Re: Eight-year-old physics genius enters university

From: Jeff Medina (
Date: Sun Nov 06 2005 - 15:31:27 MST

The combination of extreme memorization skills Yoo-geun SONG clearly
has and the article's comment that the father spoke to the reporter in
place of (rather than in addition to) Yoo-geun because "[he] is
lacking in his ability to communicate with adults" implies he may be
autistic, Asperger's, or similarly 'disabled.'

While I don't look down on that mode of being or seek to 'cure' those
who are diagnosed and *don't wish* to be cured, history bears out the
fact that most arithmetical and eidetic child prodigies end up losing
their special talent as they become adults, going insane (some form of
extreme anti-social behavior leading to withdrawal from societal
interaction and hence contribution), and/or retaining the eidetic &
arithmetic abilities but lacking the ability to do anything useful
with them (not seeing the big picture, as it were; think "Rain Man"
for a Hollywood/nearest-approximation example).

So I, like most people, hope he turns out all right and also that he
might contribute something especially useful to our understanding of
the world. But I don't have a high expectation of this occurring.

Regarding flying cars and string theory, as mentioned below:
> The claim of a connection between flying cars and string theory is
> indeed quite silly.

I've read a bit about string theory, but I can't say I understand it
well enough to refute a potential application to flying cars. I agree
"flying cars" is an unfortunate, short-sighted scope for something as
amazing as the potential applications of a unified theory, but to call
it silly to suggest a connection seems unjustified. Maybe you know
significantly more about string theory than I'd thought you did.

A second reason for not dismissing the potential connection is the
fact that the father is still talking about it even after it has
surely been brought up around various physics professors. It might be
expected that physics professors looking for a prodigy would be
disappointed by and have rather lower expectations of a potential
physics prodigy whose main interest was blatant silliness to
professional physicists. If so, then the boy being recruited by all
the top science departments in Korea becomes less likely. Still
possible, but less likely.

My point in commenting on this flying car tangent is not to get a
discussion on string theory & flying cars going, nor even to convince
people a connection is plausible (I really couldn't say); it is
instead to use this as an example to emphasize the general point that
we should none of us be so quick to judge hypotheses involving fields
in which we are not especially qualified, and especially when the line
of reasoning leading to the hypothesis in question is not proffered.

Jeff Medina
Community Director
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
Relationships & Community Fellow
Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies
School of Philosophy, Birkbeck, University of London

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