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 +

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Genius, mortality and underachievement.

Every genius who ever lived was an underachiever. By this I mean, they died with so much more undone, that they could have done, than they ever managed to do. Such is the effect of mortality on genius. It cuts off life, before the fullness of what could have been.

So, when we look back on genius, we are not seeing people as they could have been, we are seeing them, incompletely. Thus, we will always judge them as less than they truly were. Genius is always greater than the record of their completed work supposes.

Imagine, if you will, what Leonardo da Vinci would be doing today, had he lived. If his life was measured in hundreds of years, his creativity would have poured on, in every area, and made a body of work so much greater than he ever had time to do, in his 67 years. Indeed, at the end of his life, it is recorded that Leonardo da Vinci rued how little he had done in his life, of his work. Clearly, he felt that there was much more within him, that he never managed to make manifest. So, our vision of Leonardo, great as it is, accords him to be much less than he truly was and would have become, had he immortality and could still be alive and working today.

Properly speaking, therefore, the body of work of a genius, is just a hint of what they could do, given the possibility of less limited time. Thus, if we are to properly judge a genius, we must imagine what could have been, from the hints of what was. Doing this for some more fecund or profound geniuses, leads us to conclude that they would have been very much greater indeed, had they simply more time in which to become and create.

I hope to see a day, in which genius has more time to live and create. Such a time, would be a great one indeed, for it would afford the possibility of true realization of the talents of the world’s geniuses. Until then, we must satisfy ourselves with the scraps they have the opportunity to create in their short, mortal lives. Until then, we must also learn not to measure a genius by what they did, but by what they could have done, too, had they more time in which to live. Geniuses die with so much more within them, unmade, and unsaid, than they ever had time to create. Let us credit them, with the greatness their potential uncreated works imply, and learn to see them as clues to what would have been, had they not been, like all humans, merely mortal.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:44 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know you're referring to mortality and the physical human lifespan, but until medical science can solve that one, there must be workarounds to maximise the output that can be achieved in an average lifespan by a person so blessed.

I'm going to be deeply unpopular for promoting this view, but I am coming around to the conclusion that to enable those of extraordinary creative and/or intellectual potential to do what they do best, they need to have their minds freed up from the mundania of everyday life. A person with the potential to contribute so much arguably shouldn't have to be worried about such things as being forced to give up the most productive part of their day to an employer just to pay the bills.

I'm not even going to address the question of who should be supported, and on what criteria. Let someone else hash out the details. Society can't have it all ways - they'd expect a Da Vinci to produce works of genius, but at the same time, they'd expect him to "live in the real world". Given that the human lifespan is finite, why should we expect geniuses to waste theirs on the minutiae of everyday living?

8:57 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is funny 7Sigma, that you should propose supporting geniuses in this way, because I have often thought that this is the way to go. Unfortunately, the modern world, in general, doesn't seem to understand this issue. Most people would call it "unfair" were a genius freed up to create, not having to "make a living"...whilst they, being ordinary, have to make a living. So, they would object to it. It would be, most probably, fairly strongly opposed, by some quarters. Even though everyone wants the blessings of the works of genius, a lot of people would begrudge them the freedom to do their work. It is really quite silly.

I have seen this phenomenon in my own life. A lot of my time has been wasted making a living which could have been put to better use - much better use. I have wasted huge chunks of time, just working to put food on the table. It is really rather silly, when my potential contributions are far greater in creative areas. I expect most creative people are in a similar position. It is all such a waste.

I wish you well on finding a means to free yourself to create, 7Sigma. You, as with all creative people, deserve it.

Best wishes.

7:09 AM  

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