RE: The ways of child prodigies

From: mike99 (
Date: Tue Nov 08 2005 - 16:40:30 MST

I appreciate your willingness to describe your own experiences. Not being
any kind of genius myself, I found your self-report to be both fascinating
and illuminating.

When I was an undergraduate at New College in Florida, one of my fellow
students was a 12-year-old "boy genius." I don't want to reveal his name
because he has always avoided publicity, refusing press interviews and so

In a student body of fewer than 500, he stood out wherever he went. I won't
say too much about his social skills except to say that I and others I spoke
too all had the disconcerting feeling of never actually interacting with him
but rather being "observed" by him.

Here's just one example: I was playing pinball in the student union
building. He came up and stood next to the machine on its long side (that
is, neither next to nor behind me). As I played the silver ball, using the
flippers and gently nudging the machine in order to influence the ball's
trajectory, he gave occasional light pushes to the pinball machine. As soon
as I noticed him doing this, I asked him politely to stop.

He didn't. Finally, exasperated, I said "Do you want to play a ball?" He
declined. But he continued to mess with my game. That did it. I took him by
the shoulders and moved him into the playing position. "If you want to play,
then play" I said. Reluctantly, he played one ball which quickly "drained"
down the center. Then he walked away and never bothered me again.

He graduated at 16 and went to Caltech where he was to be a math TA while
working on his degree in physics. After earning his PhD, he turned his
attention away from bleeding edge research and went into public policy work.
That amazed me! I had hoped that he might at least find the proverbial "big
problem" that you mentioned and then make a major contribution. Somehow,
advising politicians on the public policy implications of science does not
fit my concept of a really big problem.


Michael LaTorra

"For any man to abdicate an interest in science is to walk with open eyes
towards slavery."
-- Jacob Bronowski

"Experiences only look special from the inside of the system."
-- Eugen Leitl

Board of Directors, World Transhumanist Association:
Board of Directors, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies:
Extropy Institute:
Alcor Life Extension Foundation:
Society for Universal Immortalism:
President, Zen Center of Las Cruces:

> -----Original Message-----
> From: []On Behalf Of Eliezer
> S. Yudkowsky
> Sent: Monday, November 07, 2005 10:13 AM
> To:
> Subject: The ways of child prodigies
> If I might offer something of an inside view on all this...

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