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 18, 2012

The secret of being good at Science.

Ainan is becoming pithy in his remarks, these days. He has a growing tendency to summarize his thought, in catchy sentences. I see this as an emergent writer, in him, expressing his customary thoughts, in more elegant ways.

A couple of weeks ago, he observed to me:

“In science, the answer is easy, it is the question that is hard.”

I thought this both truthful and well-expressed, for it embodied one of the secrets of being a good scientist: the truly rare ability is not to be able to answer questions put to you, but to be able to ask questions no-one else had thought of doing so. In short, Ainan was noting that the real genius of science, is in the question. Relatively few people understand this. In popular culture it is the kid who has all the answers, who is revered as a “genius”. What they don’t realize is that the real genius is the kid who asks questions no-one else had thought of.

I like the way Ainan is developing. In his early days it did seem that he might end up very focussed on one thing: Chemistry. I thought, at the time, that that would be rather limiting. Yet, now, it seems, he is developing more in the model of my own life: growing in many areas, at once and becoming distinctly multi-talented. This is much more healthy I feel. It will also give him many more options, in life, for what he might choose to do, professionally. I think this is likelier to lead to personal fulfilment, than only have one area to “choose” from.

Ainan’s remark calls to mind when he was between four and six. In this time, he was filled with questions – sometimes unanswerable ones. For me, this avalanche of insightful questions was an irrefutable indicator that a very special thinker was growing behind his curious eyes. As Ainan himself has now noted, it was his QUESTIONS, that I found most startling, not the fact that he was able to answer those put to him. Each question is a creative act, for it involves looking at the world and finding something missing: understanding of some aspect, or phenomenon. To ask the right questions, first one must be able to see the world as it is and note what cannot be immediately explained within common knowledge. In so doing, one finds questions that others had overlooked. Yet, the foundation of this is first to see the world truly as it is and not as it is supposed to be – and that is an art many never master. Perhaps some children are inherently good at it, not yet having been indoctrinated into a particular world view and so more able to see what is truly there and, therefore, to wonder about it, as it is and ask why it should be.

Perhaps to make a good scientist, one just has to preserve the child within and see all as it is, and not as common culture wishes it to be seen.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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