Prodigy Myths Autism and History

Prodigy Myths Autism and History

Larry Neal Gowdy

Copyright ©2013-2021 - updated February 12, 2021

In my hands is the April 1977 issue of American Psychologist (AP), a publication of The American Psychological Association, Inc. (APA). The importance of this particular series of AP is that it includes the infamous article William James Sidis, The Broken Twig that became a primary source of much of today's negative myths about William Sidis and prodigies in general.

If the APA is the voice of psychology — specifically that of knowing the detrimental effects of negativity upon the user as well as upon the victim and society itself — then why did the APA allow The Broken Twig to be published? The article's negativity has stirred strife among millions of people for almost thirty-six years, and the negative effect that the article has had upon society simply would not have occurred if the American Psychological Association's standards of behavior were in agreement with psychology itself.

An interesting observation in the April 1977 AP journal is that the sentence structuring of The Broken Twig appears to me to be of a different rhythm and system of phrasing than that of other articles written by the same author in other journals, and yet The Broken Twig wording very closely matches the rhythm and system of phrasing within another article in the AP that was credited to a different author from the same John Hopkins University. I have not yet invested the time to empirically verify all of the variables, but on the surface it appeared to suggest to me that The Broken Twig may have been (1) a joint effort of two or more authors, (2) or perhaps loosely plagiarized, (3) the wording may have been overly influenced by a professor's choice of English, or (4) the article was edited and rewritten by an individual who also wrote or edited other AP articles. Is there deceit in the article's authorship? I don't know; but until I have firm evidence I will not say yes or no.

The history of the history of William Sidis is replete with deceit, plagiarisms, hearsay, inventions, myths, and negativity by the non-prodigy authors, and there is no substantial reason to not be suspicious of all mainstream articles that speak of William Sidis and prodigies.

On page 581 of the August 1974 issue of AP, the article "Albert, Peter, and John B. Watson" by Mary Cover Jones states that John Watson proposed "that there were three basic emotions present at birth — fear, rage, and love — that were called out by specific but limited stimuli." I myself am not a scholar of nor a past student of John Watson, and so I will not claim to know anything about the man beyond that of his name being popularly associated with the school of behaviorism, plus the report that Watson received a gold medal from the APA for his contributions to psychology.

The importance of Jones' article — if Watson did indeed state what was claimed — is that it helps to illustrate the same line of reasoning that has plagued western science: too often the 'scientists' simply make stuff up and then claim that their inventions are true science. If Watson had known what fear, rage, and love are then he would not have made such an outrageously unlearned claim, and too, if Watson had held a depth of conscious self-reflection then he would have known that it was impossible for him or anyone else to know what a newborn child might be feeling or thinking. Watson's theories were as invalid as William James' many invented claims of psychology and religions in his 1902 The Varieties of Religious Experience.

To experience fear, the individual must first have had time to develop memories of past events that caused physical and/or mental pain and discomfort. Emotions do not magically appear from nowhere, nor do past memories magically appear fully developed without there having been firsthand experiences. If a newborn infant can experience fear, then the infant developed memories prior to birth. Many people believe in the popular myth that infants are born mindless (tabula rasa — blank slate — as Ayn Rand stated in her philosophy of Objectivism), and yet the same individuals also believe that the newborn infant can feel fear. The contradiction begs to be exploited to the furthest of boorish terms, but the other contradictions of rage and love are no less vacuous of reason.

Love — regardless of the type of love being spoken about — is a complex emotional construct that is composed of numerous simultaneous mental and physical states that — like fear — require firsthand external sensorial experiences, memories, self-referencing internal sensorial experiences, and logic (whether conscious or subconscious). It is quite impossible for an infant to be born with a physical or mental love for anything but itself and perhaps a portion of its immediate environment (dependent on the mother's own acuity of sensorial, emotional, and mental states). If a child can be born with a love for things or people not before seen or perceived, then the love developed through a different source, which in this case might imply an eternal soul, and if that were true then most all of psychology and science is moot anyway.

To know fear it is first necessary to experience a sensation — usually that of an intense sensory perception — that exceeds the environment's norm. The first experience cannot be fear, but rather it can only be an experience that startles the senses by the sensation's intensity. Only after the mind has placed the sensory experience into memory can the mind then mentally experience the anticipation of a repeated sensory experience; it is the anticipation that is deemed to be fear. Being sensorially startled is not fear, and of the numerous other variables within an act of sensorial perception are none capable of being classified as fear.

Similar to love and fear, rage also requires memories as well as the reasoning required to react to a sensorially sensed situation that conflicts with one's own beliefs and standards. The question here is to ask what beliefs and standards might be held by an unborn child. A newborn infant might exhibit intense crying accompanied with physical tremors, and one adult might interpret the behavior as rage, while another adult might interpret the behavior as pain, and yet the infant itself may merely be reacting to something as innocuous as hunger, cold, or growth development while the child has no conscious awareness of the reaction. Without a conscious awareness of one's actions, the behavior cannot be deemed to be rage.

According to Watson's theory newborn infants "at birth" are somehow able to express a multitude of complex logically-derived and self-created emotions that are structured upon post-natal adult-like experiences that normally require years and decades to develop. Perhaps the primary problem in Watson's theory — and in most all other similar theories of perinatal psychology — is that the theories are formed from an adult's interpretation as well as by adults who themselves have no memories of their own early experiences, and thus the theories are simply inventions that have no grounding.

Today the same manner of James' and Watson's inventions is still found in psychology articles as well as the public's interpretation of prodigies. The July 6, 2012 Psychology Today article Are Prodigies Autistic? states: "…both the first-degree families of individuals with autism and the first-degree families of prodigies in her sample displayed three out of five common traits of autism: impaired social skills, impaired ability to switch attention, and heightened attention to detail."

Similar to The Broken Twig, the Are Prodigies Autistic? article attempts to negatively paint prodigies as having mental dysfunctions, and worse, the article implants the idea that "heightened attention to detail" is an unfavorable trait. It is obvious that for an individual to create such an unlearned claim the person him/herself must also admit to having a lowered attention to detail, which renders the article and all of its alleged findings incomplete and useless due to the researchers and authors themselves admitting that they possess no capacity to discern details about the article's very topic.

The accuracy of shooting a rocket with the Curiosity rover 350,000,000(+-) miles to Mars (about 60,000,000 miles as the crow flies) and landing within about 8,000 feet of the target is remarkable, and more accurate than some gun shooters standing within 60 feet of their target here on Earth. If "heightened attention to detail" is symptomatic of autism, then everyone at NASA is autistic.

Nevertheless, the Are Prodigies Autistic? article's conclusions should be interpreted upon the same scale as what the researchers and authors intended; that of judging prodigious talents from the view of average individuals who themselves have none of the talents being discussed. Similar to Watson believing that a newborn child should exhibit the same emotions and thoughts as adults, so do most prodigy books and articles assume that prodigies should exhibit the same emotions and thoughts as average people.

One symptom of autism is said to be an individual's failure to read facial and body expressions. If politicians are elected by popular vote, if crooks frequently swindle victims, and if fraud televangelists remain on television, then the majority of humans must be autistic.

Another symptom of autism is said to be a diminutive sensory system. If over 99% of the human population is not cognizant of more than a few surface features of tactile perceptions, nor cognizant beyond a single dimension of olfaction, and the sense of taste is also rudimentary, then over 99% of all humans must be autistic.

Of the numerous other symptoms of autism is the reciting of words and phrases exactly as taught, but the individual does not comprehend how to apply the words. Western philosophy has debated the topic of ethics for thousands of years without yet comprehending what the word implies, so therefore all philosophers and all academicians are autistic.

Prodigy Myths - Autism and History

(PD) Leonardo da Vinci - La Bella Principessa
Which prodigy is equal to Leonardo?

Autism, however, is not judged by the symptoms, but rather autism is judged relative to what is normal for normal humans. Autism implies a condition that is sufficiently debilitating to the degree that the otherwise normal individual may not be capable of living independently as a normal human in a normal society. Autism symptoms are judged relative to the observer's own personal point of view, and the manner of how autism symptoms are described in popular psychology indicates 'the reciting of words without comprehending the words.'

From the average person's point of view the Are Prodigies Autistic? article makes sense because the terms are relative to the average point of view, but from the above-average point of view the article is absurd, and from the prodigious point of view the article is a violent assault that deserves the strongest rebuke.

The common-average point of view is that if a high level prodigy cannot fit-in with the most mediocre of societies then the prodigy must have a mental defect, and thus the prodigy must have the 'symptoms' of autism. The average point of view assumes that he/she is at the pinnacle of intelligence and skill, and that if a prodigy cannot easily mirror the same mind and behavior as the average human, then the prodigy is mentally defective.

The simple fact is, if a prodigy can easily cope with life in a normal society, then the prodigy is normal and not a prodigy.

An ant cannot comprehend the mind of a cow, a cow cannot comprehend the mind of a human, and a non-prodigy cannot comprehend the mind of a prodigy. All of popular psychology is based upon the incorrect assumption that a normal average three-dimensional thinking human with a 100 IQ and a Ph.D. can somehow supernaturally know the thoughts and feelings of a prodigy whose IQ is over 200 and who thinks four- and five-dimensional thoughts while exhibiting a gracefulness of body movements that are beyond the capacity of the normal average human. If psychology held a knowledge of the mind then there would be numerous books written about the nature of love, compassion, fear, virtue, ethics, and the many other major topics that have eluded western science and western philosophy since day-one. There is positive value in psychologists treating their patients through positive interactions — real people helping real people — but psychology as a science and as an academic topic has a diminutive value because psychology is founded upon inventions and negative contradictions.

It appears that most articles that speak of prodigies having autism are articles that were created by authors who were only focusing on individuals whose uncommon talents may have been enhanced through the attenuation of normal attributes. Similar to an individual developing a heightened sense of smell if the person were blind, deaf, and numb, so might an individual develop a heightened sense of artistic skill if the person's width of other mental faculties were diminished. A healthy mind requires the presence of short-term memories, long-term memories, subconscious reasoning, development of personal and social standards and beliefs through the reasoning of memories, a useful quantity of sensorial cognition, and numerous other attributes. If one attribute is damaged or underdeveloped, then the sum of all attributes combined will not be as full, and the person's mind might permit an attribute of talent to rise higher because the other attributes are not present that would otherwise limit the talent to normal levels.

Too, each era interprets prodigies by what is normal for the era. At present there is an online video that claims a fourteen year old person is a prodigy because the person can change oil in a car. It might be uncommon today to find young teenagers changing their own motor oil, but not many years ago it was common for ten and eleven year old children to change motor oil. Talents should be judged relative to all humans throughout all eras, and not be allowed to be interpreted within a narrow point of view.

It would be most profitable for the public to skillfully distinguish the differences between different types of talents, and to not lump all talented individuals into a single classification of "prodigy." An autistic individual who exhibits a remarkable musical skill due to a lessened width of mind is not similar to the healthy individual who has a similarly remarkable musical skill due to a wider width of mind, and the public should use caution to not confuse the differences by applying a single term for both types of people. A bullet from a high-powered rifle may exit the barrel at almost a mile a second, but a jet airplane traveling a mile a second — and with a heater, air conditioning, a comfortable seat, radio, control stick, rudder, and elevators to choose which direction to comfortably travel — is not the same as a bullet. It would be useful to develop descriptive terms for each classification and action, and not refer to both the plane and the bullet as prodigies, nor to both the autistic artist and the healthy artist as prodigies. The best descriptions usually always avoid the use of nouns, while instead simply pointing to the verbs of which actions are being observed. It is the verb that creates; the noun is what was created: if the verbs are ignored, then the nouns are 'the reciting of words without comprehending the words,' and the speaker is autistic.

Too, whenever anyone makes a claim about prodigies, it is a favored choice to first investigate where the claim originated. If the author is not him/herself highly talented in one form or another, then upon what reasoning should we believe anything that the person says? If the public were to pause for a moment and to critique the claims, the public would soon realize how great the contradictions are.

The Beyond Prodigies book lists a few of the symptoms of normalcy from the prodigious point of view, along with a few of the predominate features that mark intellectual prodigies.


Sandra L. - April 7, 2013

This is one of the best articles I've ever read.

Larry Gowdy - April 8, 2013

Thank you Sandra, I do appreciate it.

(Update September 07,2020: The following is from the previously linked Beyond Prodigies Book page. Note that only the first volume has been published.)

Beyond Prodigies – The New Science of Intelligence - The Origins of Conscious Reasoning in Migration and Precocity.

Within a thirty year psychology research project is the twelve year Sensory Quotient (SQ (misnomer)) project that was initially administered through the SesquIQ high IQ society. The SQ results distinguish five classifications of human intelligence: sub-normal, normal, sensorial, ratio, and causa.

The importance of the SQ project is that it has verified that the human specie is composed of different groups that perceive and process thoughts differently from the other, including two groups that exceed the capacity of what is popularly deemed prodigious.

One of the byproducts of the SQ and psychology projects is an improved method of researching the unanswered questions of cognition, analyses, and sensory perceptions associated with migration and the sense of location.

Volume one details the five classifications while building a foundation of knowledge necessary for the sense of location topics that are presented in volume two. Volumes three and four further expand on parallel topics that illustrate sharp intellectual contrasts within humans and animals.