May 20, 2015

"But the skill of being a child prodigy is qualitatively different from the 'skill' of being a creative genius."

"Child prodigies master an adult domain that has already been invented – whether it is perspective drawing, mathematics, chess, tennis or music. On the other hand, adults we classify as creative geniuses are individuals who have invented or discovered something new, something that changes their domain. Countless child prodigies lose interest in their area of talent and drop out; others become experts in their area as adults. Only a tiny few become creative adult
geniuses."

Writes psych prof Ellen Winner who studies the cognition of gifted children in the arts. Hers is one of 6 essays on the topic "The Benefits and Pressures of Being a Young Genius/Is being a child prodigy more of a blessing or a curse?" The topic arose out of the recent attention to the 11-year-old jazz pianist Joey Alexander. Here's the NYT article about him, which we discussed a week ago here.

26 comments:

John Lynch said...

Very few child n9n-prodigirs become creative geniuses.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to me how we always see the "rich" kids who were born with a "silver spoon" in their mouth have an "unfair" advantage in life. Somehow, those children must be punished. The government will tax the rich parents when they die to keep them from passing on their wealth to their fortunate and lucky children.

But when it comes to talent, no one complains. No one says, "Why does that dancer get to go to that dance school and I don't?" because we all know that dancer is talented. That violinist or pianist is talented. Even if they were born with the talent, we nod our head and feel right about their position at some elite school.

But if a rich kids parent buys their way into Harvard, that's somehow wrong.

rehajm said...

Univerasl truth: One day you cease to be a prodigy.

Earnest Prole said...

It’s a useful observation: prodigies are rarely geniuses. It does not follow (as the article implies) that recognition as a prodigy thwarts genius. Genius begets itself: that’s its very meaning.

John Scott said...

Kinda works the same way with gender :-)

Gabriel said...

It's not enough to say that's rare for a prodigy to become a genius: as John Lynch points out it is also rare for a non-prodigy to become a genius.

The question is how do the rates differ.

Aussie Pundit said...

It's a distinction without a difference.

Mozart was a child prodigy, and was celebrated as one at the time.
So was Einstein, mastered algebra by age 12, and spent a childhood summer finding proofs for the Pythagorean theorem.

Brilliant children often become brilliant adults; and the way they express their brilliance while in childhood is by excelling at things.

Creative genius is a luxury enjoyed by those who have mastered a skill. (as both Einstein and Mozart later showed as adults).

And honestly, if Andre Agassi is their best example against prodigies the case is pretty weak.

Sebastian said...

Partly depends on what you mean by genius.

Mark Kac: "There are two kinds of geniuses: the ‘ordinary’ and the ‘magicians.’"

In well-structured fields, children can be ordinary geniuses.

Creative genius in the writer's sense is closer to what Kac means by magicians.

Some prodigies are magicians, but transforming fields or inventing new problems often takes a little more time.

Prodigy "skills" may be "qualitatively different" from the elements of genius, but the former can feed the latter and (sometimes) may be related at a deep level. Classic cases: Mozart, Feynman, etc.

furious_a said...

Univerasl truth: One day you cease to be a prodigy.

Unless one dies young (Mozart).

CStanley said...

If a child was a creative genius, I doubt that adults would take him or her seriously. So how do we know that there aren't a bunch of those kinds of child prodigies around, but their parents and teachers are going, "stop all of that doodling and do your homework problems!"

Anonymous said...

@ eric: you should read Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron", where a talented dancer is forced to wear weights on his ankles to dampen his soaring leaps.

Written more than 60 years ago, Vonnegut foresaw the say when someone would complain about the "unfairness" of talent.

Hard truth: the totalitarians are everywhere, and seek to "level" everything and everyone.

Aussie Pundit said...

You have to master a field in order to transform it. Creative geniuses don't just drop out of the sky.

Oh and while I think of it, another child prodigy: Pablo Picasso. He was so good that his father, a professional artist, quit in despair at ever being as good as his son.

Bob Boyd said...

So Laslo is a genius if he's making it all up or a prodigy if he's not.

Alex said...

Mozart was a child prodigy that became an adult creative genius. He literally invented the piano concerto the way we understand it today.

Freeman Hunt said...

I would think the main curse would be certain adults feeling a compulsion to push you all the time. If people think a person is a prodigy, they start comparing the person to other prodigies, and if other prodigies can do something, why not this prodigy too? For some adults, I think instructing a prodigy is like driving an exotic car; it's hard to resist testing the limits.

Drago said...

Madisonians can be rightly excited over the prospect of so many young and gifted guys and gals there who so recently protested the demise of one of their own.

One can scarcely wait for all the brilliance that is likely to burst out at any moment. Probably in the form of fantastic science and technology breakthroughs!

....as well as few papers emanating from one of the local Schools of (insert special group name here)-Studies.

Shootist said...

@ rehajm said. "Univerasl truth: One day you cease to be a prodigy."

At 91, Freeman Dyson is still a prodigy and a creative genius. And then there is the matter of Feynman.

Laslo Spatula said...

It all depends on what your prodigiousness is. Sometimes the talent where you are prodigious gets you labeled a pervert.

An amazingly intuitive, insightful pervert.

You can't expect most people to understand.


I am Laslo.

Anonymous said...

The big difference with Mozart is that he was a prodigy at composition as well as performance. As I understand it, J Alexander is a prodigy as a performer.

Titus said...

OK, my new Airplane thing from Bushwick, and I, just had phone sex.

We decided I should cum there on Saturday to do it.

I rented a cute loft in Bushwick from Airbnb.

I am concerned though.

I am afraid he lives in a dump and is po.

So I decided on dindin next to my loft and then just sex....maybe, hopefully. I would like to explore his tats along the side of his torso in more depth. I will have time to get to Ptown on Sunday and meet friends for T Dance at the Pied.

I am still excited by the fact that I had nooky on a plane-that was one of my bucket list items. In the past I have met other passengers on a plane and did them later, but never actually on the plane.

The hubby has to fly to London.

Wish me luck!

Heading to Bushwhacky on Saturday!

tits.

Titus said...

I have made reservations for 8:00 at Mominette which is supposed to be white hot.

William said...

You've got a better chance to become a creative genius if you're a prodigy than if you ride the short bus......Some talents are their own reward. Music, dance, athletics. If you can find the handle in one of those fields at an early age, you've put up some preserves that will last you through the winter.....Suppose you play in the Little League World Series and never play professionally. You're still way ahead of the kid who spent his childhood fumbling grounders.

Smilin' Jack said...

Countless child prodigies lose interest in their area of talent and drop out; others become experts in their area as adults. Only a tiny few become creative adult geniuses

And for them the cost is usually high. We know what happened to Bobby Fischer. And as far as is known, Isaac Newton, probably the greatest prodigy of all time, never had an actual friend, much less a lover, in his entire life.

Aussie Pundit said...

And as far as is known, Isaac Newton, probably the greatest prodigy of all time, never had an actual friend, much less a lover, in his entire life.

That's the cost of autism, not prodigiousness.

Autistic kids make up a disproportionate amount of child prodigies; it's one reason for the hate.

Unknown said...

Enjoy getting raped, Titus. If he lets you live, come on back and tell us what you learned. Try and show him a good time and whatever you do, DON'T SAY NO!

Zach said...

Not many of the people mentioned in this thread qualify as child prodigies.

Feynman, Newton, Dyson -- none of them were well known before their thirties. They were smart as children, but they were basically on the normal gifted track. They just kept getting better after their contemporaries plateaued.