Prodigy Terence Tao, Nature or Nurture

Terence Tao name is unanimous with genius, also known as the, “Mozart of maths”. Tao is a Fields Medalist, the Nobel prize of Mathematics, he also won the Breakthrough Price in mathematics 2014. Tao is often regarded as a born genius because at a very young age of 10 he participated in the International Mathematical Olympiad winning a bronze medal, and gold at the age of 12, where average age of participants is 17 years.

But was Terence really a child genius who was born smart or just a matter of good nurture he got from his parents. Here we will discuss whether, child geniuses are a matter of Nature or Nurture.

Terence Tao’s Childhood

Terence Tao was born on 17 July 1975 to Billy Tao who was a child pediatrician and Grace Tao who was a secondary school teacher of mathematics and physics in Hong Kong. Terence was a very curious child as told by his mother, his concentration power was very strong from a early childhood.

Tao learnt reading and writing at a small age of 2 years from himself watching Sesame Street (a kid show) on the television. His parents once saw him teaching five year old children to spell and to add numbers, he himself was 2 years old then.

Terence was a autodidact from his childhood, he liked reading maths books on his own, often teaching him complex maths topics by his own, like calculas I, Group theory etc. that is likely be taught to maths undergraduates. He was well versed will Differentiation, Permutation & Combinations, Integral calculas etc. at just a age of 8 years.

Parents Attitude Towards Terence

Tao’s parents were also typical like all parents you can think of. No extra TV, early to bed, punishment for mischiefs etc. But they never stopped Tao’s curiousity to learn, they always let him do whatever interest him rather putting him under pressure of other things. They always provided him the best books that could challenge him more.

When he was three and a half years old his parents sent him to a private school but, six weeks later, they realised that he was not ready for schooling because he was youngest in the class with minimum age of students 5 years and also that the teachers did not know how to teach someone young like him. So they removed him from the school and he did not start schooling again until he was, like other children, five years old.

As stated earlier Tao was a autodidact, although his mother was a maths graduate she never helped him learnt concepts nor he liked to be taught, but she always guided his son on what topic to study next, because she knew maths is a very vast subject and knowing from where to start and end is very important.

Born genius or Made genius

Here comes the most important part of the discussion after knowing some general information about Terence’s childhood.

Most of the people would not be knowing there was a paper published when Terence was 8 years old, the paper talked about a deep research on Tao’s thinking style, the paper also indirectly answer the question how Tao beats the all odds and achieved and learnt so much in a very young age and in a very short span of time, born with abilities or developed them.

MA KEN CLEMENTS was a professor of mathematics at Monash University, he had a keen intereste in studying specially gifted maths children, he came to know about Terence from a article printed in a daily newspaper, Tao was 7 at that time. He was curious to know more about Terence but never personally contacted Tao’s family. But later on, Billy Tao, Terence’s father attended one of his seminars. After that Billy personally invited Clements to study Terence.

Clements was overwhelmed and accepted the proposal. He first visited the Tao family on July 16, 1983 day before his 8th birthday. Billy introduced him to his wife Grace, the two young brother of Terence, and at last to Terence who was sitting in a very far corner reading a book titled “Calculus”.

Instead of wasting time Clements started with his assessment, he first gave Terence to solve a standard Operations Test, he solved the test in a very less amount of time with a perfect score. The test was made for a primary school kid, and the second highest ever scored on the test was 57/60. Some of the questions from the test were:

Clements at this time knew that these questions are way easy for Tao. So instead of testing Tao on aptitude mathematics he thought of testing him on senior year and undergraduate year mathematics. He first asked about the definition of a Group, to which Tao replied:

A set which is mapped onto itself by a binary operation. The binary operation is associative, and the set has an identity e such that e*x equals x for all x in the set. Also for each x in the in the set there is an inverse x’ such that x*x’ equals e.

But when he asked about fields Tao said he don’t know what are fields. Then Tao tested some of his Integral and differential calculus skills, he was able to answer anti- derivatives of various functions but when asked about the anti-derivative of 1/x, he replied he haven’t reached that far. After that Clements thought it’s enough for now, because for a 7 year old 3-4 hours is too much, he left and for right now and returned after around 3 weeks.

On returning, Clements started with Group theory, and asked Tao, S={a+b√2: a,b€R} is (S,+, x) is a field ? To which Tao immediately solved and said yes it is a field. This was too surprising for Mr. Clements as in the last encounter with the boy, he didn’t even know the definition of a field and now he can solve a question from it. Similar more questions were asked to Tao, he aced every question with ease.

Now, there were similar more questions, Billy Tao also showed Terence’s first published paper on Perfect numbers to Clements to which he was not surprised.

Lastly Clements now started inquiring about Terence from his parents, one of the answer from his mother is going to end this topic’s discussion whether genius are born or it’s made ?

Below is what written exactly that Mrs. Tao said:

In the last line it is written clearly that, “Terence likes to read mathematics by himself, and he often spent three or four hours after school reading mathematics textbooks.

Terence used to spend hours reading maths books, maths equations or theorems never comes to him in his sleep, rather he was a very laborious kid, who would spend hours and hours learning.

This is the only true definition of a prodigy, they aren’t born somewhat different but they all have a common trait that is curiosity, and that curiosity makes them work ever harder than the 99% of the public, there is nothing such as born talent, the only think that makes a prodigy diffent from rest of the world is that they work the hardest. Tao being a kid used to study of his own for hours, that also after coming from school.


Everybody in the world can become a prodigy, and can even achieve the fame that Tao achieved. It’s only one thing that can make a change that is working the hardest you can. No one is born smart or talented, is just a illuision or a excuse by a average lazy person to cover the hardwork one did to achieve that heights. Nurture is all that matters Nature is just a black cloth to cover all the hardship by Nurture.

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