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 +

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The relativity of ability.

As long term readers will know, Ainan has an unusual perspective on himself, one that, perhaps, others would not agree with.

A week or two ago, I remarked to Ainan:

“Your ability has been growing in recent months...” I spoke softly and without any undue emphasis.

“No it hasn’t!”, he said most firmly. “I am not getting any better, it is just that the tasks are getting easier.”

I didn’t wish to argue with him, so I maintained my silence. I had seen versions of this attitude and belief before in Ainan. He refuses to believe that his intellect is growing. He sees himself as ever the same. If he gets better at a variety of task, he blames the task for somehow getting easier, rather than acknowledge that he is getting better, or growing in any way.

I know why Ainan believes this. It is a defence in him, against the notion that he is in any way unusual. Ainan wishes to preserve the belief – which he holds – that his way of being is the norm – anything that deviates from him, is not. For Ainan, the intellectual standard, for “ordinary”, for a 12 year old, is his own level. That is how he wishes to see the world and his place in it. Thus, the idea that he might be growing or developing noticeably, threatens that stable world view – so he rejects it. For him, it is the tasks which change, not him.

This puts me in a dilemma. Should I try to get him to see his true place in the world, in relation to others – or should I leave him be, to preserve his illusion of “everdayness”, which he so wants to preserve? For now, I have left him with his view that it is the world that is getting easier to deal with, than that, he is growing more capable in doing so. I will have to deliberate though, in future, whether this is the right thing to do, in the long term.

This year I have seen an efflorescence of Ainan’s mind. He has taken to music, taught himself the piano, overnight, it seemed, and is now composing music. He plays it most days, quite beautifully. He is also growing as a writer and a mathematician. His mind seems to be expanding again, with a marked velocity. Yet, Ainan does not wish to see it. For him, all is static within – it is the world which changes without.
I have left him to his worldview and did not stress him by taking an opposite stance. I will just have to enjoy his mental renaissance, in silence, savouring it for myself without any overt remarks to draw attention to it. 

Whether Ainan likes it or not, he is growing – and it is enough for me to observe this. I don’t need to convince Ainan of it.

Grow on, Ainan! Or should I say: shrink world!

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:01 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr.valentine i saw your interview on channel9 and you look remarkably similar to orson wells!

Anyway you said: This puts me in a dilemma. Should I try to get him to see his true place in the world, in relation to others – or should I leave him be, to preserve his illusion of “everdayness”, which he so wants to preserve?

Overconfidence is blinding, so is conceited pride. Humility is better in terms of performance, or a balance between confidence and self-doubt, which i dont have a magic formula of. Theres even an effect called overconfidence effect, and many studies have shown for simple decision making tasks, it measurably affects performance and correctness. In my own experience with mental test performances, when i am overconfident about my result in a strict task, for example memory recall, i will performance generally(>70%) worse than if i am not overconfident.

Lets keep things in perspective, because of past and future luminaries. May i add 3 that who are not as famous:
Ettiene majorana, James critchon and Pierre Wantzel. In relation to other people currently living, lets not forget Grothendieck is still alive. Some comparable prodigies would be sho yano, terence tao, jacob barnett, erik demaine, march boedihardjo, and a few others. School tests achievement is similar but not exactly the same as real scientific achievement that brings real progress to mankind, and along with insight, memory, a slight masochistic toughness for failure, patience, and plain hard work will be of a different order compared to the school/university tests. The first fruits being his paper on synesthesia is a promising start. Lets see what the future holds for him. Cheers

1:57 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your comparison of me to Orson Wells...a surprising number of people have started to say this in recent months, so I can only assume that there is truth in it. He, like me, is of Irish descent, I we probably share quite a few genes.

I have been thinking. You are probably right that his "humility" could be helpful. It certainly beats excessive egoism, as some are prone to. For now, I shall leave him be to his own self-view.

I am aware and agree that school achievement and real scientific achievement (or other creative achievement for that matter) are different issues. I think whether one leads to the other is down to personal choice, interest and personality factors. These are so variable from person to person that it is difficult to predict the outcome.

However, you are right to note Ainan's first paper. There are other creative achievements brewing, behind the scenes which should come to light in the next year or so. Keep posted!

Thanks for your thoughts.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hmm...Orson Welles, I meant. Oops.

9:51 PM  

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