Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Prodigies and their futures / News / Boston Globe / Magazine

An interesting article on the prodigy and their outcomes.

I was never a prodigy, but I knew a few in my undergrad days. Those I knew were more or less like most bright people, but they could learn just about anything with astounding speed. A typical trait would be to goof off throughout much of a semester, then cover the course material in the last two weeks and finish with an excellent grade. They didn't necessarily have exceptional ideas or insights (though they did ok!); there doesn't seem to be a strong correlation between unusual creativity and being a prodigy. Reading between the lines in this article, it seems some of the pressure prodigies experience is caused by the false beliefs of parents, teachers and the children themselves that their extraordinary ability to learn also implies an extraordinary ability to create. If they turn out to be only as creative as other very bright people, they may feel as though they've failed. The children mentioned in the article also seemed to have somewhat intense parents.

Lastly they all seem to feel a frustrated obligation to try to fix the world. Hmm. I'm neither a genius nor a prodigy, but that I can understand.

One of the curiosities of a prodigy's life is that while they start out immensely far ahead of their peers, but by their twenties they start to slide into the 99% percentile rather than the 99.999%. To them that can feel like a big drop. A prodigy seems to be a mixture of both genius and accelerated maturation of the brain; by adulthood they lose the maturational advantage but may continue to be a genius.

Of course genius (based on IQ) doesn't translate to "success" (fame, wealth, offspring, sex - whatever) either. Glorious success is a funnny thing, a mixture of talent, luck, perseverance, and inclination. IQ helps with the talent part, but learning ability is only a portion of a quarter of the "success equation". If IQ alone is less than 1/8th of the "success equation", then it's no surprise that most of the adult prodigies are not "successful" on a national stage. Of course an enhanced ability to analyze and understand the world may also limit one's desire to sell body and soul in the pursuit of fame and power.

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