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Hereditary Genius – Reflection on People to Community Synaesthesia


The book “Hereditary Genius” was published in 1869. It was one of the many important works by Francis Galton, half-cousin of Charles Darwin, as a result of his extensive research into human variation.

I first came across Galton’s work while I was researching Synaesthesia. His name then kept coming up over the last three years in many areas of my fascination such as mental imagery, nature vs. nurture, and this time hereditary genius.

In Hereditary Genius, a book highly regarded by his cousin Charles Darwin, Galton assessed the number of eminent relatives of eminent men, and showed that the number of eminent relatives was greater with closer degree of kinship. The work no doubt had its constraints and limitations, but it nevertheless has set an important foundation of studying various contributing factors of people who are considered as geniuses.

Last year, I got immensely interested in my husband’s paternal family history. It was triggered by a NZ colleague of mine telling me that one of my husband’s relatives in his grandfather’s generation was the idea behind geothermal energy which eventually led to the establishment of the Wairakei Power Station in NZ, the first of its type, and the second largest geothermal power station in the world.

It came as a huge surprise. I have been admiring this scientist relative of ours for a long time. Alternative energy was not his prime field of work. I have since looked into the history and indeed, he was one of the first in the world who had proposed the idea of geothermal energy in his early twenties. He was prominent in NZ’s science history. One of his brothers was a high court judge.

My husband’s great-grandfather was a first cousin of a world record holder sportsperson, as well as a first cousin of a very well known English writer whose classical novel still remains on the list of the 100 best novels all time.

Looking at my own family, there was a cluster of child prodigies amongst my first cousins and sibling.

Last year, I read Martin Boyd’s semi autobiography “The Langton tetralogy”. Boyd was a member of an Australian artistic dynasty. The Boyd family produced generations of artists who had dominated their respective fields.

Galton has coined the phrase “nature vs. nurture”. This debate has been ongoing for more than a century. However, if you look back on Chinese history, an ancient Chinese proverb had made a brilliant categorisation of two types of population: people who were born with the knowledge, and people who acquired knowledge through learning (from others). The first category implied that a genius was innate. Self learning from an early age is a typical trait amongst those people who have superior inherited talent.

I am convinced that a person’s gene (nature) is the primary factor and the environment (nurture) is the secondary factor in producing an eminent man. Both factors are important, but without the primary gene, the chance of having a genius by pure nurturing is relatively low though not impossible. It is like baking a cake. Without the right ingredients, doesn’t matter how skillful a baker is and how state of art the equipment is, it is hard to produce a perfect cake. On the other side, by having the right baker (teacher or guidance) and equipment (environment), the ingredients have a much better chance to turn into a superior cake.

This view of mine is also based on my observation of my son Skye’s prodigiousness. When Skye was a toddler, I used to walk him from our old house to my parents’ house a few streets away. He loved to spell out simple words along the way like this one: “S-O-L-D, SOLD, the house is sold.”

One day, an elderly man was saying hello to us from the front of his house. Skye pointed to his mail box and said “L-I-A-M, MAIL, this is your mail box.” He occasionally spelt words from a different direction in those days. The man looked quite shocked.

When I was half way through my pregnancy with Thomas, my husband and I took Skye to Sydney. Upon checking in a hotel, we were given the room number 1723. Skye ran to the lift and pressed the button for us. As soon as we got in the lift, without us saying a word, he pressed the lift button with the right floor number 17. An American lady in the lift was amazed and commented how incredible Skye was as he was only two at the time. What happened the next was even more incredible. We got off the lift, there were two signs, one pointing to the left with something like 1701-1715 and the other one with an arrow pointing to the right for the higher room numbers. Skye looked at the signs for a second or two, turned right and found the right room for us. My husband and I looked at each other, and were indeed shocked.

We hardly ever taught Skye much when he was little. Many years later, I was told by Skye that he had learnt reading from playing Leapfrog, an interactive toy. So I do not think the influence of an environment has played a key role in the development of Skye’s early intellectual ability.

Skye went through another major intellectual transformation at the age of four. He likes to believe it was the year that he reached zero year old as he started to think much more clearly, and had a better life outlook. He considers his age at his actual birth was -4. It was also the year that he started inventing things.

Recently, I was quite stressed by the impending house move. I asked Skye if he could see himself one day settle in one house and never needs to move again. His answer was straight forward: “Mum, when I am in my 40s, I will move to my palace. Then I won’t move again.” He has set his goal firmly to become the King of Gahooulia, a country he had invented.

After Skye’s transition camp, he joined us for the rest of school holidays at the farm. One day, we were talking about characteristics of different people.

“Mum, when I was four, I invented a house system based on people’s personalities. Each person has a Special Home which is the home that person is in at present, as well as a Deservation Home which is the home the person deserves to be in. I know ‘Deservation’ is not the right word, but remember I was only four and did not know a better word, so I invented this word. I still call it Deservation Home.”

He explained further that he had first created 10 homes. Then he got to meet more and more people, and the number of homes has grown to nearly 30. Last two years, the number has been quite stable. He thinks it is a form of synaesthesia which he calls People to Community Synaesthesia. I am not certain, but nevertheless I was astonished by his creativity especially after learning what each home means, who are in it, and how people sometimes can migrate from one house to another once their personality has changed. Here is the list.

1. The Home of Interest (People who are very interesting. My mother and I are found in this house.)

2. The Home of Multi-culture (People who love different cultures or people who are from a different culture especially people who have dark skin. This is a special home for my husband who is fascinated by other cultures. It is also Skye’s Nana, my mother-in-law’s deservation home due to her interest in multi-cultural music.)

3. The Home of the Average Model (People whom Skye does not know much such as a stranger, or a person who is very quiet, or simple.)

4. The Home of Lots of S%@t (People whom Skye does not like.)

5. The Home of the Dreaming Beauty (People who are sweet and say amazingly beautiful things. He finds a few attractive girls there. My husband’s middle sister is in this home.)

6. The Home of the Oldie (People who look old fashioned. They are not necessarily old in age.)

7. The Home of Driven Expression (People who are persuasive. His Head of House at school is in this home.)

8. The Home of Power (This is Skye’s Dad, Pop and Thomas’ deservation home.)

9. The Home of Care (People who are very caring or care about many things. It is Thomas’ special home.)

10. The Home of the Investigator (People who like investigating, or bad people who don’t want to be investigated, or people who want to get out of other people’s attention.)

11. The Home of the Universal Heaven (People who are similar to Skye, or people who respect him a lot. This is Skye’s special home and deservation home.)

12. The Home of How We Do Stuff (People who are bossy and tell other people what to do.)

13. The Home of the Crazy YEAH! (People who are always excited and enthusiastic of doing things. But sometimes can have stupid people in the house as well.)

14. The Home of The, The, Like, The, The Somewhat Confused (A home for people who always get confused, or talk with a lot of ‘the the’ pauses appearing confused.)

15. The Home of the Special (People who always really up themselves and think they know all. Or people who think they are very special, or are genuinely special. He finds most homosexual people in this house.)

16. The Home of the Romantic Kiss (People who are very aesthetic or people who are passionately in love with another person with a different sex (if the same sex, he/she migrates to the Home of the Special).)

17. The Home of OUCH! (Really sad people who are normally troubled, or who are not very popular to anyone.)

18. The Home of the Puzzled Question Mark (People who are not particularly intelligent.)

19. The Home of the Fashioned Café Linderal Pupil (People who are interested in wild life and aesthetic, and people who live in a great life. I used to be in this house, but migrated to the Home of the Interest. His godparents are in this house.)

20. The Home of Justin’s Thys (Only for boys who are attractive to girls.)

21. The Home of the Seventh Street (People who are sharp and love to do right things and be popular. Skye used to be in this home, but moved to the Home of the Universal Heaven.)

22. The Home of the Eighth Street (People who are similar to the 7th Streeter, but are not as sharp and can sometimes take a while to figure out things, and are usually very cute. Thomas used to be in this home while he was a baby. There are lots of babies in this house.)

23. The Home of the Exceptional Dimension (People who are very different and great at a lot of things, and don’t brag.)

24. The Home of the Spiritual Dimension (People who are a bit similar to people living in the above home except not as good, but have a lot of good spirits.)

25. The Home of the [Piece]-ful Dimension (People who are really annoying and can’t stop doing gross things such as spitting.)

26. The Home of the Entertainer (People who are good at amusing other people.)

27. The Home of the Master (This house is similar to the Home of the Universal Heaven, but is for people who are a bit elder. My father is in this home.)

28. The Home of the Remake (People who change their characteristics too much, and get put in this home for the staging purpose until their characteristics are more stablised before they get migrated to another home.)

I rushed to the phone to ring my dad up and told him what I had just learnt from Skye.

“Isn’t his house system amazing? You are in the Home of the Master! How did he come up such an idea? He was only four!” I was sounding more and more excited. I realised that my dad had not said a word.

“Dad, are you still there?”

After a long pause, my dad finally said two words.

“Born genius.”

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