Re: Eight-year-old physics genius enters university

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Sun Nov 06 2005 - 13:44:40 MST

On 11/6/05, Chris Capel <> wrote:
> On 11/6/05, Michael Anissimov <> wrote:
> > How much longer will it be before he starts making concrete
> > contributions to science, I wonder?
> It'll be interesting to see. Let's hope he's able to remain mentally stable.

Mental health can probably be maintained as long as he is sheltered
within an environment matching his particular abilities and

Regarding scientific contributions, I see a significant probability of
some novel but narrow insights, but probable disappointment in the
context of general and practical applicability to real-world problems.

While I don't doubt he's a prodigy, this story reeks of
publicity-enhancement. The claim that he qualified for university by
being able to recite an explanation of Shroedinger's equation is quite
shallow and says nothing about all the associated understanding that
would normally be expected. The gee-whiz claim that he's thinking
about flying cars in connection with string theory says more about the
child-like nature of his thoughts than about any kind of special
insight, and the statement that his father speaks for him because he
has not yet learned to communicate properly to adults using Korean
social norms hints strongly about the uneven nature of his education
and understanding.

What I find most significant about this and similar situations is that
the popular conception of "intelligence" does not include its extreme
dependence on context. If intelligence is understood in terms of the
capability of an agent to predict changes and thus respond effectively
to its environment, then any isolation from the environment has the
effect of reducing its effective intelligence in that broader context.
 For a system within a co-evolutionary environent, the mismatch
becomes progressively worse.

I hope that Yoo-geun gets the benefit of a special environment in
which he can flourish and contribute to the diversity of thinking that
promotes our growth, while not being hampered with the popular
assumption that he sees more of the big picture than do others.

- Jef

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