Reason Cansino, the protag of my Magic or Madness trilogy, is somewhat of a mathematical prodigy, but she pales in comparison to Terence Tao:
By age two, he had learned to read. At 9, he attended college math classes. At 20, he finished his Ph.D.
Now 31, he has grown from prodigy to one of the world’s top mathematicians.
. . .
“I always liked numbers,” he said.
A 2-year-old Terry Tao used toy blocks to show older children how to count. He was aquick with language and used the blocks to spell words like “dog” and “cat.”
. . .
At age 5, he was enrolled in a public school, and his parents, adminstrators and teachers set up an individualized program for him. He proceeded through each subject at his own pace, quickly accelerating through several grades in maths and science while remaining closer to his age group in other subjects. In English classes, for instance, he became flustered when he had to write essays.
“I never really got the hang of that,” he said. “These very vague, undefined questions. i always liked situations where there were very clear rules of what to do.”
Assigned to write a story about what was going on at home, Terry went from room to room and made detailed lists of the contents.
I love that last image of the boy writing lists, rather than a story. Though, of course, depending on how he ordered them, they could well wind up being one. Harper’s Index is jampacked with stories. Many of them deeply disturbing.
I can’t imagine Reason making lists in quite that way (though in the early chapters of Magic or Madness she is pretty methodical as she notes the contents of the rooms of her grandmother’s house) but I can totally see her using blocks to teach other kids to count. And if she were to survive the last book of the trilogy1 I see her going on to be a mathematician. Maybe she’d be working on primes just like Mr Tao. They do sing to her.
The Times article on Tao is a lovely portrait of someone who hasn’t been wrecked by being a prodigy. Nice to have a counter to all those stories of prodigies who crash and burn.
- Do not ask for I will not tell you. [↩]