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, January 15, 2012

Arfa Karim Randhawa, child prodigy, dies.

Arfa Karim Randhawa, a Pakistani child prodigy known for being the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional, has died aged just 16 years old. Without warning, on the 22nd December, she suffered a severe epileptic fit and fell into a coma. On December 29th, her doctors said there was no possibility of survival. They proved right. She died yesterday, despite showing seeming signs of improvement in the previous days.

Remarkably, perhaps, prayers were said for her by the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and a number of other government officials commented on her demise, including the Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani. Her passing has occasioned a degree of national grieving, with public figures, such as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief, Altaf Hussain saying that Pakistan had lost a “precious talent”.

Arfa Karim Randhawa’s passing, before she could fulfil the life of promise that seems to have been hers, by birthright, is a harsh reminder of how fragile we all are and how suddenly life can come to an end, when we least expect it. Yet, there is also something of note about Arfa Karim’s passing: that anyone noticed or cared. I am sure that other 16 year olds in Pakistan were busy dying on Saturday, doubt many did so – but the world simply neither cared nor noticed. It is Arfa Karim’s prodigiousness, her early show of talent, that brought her to the attention of Pakistan and the wider world. This explains an observation many have made: that child prodigies seem to die younger than other categories of exemplary people. I have often seen searches for this, arriving on my blog. Well, it is time, perhaps, to explain this seeming phenomenon. It is not what it appears. I don’t believe that child prodigies are fated to die young. It is just that when they do die young, people notice. I am sure that they die young no more frequently than any other type of person dies young. Being prodigious does not portend a short life. It portends the possibility of an unusually productive life, if the prodigy is given the right opportunities. Early death is not part of the seemingly Faustian pact. Arfa Karim Randhawa has died very young. We notice her death, because of her early achievement in computing. Had she lived an ordinary life, with ordinary achievements, no-one, but her family and friends, would have noticed her death. We would not then say that, “Non-prodigious children die young”. In just the same way, we cannot say: “Prodigious children die young”. They don’t. It is just that because of their early fame, they are noticed in a way that other early deaths are not. Of all categories of achievers, child prodigies come to notice earliest. Thus, the early deaths among them are noticed, which drags the average age of death down, for child prodigies. In other categories of achiever, early deaths mean they are not noticed or counted in for consideration: they are invisible, so they don’t bring the mean age at death, down.

Thus, although Arfa Karim Randhawa’s passing is very sad for those who knew her and, it seems, even for Pakistan, itself, it should not be seen as evidence that child prodigies die young. I am certain that they are, in truth, no more likely to die young, than is anyone else.

My condolences to Arfa Karim Randhawa’s family and friends. May she rest in peace.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 4:09 PM 


Blogger Adelaide Dupont said...


Yes, it is true, that we notice when prodigies die, in a way we might not notice when people of the same age or who are older with the same level of achievement.

Arfa Karim was a very clever young lady. I had not heard of her at the time she became a Microsoft Certified Professional.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, she was a bright girl who now, sadly, will never achieve her promise. However, she did inspire her nation so she achieved something with her short life.

I do hope though, that the legend that prodigies die young can be laid to rest. It is simply a product of our selective attention towards them. It is not a real phenomenon.

Best wishes to you.

6:27 PM  

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