phenomenon of prodigy. However, it would be more rational to doubt the phenomenon of Hollywood as a source of reliable information about the world.

The situation of prodigies, is a difficult one in many ways. The problems of adjustment and finding a suitable environment for the child are immense. I am not sure it helps, to have Hollywood creating a false impression of the numbers of such prodigious children in the world. For one thing, if people come to believe that they are plentiful the tendency might be to neglect those prodigies they do come across, for people might think that such children are actually fairly “ordinary”!

Then again, Hollywood is at least making people aware of the concept of prodigy, if to an unhelpful degree and in a misleading fashion. However, the “education” received from Hollywood distorts every phenomenon it touches – prodigy included – so that the nature of the truth in the real world, is obscured. The answer, here, of course, would be to look beyond Hollywood at more reliable forms of media, such as newspapers, to gather information about the phenomenon of prodigy – or, indeed, any other matter on which Hollywood touches. The problem, of course, is that films and tv are so easy to imbibe and that newspapers take more of an effort to consume. Thus it is, as reading declines, the power of Hollywood to form people’s minds grows, to the point at which, perhaps, their “understanding” of the world, becomes something almost entirely ficitional: they no longer know what is real, and what is not. They no longer have the capacity to decide whether the matters addressed in Hollywood have real world counterparts or not.

Child prodigies are real. What is not realistic, is Hollywood’s portrayal of them. It is worrying that, in the modern world, people are losing their ability to come to this realization.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:35 AM 


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