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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, September 12, 2011

The importance of a public platform.

It has long puzzled me as to why the world is run by people who seem dumber than certain others. There are many very bright people, who could, perhaps, provide solutions to some of the world’s problems, and yet, who never – or rarely - get heard. The problem here is simple: having ideas and having a platform are two different things. It is quite possible – even probable – to be a person of ideas, but not to be gifted with a platform from which to voice them.

It seems likely to me, that the kind of person who is good at having ideas...the “genius”...is probably also likely to be poor at the people skills that might help him or her build a public platform, from which to influence people and the course of the world. Thus, it is that we have the present situation in which people who don’t seem very bright (to me and, no doubt, to lots of others, too), end up in positions of great power and influence, whilst others, who are much brighter, never really reach public attention and, therefore, have little influence.

From my point of view, it seems easier to have good, interesting and useful ideas, than it does to acquire a powerful platform from which to voice them. This, of course, means that the ideas in question may never reach their potential for beneficial influence on the world. Part of the problem is that the international news media is not really interested in ideas, nowadays – they are interested in “celebrity” (which is, of course, the antithesis of those who have ideas). Thus, anyone with an interesting idea will find that, in general, the news media have no interest in covering it. This, of course, greatly restricts the potential range of influence of the idea in question. Such an idea might end up in an academic journal – but, such journals often have such small circulations, that very few people, indeed, will ever read it. In fact, an article published in a journal often has to be “discovered”, before it can be of much influence. By this, I mean, that it must come to the attention of a broader base of academics and other interested parties, perhaps through word of mouth, from the few who have actually read it. This is an uncertain process and may not happen for years after the publication of an article.

Publishing in academic journals is not, in general, a powerful enough platform to maximize the influence of an idea. It is only when, somehow, the idea “catches on” and is propelled into public consciousness through the rare occasions on which mass media DO cover an idea, that it may reach its potential for influence.

Some few thinkers, are fortunate enough to have become sufficiently famous such that their every utterance is covered in the international media: an obvious example would be Stephen Hawking, who need only mouth an opinion, to generate coverage. This phenomenon, however, has nothing to do with ideas, or the media being interested in them, but is to do with celebrity. Were Stephen Hawking not a celebrity, no-one would be listening to him, in any way, or to any degree, at all: his thoughts would be forever unknown.

Yet, given Stephen Hawking’s public platform it is quite clear that he is able to attempt to influence the course of events, by raising awareness of matters which interest him. This is a great power and it is one that would prove more valuable still in the hands of others (who shall probably never have it), who have many ideas, but little opportunity to catch attention with them.

One happy development, for those with ideas, who seek to influence, is the advent of the Internet for it offers the means to convey an idea, to the world, without any need for an intermediary. Of course, the fact that everyone now has this power, means that the Internet is cluttered with the thoughts of hundreds of millions of people – and so ideas are now hard to notice, for a different reason: they get lost in the chatter. Yet, there is hope. The Internet offers at least a basic platform to all who have a thought to speak. In the long term, perhaps, interesting ideas have a chance of being noticed and promulgated about the world, hopefully gaining them some kind of influence. I only hope that the Internet endures to allow these ideas to be discovered and implemented in due course.

Even with the Internet, however, the truth remains that those we come to know of as thinkers are not necessarily the best thinkers. They are, in fact, those people who have developed, for themselves, the best platforms. Our view, therefore, of whom the world’s “great” thinkers are, is formed almost entirely by the ranks of those who have secured a platform, for themselves, either through their own efforts, or some variety of inheritance of fame or influence. It seems likely to me, however, that many of the world’s greatest, most interesting and potentially most important thinkers, do not have such platforms and so their thoughts go relatively unnoticed, their work of less influence, not through any lack of merits, but through a lack of opportunity to be widely heard. In time, some in this category may come to be known and their work may finally become influential – but that is a slow and haphazard process. In the meantime, the media will entertain us with the “thoughts” of those who have good platforms and distract us from the fact that there might be many others, unheard, out there, with better ideas to offer.

As a final thought, one has to ask: are the world's political leaders truly the best the world has to offer? I find it hard to believe. A recent example that leads me to question the quality of leaders and potential leaders, is Rick Perry's refusal to believe in man made global warming, despite the fact that the science behind it, is very simple indeed. To my mind, this makes him dim of wit and unsuited to any high office - yet, there he is running for leadership of the Republicans and potentially a future President of the USA. He is an example of a man of little substance, who is good at building a platform for himself. There are, I am sure, many better thinkers, who would offer more to the USA, as a leader, than Rick Perry is able to offer, who simply don't have the right platform. They are good at thinking, but not necessarily good at self-promotion.

The world would benefit from an inversion here. All those who are good at thinking but poor at self-promotion and platform building, should be thrust to the fore - and all those who are good at self promotion and platform building, but not so strong at actual thinking, should be steadfastly ignored. Were this so, we would have a world we would want to live in: a world that is solving its problems and making progress towards a better state.

In the meantime, think carefully about how you cast your vote: are you voting for an excellent thinker, or an excellent platform builder (who is not so good at thinking)? It would be wise to distinguish the two, for only the true thinker is likely to have the mental wherewithal, to solve the world's problems. Of course, rarely, the two are one: a good thinker has a good platform. I wish that were always so.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:44 PM 

2 Comments:

OpenID 7sigma said...

Yep, you've hit the nail on the head there. I have also been doing quite a bit of musing along these lines, as you will see from this blog entry: http://7sigma.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/finding-the-next-einstein/

Predictably, there are responses from a couple of teenage college kids who think that they've "made it" (or have at least done better for themselves than I ever did) because they are studying some science at university. Wait till they can't get a platform for some idea they've had, even with the benefit of a degree.

Recently, I decided not to pursue an opening from a guy in the neurotechnology business, even though this is exactly the field that interests me. I just decided that expensive suits, cosmetic dentistry and moving in high society circles are just not me, as it was clear what sort of "image" he wanted.

Yes, you could label this "low self esteem" or "low emotional intelligence", and perhaps this is how Joe Public perceives it. But for an extreme cognitive outlier (how's that for a less loaded term than "profoundly gifted"?), perhaps sincerity and being authentic are so essential to our core beingness that this whole celebrity/image thing just rankles too much for us to entertain it?

Food for thought.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. Those teenagers are likely to be surprised to learn how difficult it can be to get together an appropriate platform for their ideas. Indeed, they might be disheartened by it.

As for your neurotech opportunity...was there any way you could approach it with your own style, rather than the expensive suits, etc.? Could you not have done the work in your own way? If so, then it might be worth getting back to your contact and discussing that with him. I am just saying this because it is an opportunity in an area of your direct interest and something good could come of it.

Then again, if it were not possible to pursue the opportunity in your own way, I understand your desire to be authentic above all.

Good luck with whatever you decide to pursue in your life.

10:16 PM  

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