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 +

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Is it better to be ordinary, than a genius?

Recently, someone from Concordia University, in Quebec, Montreal arrived on my blog with the search terms: “being ordinary is better than being a genius.” Are they right?

To be a genius is, necessarily, to be apart from others: their nature separates them from the mass, in ways which are unbridgeable. Yet, is this so bad?

The searcher seems to believe that it is better to be an ordinary person, unvisited by great talents. Now, from the point of view of “fitting in” this is quite clearly so. An ordinary person finds no difficulty in fitting into the mass around them. They are naturally accepted, for their evident commonalities. Their thoughts do not betray them as different. Their chosen actions are readily comprehended. Nothing that they do or are, is surprising to the general mass of people. I suppose this ready acceptance is what the searcher was thinking of. It should, therefore, be easier to be “happy” as an ordinary person, than to be “happy” as a genius. Yet is this meaningful?

A genius is, by definition, alone. They are innately singular in that their gifts distinguish them from all others. Some, therefore, might become lonely. Most however would find enough reward in their creative work, not to be overly concerned about a reasonable measure of personal isolation. Many geniuses in history were quite isolated. Yet, they lived fulfilling lives. In general, they received a great sense of achievement from their work, which, I suggest, to a great degree would have compensated for any relative lack in other areas.

Then again, even the greatest genius, usually finds enough adequate friends – adequate in the sense of sufficiently intelligent to be interesting to them – even if only by correspondence, to sustain them, socially. They may be relatively isolated, but they are usually not entirely so. The personal contact they have is enough to sustain them. After all the attention they give to their creative work, moderates their need for companionship, in direct proportion to their efforts. The more they work, the less need they have for others. Indeed, in those compelled to work creatively, the presence of others can seem, at times, to be an unwelcome distraction.

In a way, a genius can be more happy than an ordinary person. The reason is simple: a genius can find happiness in creative work, that an ordinary person could not even begin to do. Thus, the genius is not really deprived in the happiness department for they have access to sources of contentment not open to the common man. Thus, it can be seen that the genius is, in fact, luckier than the ordinary person in many ways. The genius can do what the ordinary man cannot and find pleasure in what the ordinary man cannot understand- but the genius can also do all the things that the ordinary man can do and find pleasure in all those things too.

So, the life of a typical genius might be “quieter” and more “isolated” than that of a typical ordinary person – but it is also richer, deeper and ultimately more satisfying.

So, my searcher was wrong in his or her supposition. It is most definitely better to be a genius, than an ordinary person.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:10 PM 


OpenID 7sigma said...

Absolutely beautiful post, Valentine.

My partner is always trying to get me to "make friends" or "get out and enjoy life". But my creative projects, my studies, and my high IQ friends I've met on the Internet give me what I need.

My partner is highly gifted, but rather unusually for a person with an IQ that high, he is an extrovert.

I wonder if extroversion could in fact be some sort of impairment or anomaly, that has become the "norm" just because there are so many of them in the Western for thought?

12:15 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi 7Sigma,

Thank you for your kind words.

It is common for extroverts to think they need to "fix" introverts by making them more social. What they don't understand, however, is that introverts are often happier being alone with their thoughts and projects than they are in a crowd. I know I often find large gatherings of people uncomfortable, since my introverted nature draws me towards smaller more intimate gatherings - usually one on one.

Yes. It is unusual for a high IQ person to be an extrovert. This might make him a good leader though.

I think extroversion is a hindrance for most creative work - so in that sense, it could be seen as an impairment. It is likely that you are more creatively productive than your partner, I would think.

However, extroversion is probably an advantage in many normal daily life activities - such as working with others in a company. That is probably why so many of them, who are not particularly bright, seem to do so well.

Personally, I would gently explain to your partner what you enjoy doing and why and say that you have all the social contact you need. What you really need is time to create.

Best wishes to you.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Pratyeka Muromachi said...

I have just discovered your blog completely by chance through a google search of the phrase "the way forward for the human race". It is a great pleasure to read your many post, and I'm looking forward to spend many days reading all of them.

I have been one of those bright kids who could not get enough books to read while other kids my age were only interested in baseball and hockey. Unfortunately, my parent were barely getting by in a small town far from the luxuries of a well stocked library or any other form of cultural resource center.

I grew up in the sixties and seventies, before the internet, before the PCs, when the only access to knowledge other than universities was books and magazines.

I quickly learned what I could from available sources, and that was enough to make me more knowledgeable than anyone else in the small town. The immediate consequence of which was total ostracism by my schoolmates.

I am now 53, and only started to find out all the negative effects of growing up in the most un-supportive environment possible.

Geniuses are happy if they can fulfill at least some of their potentials. Same for normal people. But for those unfortunate gifted people that were effectively starved of the means to learn, and were harassed, ridiculed, and sometime brutalized every time they displayed their "smart", happiness is impossible.

The "effectiveness" of a society ruled by the lowest common denominator to restrict the growth of the gifted may have lessened with the internet. Access to knowledge is a million time easier today than 40 years ago. But the day to day interaction with normal people is still an ordeal for me. Coping with the irrationality of most people in my workplace cost me 4 months sick leave for burnout a couple years back.

Today, I find happiness in things not related to knowledge or rationality. Walking in natural settings, sitting in a peaceful spot by the river, away from other humans.

To me, a genius is a lonely person. Loneliness in not a bad thing in itself. But I grew up with a desire to SHARE with others everything I discovered, I wanted to share the fun of learning. And this is what hurt the most; to realize time and time again that what I considered fun and wonderful, others could not care less about... some took it upon themselves to "cure" me from my "smarts".

2:00 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Pratyeka, thank you for your frank comment concerning the consequences of being smart, among those who were - and are - not.

Your life story, unfortunately, is one shared with many very intelligent people - indeed, the more intelligent the person, the more likely it is that their life story contains elements of what you write of.

I find that a certain reservation in conversation, in which I listen more than I speak, is helpful: people feel involved and wanted and not put off, by the content of my own speech. I realize that I don't really express my personal ideas, on a one to one basis usually. I keep them to myself. Perhaps that is another defensive technique.

I communicate on the internet, to people more likely to be receptive because they have searched specifically for what I speak of - on my blog. That has been rewarding - though sometimes I get unpleasant commenters, who are searching only to attack what they find.

Are you in the US or Japan? It would be interesting to know and would put your words into perspective.

It seems to me that you have found peace but not fulfilment. One answer might be to seek some kind of creative or productive outlet that does not require the aid of anyone else: writing or painting or music etc...and create things. Then you can try to get these things out into the world. They will find appreciative people somewhere. That would work for many bright people.

I wish you luck, Pratyeka. Feel free to comment as you wish, on other posts.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am lucky to have found my wife, by the way. In the family I have consequently created, I can be myself, 24/7, without censorship. That is the best thing I have ever done, in many ways. Also I have a son who is able to understand whatever thought I have - so I have the perfect conversational partner there (in addition to my wife).

Best wishes to you.

11:02 AM  

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