Friday, March 11

Young + Brilliant, Blessed + Cursed

The Boston Globe chronicles the debacles of being young and gifted, and well, the accompanying pitfalls of it.
The word "prodigy" comes from the Latin prodigium, meaning omen or portent, a harbinger of change. It also means something that violates the natural order. History has been kind to some prodigies - think Mozart or Einstein. At the same time, society has been suspicious of eccentrics. Consider the contrasting fates of two prodigies from the early 20th century. Norbert Wiener entered Tufts University in 1906 at age 11 and went on to graduate studies at Harvard in 1909. That same year, a brilliant 11-year-old named William James Sidis also enrolled at Harvard. Wiener became the father of cybernetics. Sidis became a recluse who collected streetcar transfers. He died alone and disillusioned at the age of 46.
What contributes to such dramatically different outcomes? Certainly, American society doesn't lionize its young scholars the way it does its young athletes and, to some degree, its young artists. In the days of Wiener and Sidis, there were few resources for profoundly gifted children, who were often isolated in a world that didn't understand them. Some were declared geniuses and pushed into the limelight, where, depending on their temperament, they either floundered or thrived.

Off the top of my head, all the kid geniuses that come to mind are most often fractured individuals. I think of that quiz kid in Magnolia, and somehow, you'd want to thank that Promil wasn't around then when I was a kid.

Just ranting. Am partly listening to a lecture and my mind is up in the clouds from lack of sleep.

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