Re: Eight-year-old physics genius enters university

From: justin corwin (
Date: Sun Nov 06 2005 - 16:10:18 MST

On 11/6/05, Jeff Medina <> wrote:
> 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).

I would be very interested in substantiation of this trend. In my
experience, the prodigies I'm familiar with tend to contribute as much
or more than more traditionally late flowering scientists. They also
tend to be prolific, ranging from highly specialized to generalistic,
and sometimes their later fame even eclipses the fact that they were
once childhood prodigies.

I believe that this 'fact' of childhood prodigies retreating, or not
contributing is due to the rather unfortunate public attitude towards
a group of prodigies in america early this century. These included
Norbert Wiener(Tufts College, at age 11) and William Sidis (also age
11, Harvard). In a series of public articles that can only be
described as trasitioning from breathless hyperbole to disparaging
libel, magazines and newspapers followed Sidis in particular, harping
on his decision to withdraw from his teaching position under great
public pressure, and eventually resign from public mathematical

Both Wiener and Sidis are thought of as crazy people. Even the
normally NPOV Wikipedia describes Wiener as the 'prototype' of
absentminded academic later in life, and includes a particularly
pointless Anecdotes section, which repeats apocryphal stories about
Wiener's inability to deal with every day life.

Looking at the historical evidence, both Wiener and Sidis were
relatively prolific scientists, Sidis doing well in mathematics, and
after retiring, writing quite a few books under psuedonyms, on
anthropology, linguistic studies of native american culture and
language, cosmology (in one of the few books he published under his
own name, he predicted something very similar to a black hole in

A savage series of newspaper articles doesn't make someone crazy. And
other than these few famous prodigies who withdrew from their original
field of study (another example would be Stephen Wolfram), many
remained, plugging steadily away.

Thankfully, fame as a prodigy doesn't seem to stick. And fame as a
scientist.. well, that's pretty unusual anyway.

> 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.

I'm amused that this is getting as much comment as it has, and in this
direction. What's wrong with flying cars?

First, if his father is talking about this, it's entirely possible
that it's his father's interpretation of one of his ideas. An
explanatory example for very compact power generation, or assymetrical
gravity fields or whatever.

Second, a viable design for such a device is a perfectly valid reason
for pursuing science. To me, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are very
valid scientific heroes. They changed the world, they contributed to
science. Sure they're 'mere' engineers, and were motivated by the
desire to make cool things (and a lot of money). But I'm a mere
engineer, I want to build an intelligent machine, and I was very
uninterested in many fields of math and science on their own with
which I am now familiar.

It's just a little strange how little charity we seem to extend to
this boy. Obviously he's going to want his father to speak to the many
reporters who want to prod at him. Even if he were perfect at
addressing elders, it would be hard for an 8 year old to get respect.
Obviously he hasn't had the time to come up with original science yet.
Obviously he's going to want to do cool things(like flying cars and

It's not like the base population of 8 year olds is so mentally stable
and protected that he is in any obvious elevated risk. Personally I'd
be more worried about someone with equivalent g factor in some hell
public school, and no interested homeschooling parents.

Justin Corwin

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