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Why, is it that when we refer to the word prodigy we are taking about a kid that is good in mathematics, chess or music? And not a gifted athlete, poet,actor/actress, or business person. Any thoughts on this?


Tiger Woods was called a prodigy.
The Williams sisters were on 60 Minutes when they were little and they were called prodigies.
That tall 13 year old asian girl who knocks the crap out of golf balls is called a prodigy.


I love the band.


A prodigy is technically defined as a child (usually a young child) who can compete on a level with the best adults. If you accept this definition, then chess, music and math are the only three areas where that happens.

And when I say "compete with the best", I mean something like the following: A fellow named Sammy Reschevsky, at age 10, took on and beat the entire Harvard chess team - simultaneously. Jose Capablanca, who learned to play at chess at four simply by watching a couple of his father's games, then beat his father the first time he played. At 12, he took the Cuban championship from Juan Corzo. Or Bobby Fischer winning the US championship at 14.

All of these players were at Master strength by about the age of eight or so, and at Grandmaster strength (meaning the top 500 or so players in the world) by about age 12.

Because of the common mathematical nature of chess, music and (obviously) math, these are the only three areas where that can truly be said to occur. Something about the math factor allows for unbelievably quick and intuitive development in these three areas. So whereas you might get someone like Tiger Woods or the Williams sisters being amazingly good for their age at a very early age (and thus referred to as being a "prodigy"), you don't see anychild who can really compete on an athletic level with the best adults that early. They just don't have the coordination and/or strength to do so.


Zola Budd from South Africa was a world-class runner at the age of 13. If memory serves, she competed in the '84 Olympics (where Mary Slaney fell).


Feel the Pressha, come play the game I'll test ya....


Capablanca was a pretty slick player, and his games are the most fun to watch. Just had to stick that in.lol

Its also interesting to note that some great minds were not considered a prodigy when they were young. If memory serves me, I think the best grade John Nash ever recieved in math as a kid was a B in grade school.


I'm not seeing it. The word prodigy is used for any kid that's incredibly good at something, whatever it is.


Well, I did say "technically defined as". How people use or mis-use the word in everyday speech is another matter. :slight_smile:

And I'll admit that Zola Budd is perhaps a counter-example. Only thing is, she was just, you know, running. It's not like there's a lot of skill involved in something like that (that everyone can do). In other words, it's sort of like taking a fat kid who can eat a lot (as much as an adult) and calling him a "prodigy". I was referring to skills that have a more technical component.

One would also have to account for sports like women's gymnastics, where the best athletes are usually in their early-to-mid teens. But again, 13-14 is a long way from 5. You're not going to see anyone who's five years old taking an Olympic medal in any event, just like you're not going to find one writing a decent novel, painting something that sets the art world on fire, or doing original research into DNA. Whereas you do sometimes come upon a Mozart (composing concerts at that age), a Reshevsky (playing and holding his own against Masters, sometimes without having sight of an actual chessboard) and various math wiz kids who can calculate all kinds of arcane things seemingly just by instinct.


okay, so whats the diffrence between a prodigy and a genius or gifted?

Do these words get miss used? Or is it just me?


I got da poison, I got the remedy... ;0)


Intellectually a child can compete with an adult. Physically, puberty is the great equalizer - no child, however gifted athletically, can hope to compete with a high level adult athlete - they simply don't have the muscle, size, etc, to do so. For example, an 8 year old kid with the best bodybuilding genetics in existance can still not hope to compete with me in the gym.

Intellect is not restrained in this way, hence the reason child prodigies are nearly always prodigies in intellectual pursuits, not athletics.


Intellect is restrained by experience, among other factors. Show me the 8 year old who can run a Fortune 500 company, for example. Or work as a marriage counsellor. Or give advice on this board.

Won't happen.

Fitone, I can tell you how I use the words "gifted" and "genius". "Gifted" is easy - it means having an unusual aptitude for something.

"Genius" is a little more difficult. If you read the book titled "Genius" (about the life of Richard Feinman), there is this: "There are two kinds of geniuses. One is a person who can do the same things that we could do, if only we were many times better at that thing. The other is a person who seems to be able to perform magic within a certain field, who gets to places by huge leaps of induction and intuition." (I'm quoting from memory here, but it's something close to that.)

So taking the second version, I'd say a genius is someone who can see things that most people can't, and do things that most would find impossible not only to do, but to imagine anyone doing.

But again, that's just me.


I got the poison, the rythmical remedy!


char: Sure you aren't referring to John VonNeuman's biography? Same quote is in there. Von Neuman was an example of someone 'like everyone else, but more so,' while Einstein would be one of those weird inductive types.


Ok, here's my take on the whole 'genius' thing.

When most people say 'genius' these days, they seem to mean 'really, really smart.' Ok, fair enough. You can pick your arbitrary IQ range (usually starting at 140 or 150, depending on who you ask) and define that as genius. In that case, genius is simply a way of stating the 'processing power' of an individual's brain. However, most IQ tests are pretty limited in the range tests. A person might be incredible at one processing task, but lousy at another (such is our lot), and the IQ test can make him look like either a dullard or a genius depending on which one it tests. Einstein is said to have been in the 140s, IQ wise.

Ok, having said that, I try to keep in mind that genius wasn't always considered a trait of the individual. Rather, genius was considered an external sort of thing. It came in the form of a guardian daemon (angel, but not christian) or divine insight. For some interesting theories on this, the Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes) is an interesting read.
So what's my point with this historical nonsense? Bottom line, at least originally, a genius produced something. Whether it was in the form of an invention, or a radically new solution to a problem, a person "with" genius was able to demonstrate it to the world. If he/she was not, then he/she would not have been said to have it. So for me, personally, a genius is someone that produces. Whether it's in the John Von Neuman style (take someone else's idea and advance it forward 30 steps) or in the Einstein style (come up with a whole new paradigm). Otherwise, you're just smart. But hey, if people can 'earn' titles like genius just by doing well on a test... cool.


BJ "The Prodigy" Penn

Breathe with me!


"Smack my bitch up!" Those guys are gay right? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

When I think about the regular run of the mill Prodigy's, I think of musicians more than scientists and mathemeticians.

Tori Amos = Prodigy
Yo Yo Ma = Prodigy
Johnny Lang = Prodigy
Stevie Ray Vaughn = Prodigy
The drummer from RUSH = Prodigy

I guess in my mind, the Genius category is more for scientists...

Albert Einstein
Steven Hawking
Will Hunting (I got her numbah...)
Sigmond Freud
Louis Pastuer....


BradTGIF: As char-dawg pointed out, being a prodigy is an age-related thing. You could certainly be a mathematical prodigy, provided that as a child you were as competent as (or better than) well-trained adults in the field.

One interesting point, to me at least, is that you will almost never see anyone referred to as a literary genius. Talented, creative, and all sorts of other wonderful adjectives, but rarely ever 'genius.' Why is that? It seems to me that the real literary geniuses (Dante, Shakespeare) revolutionized the actual languages in which they worked. That is, it wasn't necessarily that their works themselves were new and fresh themes (difficult, really, to invent new themes) but rather that they invented and sculpted the language to fit the concepts that they wanted to convey.

Just more random thoughts from the junkpile.

Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes) is an interesting read.

I have heard that reference far too often to finally afford to not read it...is it theoretical/academical stuff or a good read (well written)?