Nature versus nurture. You've heard that argument before. Are you born with special talents that make you a genius or do all of your accomplishments come from a lifetime of hard work? Is success or genius in life a matter of the hand you're dealt at birth, your genetic gifts, or is it the result of self-motivation and hard work? What do you think? Well, even among my Yale undergraduates, there's always debate on this point. Among students with strong political beliefs, conservatives generally assert that genius is a God-given talent, but liberals think that it's the environment that shapes the outcome. Students majoring in math and sciences generally believe their attainments are due, again to a natural gift. They've been told by parents and teachers that they were born with a talent for quantitative reasoning. Varsity athletes, on the other hand, tend to think it's all hard work. No pain, no gain as the expression goes. They've been told by coaches to believe that their achievements are the result of endless hours of practice. Modern-day basketball star, the late Kobe Bryant, strongly argued that genius is self-made. That at least is the take away from a TV commercial for Nike tennis shoes, in which Kobe, dressed as a teammate of Mozart, is seen practicing slam dunks and jump shots. Mozart ends the video by uttering these words, "We're not born geniuses, we become them." "I got a question, what if Mozart only had half the notes to compose with? It would make the Salzburg symphony sound like Mary Had a Little Lamb. That's what Genius needs: the full range to explore. This is the Nike Zoom Kobe 3. These sneakers play every mode on the skin so you can train it and findfind harmony in the key in your face. Here is my point. We're not born geniuses, we become them." I'm not saying that basketball star Kobe is a genius, but he's entitled to his opinion. What do you think? Do you agree with Kobe that genius can be entirely self-regulated? That you can work yourself into a genius? Well, Kobe Bryant's friend, Michael Jackson, disagreed. He went and said the following about another Micheal, Michelangelo. "To be given real genius, that's a gift". Plato also would have disagreed with Kobe writing. "The capacity to do extraordinary things was a gift of the gods." On the other hand, Shakespeare would have agreed with Kobe and seem to place great faith in freewill and independent initiative when he wrote in his "Julius Caesar," "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves." Yet another English dramatist, John Dryden, said in 1693, ''Genius must be born, it can never be taught". But painter Joshua Reynolds a few years later, said that it could be acquired. "Nothing is denied to well directed labor, nothing is to be obtained without it''. Fellow British countrymen, Charles Darwin, however, held that, ''Most of our qualities are innate.'' But more recently, French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir said, ''One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius." Over the centuries back and forth, the argument goes, gift or hard work. But let's start with natural gifts. What natural gifts might produce extraordinary things? We've mentioned quantitative skills. Some people just seem to be hugely gifted at math and others, such as myself, are not. Some are born with an innate gift for art and painting. Leonardo da Vinci had the capacity to observe and freeze-frame, record in his mind, an object in motion, the outreached wings of a bird in flight, for example, or the legs of a galloping horse off the ground. Leonardo's arch rival, the aforementioned Michelangelo, had perfect hand-eye coordination that allowed him to draw lines in precise proportional relationships. He also apparently had a photographic memory. Nikola Tesla was also a fast study because he too had an eidetic or photographic memory. Musicians, Lady Gaga and Duke Ellington are just two among many who were synesthesiacs. When they hear music, they also see colors. That too is a natural gift. Perfect pitch in music is another heritable gift or truth, and it runs in families. My sister had it and I had an uncle who had it, but I do not. Perfect pitch is a gift given to only one in about 10,000. When you hear a song played on iTunes or by Alexa, you know exactly what pitches are being played. Yeah there's an A in the bass and E in the middle part, and the C-sharp up on top. Well, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Mariah Carey, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Stevie Wonder, and Mozart. Well, they were just a few of those endowed with the natural gift of absolute or perfect pitch. Such people tend to select for music as do athletes. They seem to keep getting better and better. At least the records keep being broken, in part because of better training and diet, but also due to natural gifts. Increasingly, athletes are self-selecting. They are gravitating to sports that favor their particular body type. Basketball players, needless to say, are tall and thin. Gymnast are short and muscular. All time winning Olympic gold medal swimmer. Michael Phelps has arms that stretch four inches longer than they should, even for his considerable height, as well as exceptionally large hands. Big oars, in effect, pull him through the water. Simon Biles, on the other hand, is less than five feet tall and densely muscular. In a sense, each has been born for their sport. The expression nature versus nurture was coined back in 1869 by Francis Galton in his book, Hereditary Genius. We've met Galton already in Week 1 of our course, in our discussion of genius and race. Galton was the cousin of Charles Darwin. From these images we learn, if nothing else, that boldness is genetic. Both Darwin and Galton believed that exceptional accomplishment was innate. Galton studied 850 exceptional or eminent individuals, all but a handful being males of British birth. He concluded that genius is hereditary, your potential bequeath at birth. From this and earlier studies developed not only the theory of eugenics mentioned in Lesson 134, but also phrenology. Phrenology is the 19th century pseudoscience of measuring the skulls and brains of famous living individuals, or perhaps in many cases of dead individuals, to simplify here, to see if they were in any way out of the ordinary, mentally challenged or geniuses. On the screen is an image drawn from the work of phrenologist Cesare Lombroso. Here we see the brain of math genius Carl Friedrich Gauss. Compare it to that of a German laborer. In 1895, researchers dug up the bones of J.S. Bach and measured his skull to see if it was abnormal in any way. It was not. A bit of this craziness-- Well, let's go find the genius gene--still occurs today with the search for the DNA of Mozart based on scrapings of what supposedly his skull preserved in the Mozarteum in Salzburg, as well as the preservation of 240 neatly dissected slices of the brain of Albert Einstein, most of which are stored in a museum in Philadelphia. So far, the genius gene, as you might suspect, has escaped identification. The workings of the mind of a genius or anyone are far too complex to be reduced to a single gene. Contemporary with English psychologist Francis Galton was German biologist Gregor Mendel, and his early research with hybridizing peas and an early theory of genetics, as you know. Soon thereafter came Havelock Ellis, who published a book in 1904 titled A Study of British Genius. Ellis was the person who attempted to statistically demonstrate-- you still hear this bruted about today-- this theory that geniuses are most often first born males. Ellis conveniently forgot, however, the female queen Elizabeth I third child in birth order, Virginia Woolf, sixth child in birth order and Jane Austin, seventh, as well as Thomas Edison seventh and Benjamin Franklin sixteenth. Perhaps it's best to forget that "first born male" theory of genius. Galton, Mendel, Ellis together they form the basis of what is called the "blueprint for life" theory. Your genes provide a template on which is engraved all that you will become. As you might suspect, the blueprint for life theory is not the answer. For one thing, the blueprint theory of genius, were it fully true-- that all genius is heritable and that you get it from your parents-- then how do we explain the fact there have been almost no long family lines of geniuses, successive generation of geniuses. Yes, there have been six pairs of Nobel Prize winning fathers and sons and one pair of mother and daughter, Marie Curie and her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie. But that's a succession moving across only one generation. Maybe the most compelling case for a succession of geniuses is the cohort of J.S. Bach and his three sons. But again, across only one generation. Genius, it turns out, is not generational. If genius lasts only a generation, it looks as if geniuses might just as well pop out of nowhere and then disappear. Thirty years ago, there arose a school of thought in psychology that attempted to explain such "pop out of nowhere" outcomes with the term emergenesis; E-M-E-R-G-E-N-E-S-I-S. Tough word, I can hardly say it, which might be translated something along the lines of emerging outside of genetic expectation-- a bizarre one-off random combination of gene--a sort of perfect storm. But modern geneticists seem to be coming down on the side of not emergenesis but epigenesis, the science of epigenes. Epigenes, literally, outside the genes, are small tags attached to each gene in a genome. Our growth from birth to death is subject to the workings of these on or off switches. They control when and if our genes will express themselves. In simplest terms, genes are the nature side of things. Epigenes are the nurture side. Let's watch a short video on the subject of epigenes. It focuses on epigenes and identical twins because that's the best way to show how people who are identical genetically at birth can have very different outcomes owing to the nurturing they receive and the environment in which they live. "Identical twins are genetic carbon copies. The DNA sequences of their genes are exactly the same. Yet physically identical twins become increasingly different over time. Why is this so? Genes provide the instructions for the development and maintenance of the body. Yet a second set of instructions, known as the epigenome, interacts with DNA to activate or suppress the expression of particular genes. Certain chemicals known as epigenetic tags turn genes off or on without changing the underlying genetic code. During fertilization, one set of chromosomes from dad and one set of chromosomes from mom are combined to form an embryo. Epigenetic tags are erased from mom and dad's chromosomes during the first days after fertilization. However, on some genes, the tags remain. These are known as imprinted genes. Identical twins result when a single embryo splits in two. Each embryo has the same genome and the same epigenome. As the embryos develop, cells differentiate into distinct types, such as bone, muscle, and skin. As each type specializes, epigenetic tags activate and silence specific genes, leading the cells to specialize further. Each cell type gradually takes on a unique epigenetic profile. Because the twins share the same environment, their epigenomes are very similar at birth and through the early years of life. As the twins age, their environments begin to defer. Their genomes remain the same, but signals from the environment act on the twin's epigenomes to activate and silence different genes. Diet, for example, is an environmental factor that can have an effect on the epigenome. Differences in physical activity can also cause epigenetic differences between the twins. Exposure to toxins can influence the epigenome. Stress also plays a role in shaping the epigenome. By the time the twins are well into adulthood, their epigenomes, thus, gene expression patterns, are very different, making each twin unique." Important point with epigenes is that to a degree, we'll talk about exactly how much of a degree in just a moment, to a degree, each of us can determine what we become if we're willing to work for it. Have you ever heard of a lazy genius? No. Geniuses have a habit of working hard because they are obsessed. When asked the source of their genius, geniuses are far more likely to give themselves the credit for their accomplishments instead of to the genes of their parents or their grandparents. Most often, geniuses themselves attribute their achievement simply to their own hard work. On the screen you see 10 quotes from geniuses' opinions on the subject of hard work. I've arranged these quotes in roughly chronological order. Michelangelo, "If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn't call it genius." Mozart, "I worked very hard when I was young, so I don't have to work so hard now." Vincent van Gogh, "I should get discouraged if I could not go on working as hard or even harder." Frederick Douglass, "People may not get all they work for in this world, but they certainly must work for all they get." Dmitri Mendeleev, of the periodic-table fame, "There is no talent or genius without hard work." Thomas Edison, "Genius is 99 percent perspiration and one percent inspiration." Maxim Gorky, the playwright, "Genius is the result of hard work." Anna Pavlova ballerina choreographer, "God gives talent, work transforms talent into genius." Bill Gates, "I didn't believe in weekends, I didn't believe in vacations." Elon Musk, "No one ever changed the world with a 40-hours work week." Again, in the minds of almost all the greats, hard work is held in higher esteem, than natural gifts. But how long must we work before we can become a genius? Ten thousand hours. Have you heard that 10,000 hours theory?-- the theory that 10,000 hours of focused practice is all that's needed to achieve greatness. It received a good deal of attention in Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling book, Outliers in the chapter, "The problem with genius." That's a good chapter. The thesis of the 10,000 hours theory is simply this: regardless of natural ability, the secret to success is 10,000 hours of focused practice. There you have it. Practice makes perfect, right? Well, I tried that and it didn't work. By the time I was 22, I had practiced, by my estimation, about 15,000 hours to become a professional concert pianist. I had a strong work ethic, the best teachers, the best musical instruments. I lacked only one thing: a great natural talent for music. I did not have absolute pitch, I had no strong musical memory, and no special hand-eye coordination that would allow me to see and hear a pitch in my head and then go instantly to the correct spot on the keyboard. Even putting in 15,000 hours of focused practice, I could see that I was never going to make a dime as a classical pianist. Mozart got to where he got, by my estimation, after only 6,000 hours of focused practice because he, unlike I, had huge natural gifts. But we must keep in mind one important thing. The 10,000 hours theory applies to performance expertise, not genius. If you practice 10,000 hours to become a concert pianist, you are developing a performance expertise, great facility to play the piano. But someone else invented the piano and someone else composed the music you or I perform. As I tried to emphasize in Week 1 session one of our course the key to genius, by my definition, at least, is creativity, creating new and impactful things. The genius is not the pianist who can perform Chopin's Minute Waltz in a minute or less, but rather Chopin who created the Minute Waltz. The genius is not the mountain climber who can get to the top of Mount Everest in record time, but the guy or girl who invents the aerial tramway or the helicopter, a radical solution to an age-old challenge. Well, by now of course, you've figured out where this discussion is headed. Genius is the daughter of both nature and nurture, of both natural gifts and hard work. But which of the two is more important? In what proportions or they needed? Obviously, for both performance, expertise, and genius, there is no cookbook or recipe. How can we possibly quantify with any specificity the factors in play with regard to genius? Yes, genetic gift and hard work are part of the mix. But what about curiosity, imagination, self-confidence, risk tolerance, contrarian thinking, and all the other drivers of genius? Do they come at birth, or can we develop them? Well, we'll get to those other enablers later in our course. But let me end this long session with a personal story, one that exemplifies my attempts to deal with the nature versus nurture issue. A while back in the online Yale genius class that I offer over Zoom each summer, I had a student named Nathan Chen. He seemed to be very bright,and have a very good work ethic. But there was one thing that always puzzled me. Nathan was always responding to questions in the class discussion from a taxi, or an Uber, or from inside an airport, or a hotel room. Sometimes he'd be in Tokyo, sometimes in Los Angeles, next time he'd show up in Montreal. By the end of the course, I had figured out that this Nathan Chen was one of the two or three best figure skaters in the world and certainly the number 1 in the Western Hemisphere. Nathan may or may not be a genius, although he was the first to land six axles (complete rotations) in an the Olympic games. He's already won an Olympic medal. When our course was over, I began a discussion with Nathan asking his opinion on the question of nature or nurture, natural gifts or environment and hard work. Here's what Nathan said to me in an email of August for 2019, "In my opinion, there are genetic factors at work that you can see in the domain of figure skating." Height (well, Nathan is five foot five or six),
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general strength, and the capacity to quickly improve muscle memory. But there are, in addition, a number of genetic factors you can't really see and are more difficult to quantify. Among these are the ability to be calm in the face of stress, don't get nervous, and the ability to internally strategized and course correct during a competition. For me, I would say that it is 80 percent in nature, genes, and luck, and 20 percent nurture. The gold medal athletes get to an accumulated 100 percent-- for those athletes who are naturally at 60 percent nature, they must maximize the 20 percent work in order to even think about competing against the top 90-100 percent athletes." For Nathan, it's 80 percent the gifts that you're given-- genes and luck--and 20 percent hard work. A day or so after Nathan sent me this email, he sent me a second email in which he said, " P.S. I read this answer to my Chinese mother and she said, 'I don't agree, well that she doesn't agree with the 80 percent gifts and 20 percent work argument.' She thinks that work is above everything. For her, It's 80 percent work, 20 percent gifts and luck." Then Nathan adds, and this is a direct quote. "It's interesting how different cultures and upbringings can influence one's opinion about these issues." Because it is indeed a cultural issue on which each of us can have an opinion. the argument nature or nurture will surely continue.