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 +

Friday, December 23, 2011

Supermemory in a child.

My spell check tells me that “Supermemory” is regarded as a neologism by Microsoft. Yet, it is an apt description of what I am to describe.

Six months ago, Ainan played the game Portal 2, with his brothers Fintan and Tiarnan. This is a spatial puzzle game, set in a future, technologically advanced world. They played it to completion over a few days. Six months later, Ainan made a joke referencing the game. I didn’t understand him. So, to explain to me what it meant, he decided to recount his entire experience of the game, from the beginning to the point in the game where his reference took place. This point was somewhere in the middle of the game.

Ainan began by explaining what happened in each room, he detailed the plot points for that room. He told me what one must do and how to do it to solve the puzzle in that room. He even recounted for me what was said by the characters in the room – and remarked on the humour in each joke. He went from room to room, in the game, puzzle to puzzle, solution to solution, joke to joke, quotation to quotation, telling me what the game experience was like. He spoke rapidly, as is his way. He described what each room looked like and remarked on the atmosphere. In a way, he was trying to convey the full experience o f the game – a very visual experience, in words.

Now, I didn’t have a watch on me, but it seemed to me that he took at least 20 minutes to describe the game, to the point in question, perhaps somewhat longer. I didn’t interrupt him, not because I was interested in the game, but because I was amazed at the detail of his recall of the game, six months after he had played it.

I listened to him, with a growing sense that what Ainan could do, was very special, if misapplied in this case. He could recall a computer game, one rich in words and image, in complete detail, half a year after he had played it. He recalled it in the correct order, to solve the overall problem that is the game. For me, it was a revelation just to listen to him and compare, in my own mind, how poorly the average person would be able to do the same task, so long after the experience.

A computer game is a trivial matter. Yet, the same ability to recall in detail, that Ainan has, can be applied to anything in life. This should serve him well. Anyone who can remember his lived experience in such detail, has a great advantage over the typical person. I only hope that he uses it for more meaningful ends, in the long run of his life, than recalling how he played a videogame!

Anyway, that he can do this with a computer game, does offer some insight into how he has been able to achieve so many academic feats, so young in his life. No doubt his heightened ability to learn and remember, is of much use to him there.

I am aware that, as I write, and try to describe the experience of listening to him recount his experience of the game, that how I felt, has not been captured by the words. My overall feeling was a combination of startlement and admiration. With the former feeling, rather oddly, growing as he spoke, in tandem with the latter. The oddest aspect of it, perhaps, is that I should have been startled at all, given how much I already know about Ainan. It is just that I really didn’t expect him to have noticed a computer game, enough, to be able to recount it in such a fashion – very few people would, I feel, be able to do such a thing. The other aspect which I have not really conveyed well, is the speed of his retelling of the was such that I had to pay very close attention to him, to be able to understand him at all. He leapt on each word, thought and memory, with such energy and vigour, that that alone would be enough to surprise most people. It made me smile a little to see him so – to see his passion, his interest and his love of this experience he had had. Clearly he had enjoyed it very much.

There was another aspect to his retelling which should be remarked upon – and that is Ainan’s unawareness that what he was doing was in any way unusual. He had no idea, that his detailed recall would be regarded as atypical. He spoke as if it were the most normal thing in the world. The thing is, it was – for him, but for no other.

When he got to the point in the story that allowed an understanding of the joke he had made, he came to a halt.

“Thank you Ainan.”, I said.

He smiled a little to himself. Perhaps, I had given him something by listening to him for the past 20 minutes, or half an hour. I had certainly given him what every parent should: patience. Not once did I interrupt him, or show signs of disinterest. I just listened, knowing that it was important for him that I did so. Yet, it was important for me, too, because it allowed me to witness another aspect of his intelligence, at work. It allowed me to come to understand him a bit better through this example of his mind at work.

The best way to come to know one’s children, is to listen to them. I did that, for him, that day...and learnt a lot more than his mere words related.

Thank you Ainan, for taking the time to explain to me, your thought.

Posted by Valentine Cawley.

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