Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Prodigy (Sidis Part Three)

Back in 1988, Adragon DeMello was big news in the IQ societies. A math wizard graduating from a university in the California system at age 11, his father was looking for a graduate school which would accept him. It didn't go well from there. He had just scraped by to get the degree, it later was revealed, no graduate school would touch him, his parents fought over custody, and eventually a SWAT team had to pull him from his father's house. He then went to junior high school under another name and "got his childhood back." Watching that story unfold is perhaps why I am so suspicious of Boris Sidis.

Opinions were all over the map in the newsletters. Some were angry that graduate schools could be so blinkered as to not accept a genius just because it didn't fit their norm. Others were worried about the emotional impact on the boy, wondering if this father were pushing him too much (he was). A third group wondered if it were all quite true. In that pool of people, many of whom had been prodigies themselves, the claims seemed just a bit too far. I was well out of my league in that. I had thought I might lay some claim to significant precocity before joining a few of those groups, but quickly had that theory slapped down. There, more than anywhere, I learned that there is always a faster gun. In many cases, much faster.

Only one person I recall asked why there seemed to be an assumption that the highest IQ's must also be early bloomers, precocities of the highest order. He had not seemed more than above-average as a child, even to himself, and challenged the assumption that genius had to show at young, even ridiculously young, ages. I don't know why that didn't impress me more then. I barely considered it. It didn't fit my narrative, I suppose. But I have come to regard it as an excellent point. IQ is fairly stable over time, but the sample set is too small to see if that correlation is as strong at the extremes as it is in the middle ranges. We simply don't know.

We tend to expect that musical and mathematical, and related types like chess geniuses must have been prodigies. Often they were. But I don't know if we should consider that the only possible narrative. We don't have the same expectation for writers, artists, or philosophers.

1 comment:

karrde said...

When it comes to child prodigies who were known geniuses in their field, the result almost always boils down a few exceptional cases.

Of the many geniuses in the field of math, a handful were known to be child prodigies. (The first that come to mind are Gauss and Pascal.)

Similarly for classical music. (From the big names, Beethoven and Mozart.)

Yet the list of giants in these fields include dozens, possibly hundreds, who had no noteworthy achievements before adulthood.

People remember the child prodigies because they are rare and memorable.

If you are arguing that high IQ does not correlate with child prodigy, I would say that this is corroborating evidence.