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The Expert Mind 395

Posted by samzenpus
from the nurture-wins-this-time dept.
Vicissidude writes "Teachers in sports, music, and other fields tend to believe that talent matters and that they know it when they see it. In fact, they appear to be confusing ability with precocity. There is usually no way to tell, from a recital alone, whether a young violinist's extraordinary performance stems from innate ability or from years of Suzuki-style training. The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born. In fact, it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music, and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others. It is no coincidence that the incidence of chess prodigies multiplied after László Polgár published a book on chess education. The number of musical prodigies underwent a similar increase after Mozart's father did the equivalent two centuries earlier."
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The Expert Mind

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  • the same thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macadamia_harold (947445) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:21AM (#15917083) Homepage
    Teachers in sports, music, and other fields tend to believe that talent matters and that they know it when they see it. In fact, they appear to be confusing ability with precocity.

    Except that at a young age, are not tremendous ability and precocity the same thing?
    • Re:the same thing (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Research that denigrates natural talent seems somewhat to hint of sour eggs...
      • Re:the same thing (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Bill Dog (726542)
        I believe the term is "sour grapes [wikipedia.org]", but otherwise I think you're right.
        • Re:the same thing (Score:2, Informative)

          by okster (913316)
          yeah but sour eggs would be worse
        • Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:29AM (#15917547)
          The idea that they just worked harder, or rather, better than you is uncomfortable. It means that you're just lazy, don't have the necessary drive or don't know how to train.

          It's much easier to believe that they are just innately better and it's not really your fault that you can't reach their level.

           
          • I'm not sure I can agree (with you, or the article), and for the exact opposite reason.

            I am, as a matter of fact, extraordinarily talented. I'm also extraordinarily lazy. I excel at a variety of fields including a very specialist field that I work in. I refuse to study though and have done ever since school. I cheat my way through every test of rote memorisation that I can, and don't need to study at all to do very well in things that interest me. In no way have I studied anywhere near as much as most
            • by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:58AM (#15917784)
              You're interested in the subject, you learn it without seeing that learning as study. You work just as hard at it but don't see it as work, it's fun, your motivation is higher than people who see it as work.

               
            • Re:Of course (Score:5, Interesting)

              by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @07:34AM (#15918094) Journal
              You downplay the importance of laziness. I, too, am incredibly lazy. Given two ways of achieving the same result, I will pick the easier one. When I was nine, I recall my maths teacher saying 'the best mathematicians are the most lazy' (she died less than a year later, which was a sad day for education). Consider someone like Robert Recorde; he invented the sign for equality so he would have to spend less time writing 'is equal to,' which meant he could spend more time working on actually proving things.

              When I was an undergraduate, I was amazed at the amount of effort people spent which could have been avoided by taking a moment longer to think about the problem. I am firmly of the opinion that I am not much more talented that the people around me; just much more lazy.

          • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

            by i_should_be_working (720372) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:19AM (#15917670)
            You know, for me it's the reverse. I'm much more comfortable thinking 'I could have been great had I put the effort into it', than I would be thinking that I'm just inherently not good enough. I'd rather be lazy than stupid.

            I guess I just don't like the idea of someone being 'better' than me. If someone trains, or works harder than me, that doesn't make them better, just a harder worker, which I don't mind.
            • by I(rispee_I(reme (310391) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @06:09AM (#15917804) Journal
              I guess I just don't like the idea of someone being 'better' than me. If someone trains, or works harder than me, that doesn't make them better, just a harder worker, which I don't mind.

              Unless, of course, you place value upon a strong work ethic, in which case they're still 'better' than you. :)
            • Re:Of course (Score:3, Informative)

              by yali (209015)

              Your view of things agrees with some of the available resesarch [indiana.edu] on who tends to be more successful:

              ...Students' implicit beliefs about the nature of intelligence have a significant impact on the way they approach challenging intellectual tasks: Students who view their intelligence as an unchangeable internal characteristic tend to shy away from academic challenges, whereas students who believe that their intelligence can be increased through effort and persistence seek them out.

          • The idea that they just worked harder, or rather, better than you is uncomfortable. It means that you're just lazy,

            I find the opposite true, that almost anyone, with enough work and effort, can achieve these mental/skill levels - it's an egalitarian thought and somehow liberating (now, I don't know if this is true or not, but I ascribe to it to some extent).

            If I'll ever see someone like Mozart, I'd marvel at his/her skill, not jealous of their ability - maybe because I am good at other things and can't do e

      • Re:the same thing (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Marillion (33728)
        I decided in University that there two types of people who got high marks: Lazy people who got good marks effortlessly and those to worked really hard.
        • Re:the same thing (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Abcd1234 (188840)
          Alternatively, the lazy folks might have had better training (better teachers, worked harder, etc) prior to University, and so were better mentally prepared.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:27AM (#15917096)
    Never mind, the slashdot hive mind is ready and waiting for you!

    Mod points at the ready .....
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...In my opinion, I just can't see this kind of post getting very far in life.
  • Partial credit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PresidentEnder (849024) <wyvernender@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:37AM (#15917135) Journal
    While I believe, definitely, that it has to take work to master something, and that work is the defining characteristic of a grand master, it's also important to have some inborn ability. You can't be a chess master or genius mathematician or amazing athlete without some genetic preponderance toward intelligence or coordination or speed. This becomes extremely evident in bodybuilding; genetic makeup matters big time. Yes, I realize the article is focused on intellectual pursuits, but the same thing is still true.
    • Re:Partial credit (Score:5, Interesting)

      by kripkenstein (913150) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:50AM (#15917165) Homepage
      You can't be a chess master or genius mathematician or amazing athlete without some genetic preponderance toward intelligence or coordination or speed. This becomes extremely evident in bodybuilding; genetic makeup matters big time. Yes, I realize the article is focused on intellectual pursuits, but the same thing is still true.

      So, to argue that intellectual experts are partially born, you compare them to a field where we know that being an expert is mostly born (bodybuilding)?

      There are no studies showing a trainer taking a few average joes and getting them into the world championships of bodybuilding. But there are such examples in chess, as TFA states.

      I remember learning about the "10-year theory" of genius in a graduate course in psychology (that it takes around 10 years of practice to make an expert, not innate talent). It was portrayed as a 'radical' theory in that it flew in the face of the common belief of innateness. But the evidence does support it.

      The one area where the theory wasn't completely fleshed out in TFA, however, was the issue of age. While it is possible that nearly any child can be turned into a chess master with appropriate training and time, it isn't at all clear that the same is true for adults. Whether this is because adults have less time (or motivation), or because they are missing some biological advantage that children have, we don't know. But compare this to language: we know that children learn languages very fast during a 'critical period' of childhood. Children who don't learn a language at that age cannot learn one later in life. So perhaps there is a 'critical period' for being trained to be an expert at chess. We just don't know that yet (or didn't when I was taking the class 4 years ago).
      • Re:Partial credit (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ResidntGeek (772730) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @02:24AM (#15917236) Journal
        There are no studies showing a trainer taking a few average joes and getting them into the world championships of bodybuilding. But there are such examples in chess, as TFA states.

        Chess isn't a good measure either. A COMPUTER can play chess. The rules and strategies are almost all worked out, so it takes only practice to learn them. A better field for this discussion is music - four lifetimes would not suffice to learn all of music theory.
        • by rs79 (71822)
          "our lifetimes would not suffice to learn all of music theory."

          Nonsense. You clearly don't watch enough MTV. You can learn enough to be a gaziilionare - look at them jokers that's the way you do it - in about 2.7 minutes.

        • Re:Partial credit (Score:5, Insightful)

          by kripkenstein (913150) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @02:48AM (#15917291) Homepage
          Chess isn't a good measure either. A COMPUTER can play chess. The rules and strategies are almost all worked out, so it takes only practice to learn them.

          Software chessplayers can beat human ones, but they play completely differently. For example, human chessplayers see only a few moves ahead, while software chessplayers rely more on brute-force search to find good moves.

          Computers beat humans at chess not because we understand chess, but because we found a way to make computers do it well, which is different.
        • Re:Partial credit (Score:4, Insightful)

          by kfg (145172) * on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:00AM (#15917325)
          . . .four lifetimes would not suffice to learn all of music theory.

          But this is also equally true for everyone; and the one who works at it the most will learn the most.

          Of course learning properly also helps. Did you learn theory from a book at the piano/guitar; or did you sit down with a koto (or better yet a gu zheng, more strings) and meter stick and actually try to tune it by physical measurement and by ear?

          You'll learn more about temperament that way in a couple of weeks than the average music student learns in a decade by modern methods. It might even disabuse you of the notion that there are "right" and "wrong" notes, merely consonant and dissonant intervals; and even some of those are a matter of cultural training.

          KFG
          • Re:Partial credit (Score:3, Informative)

            by more (452266)
            Dissonance and consonance are not as much cultural. It is more of a elastoviscosic property of the basilar membrane (in human inner ear). This was found out already by Plomp and Levelt in 1960's, but is only now making its way to music theory.
        • Chess isn't a good measure either. A COMPUTER can play chess. The rules and strategies are almost all worked out, so it takes only practice to learn them.

          You're mixing up different things which have nothing to do with each other.

          A computer plays chess in a very different way from a human; it mostly just calculates game state trees to see how good each play is. Humans rely very heavily on intuition, pattern recognition and strategic principles which no computer so far has mastered (and it is doubtful that th

        • Chess isn't a good measure either. A COMPUTER can play chess. The rules and strategies are almost all worked out, so it takes only practice to learn them. A better field for this discussion is music - four lifetimes would not suffice to learn all of music theory.

          Music isn't a good measure either. A COMPUTER can play music.

          There are many studies [americanidol.com] showing trainers taking average joes and getting them into the charts in closer to four weeks than four lifetimes.

        • Re:Partial credit (Score:4, Insightful)

          by misleb (129952) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:19AM (#15917382)
          When it comes to music, I think it makes a big difference what kind of music it is. If we're talking about just playing written music with accuracy and precision, I'm sure most people could do it by learning the "rules" and practicing a lot. Starting young also helps. But there is a more subjective aspect to music that goes beyond simply being able to manipulate the instrument. Can a musician improvise? Does the musician have innate rhythm? How about "soul?"

          It has nothing to do with how long it takes to learn music theory. Give an instrument to two people and teach them how ot play it. Give them, say, a year to learn the basics. They'll probably both be able to play some songs with similar skill. Now, take away their sheet music. Tell them to play something original.. improvise. I guarantee you you'll separate the naturals from the "robots" in no time. THAT is what innate ability is about.

          I like your computer comparison. A computer can be programmed to play just about any music you tell it to play. I have yet to hear a computer compose (good) original music, improvise, and adapt to the playing of others in real time. Question is, how does one quantify this so it can be studied?

          -matthew

      • Let me try to be a bit radical here:
        Maths is simple. Chess is trivial. The complexity of rocket science itself is next to nothing compared to the complexity of language.

        The evidence supports this claim: you can learn to play chess and do maths later in your life, and it takes quite a few years to master rocket science... but once you pass the age you were supposed to master at least one language in, you're done; if you haven't learned a language until then, you never will.

        Our brains come prepared for cer

        • This is why I don't like comparing things to language in the way parent poster did; I know of nothing else that cannot be learned later in life, and learned well.

          There are some other things. For example, children born blind but that see later on in life (because they had something occluding their vision, that was removed by surgery) have problems with 3D vision. It is said that they are surprised that things 'get larger when they move closer', and IIRC never attain normal functionality. Studies have been
          • Re:Partial credit (Score:2, Interesting)

            by annakin (994045)
            >As Chomsky said, "it isn't a coincidence that all children in a household learn a language, while none of the pets do so."

            Lol, that's a good quote, innate language was one of Chomsky's finer moments. However, I think the pets do learn language, they just don't have tongues. Try meowing back at a cat, and seeing the surprised look on his face when he realizes, because you are imitating him, that you didn't understand what he said :)

            If you define language as an audible, message-based communication, then
          • Re:Partial credit (Score:4, Interesting)

            by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @07:49AM (#15918167) Journal

            Oh, my bad. But vision is something even older and more fundamental than language, so I guess my point remains.

            As for the Chomsky quote, and the whole innateness theory, sorry, but I remain unconvinced. The capability of learning, understanding and speaking a language is obviously innate just as much as our senses are, but Chomskian views on that matter I find rather... lacking.

            Then again, I'm a convinced cognitivist, so this is no wonder.

            The 'critical period' aspect of language is probably because of its innateness, and not its complexity.

            Whyever do you seem to think that innateness and complexity have nothing in common?

            Take a look at the current optical recognition software, from OCR to robotic sight. How far have we gone in developing those technologies?
            Compare that to the state of NLP. Especially for morphologically rich languages, which have made Chomsky alter his theories time and again.

            Sight, hearing, language... all these require extensive training at a certain point in life. At a certain early point in life. And the reason for this is, I'd guess, because of their complexity. I've read of jungle tribes whose members can only visually comprehend distances up to 10 m or so; they never get to see anything farther away than that. In our world, they'd be maladjusted; in theirs, we would be.
            These perceptive and cognitive functions are way too complex to be fully innate; instead, capabilities for development of those functions are innate, and the functions develop according to the surroundings.

      • It's quiet simple. Children brains are in the development stage therefore whatever they learn is quickly embedded in the structure of the brain. Not only that but because of the higher level of brain activity resulting from development; children learn much quicker.

        Now take a child at age 8 and have a chess master teach them chess for 6 years. At the same time take an adult with relatively the same intelligence at age 24 and teach them chess with the same chess master for 6 years. In 6 years the child would
      • I think people seem to be getting confused between being an expert at something and an expert in a field.

        Most people could become an expert in music just by studying music theory for ten years, but it takes someone gifted to become an expert at music.

        The same goes for body building. It doesn't take muscles to be an expert in Body building but it does take the correct generic makeup to become an expert at bodybuilding.
      • The version I have seen of this theory states that it takes about 10K hours of training/study to become a real expert. At this point you've become as good as you're ever going to be.

        There are still differences between such people though, and that has to come down to 'innate ability'/genetics/IQ/whatever.

        I.e. for every intelligent person who immersed herself in programming from an early age, there's still only going to be a very few real gurus.

        An example:

        A guy like Mike Abrash is pretty well recognized as on
      • An Example (Score:4, Interesting)

        by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) * on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:50AM (#15918726)

        I remember learning about the "10-year theory" of genius in a graduate course in psychology (that it takes around 10 years of practice to make an expert, not innate talent). It was portrayed as a 'radical' theory in that it flew in the face of the common belief of innateness. But the evidence does support it.

        If you've studied comedy, you've run across a couple of truisms. One is that it takes 10 minutes of killer material to make a superstar. If you have a routine 10 minutes long in which every single bit is strongly laugh-inducing (given your delivery), then you should expect to have your own sitcom and endless fame and money in short order. Very, very few people *ever* put together 10 minutes of true, killer material.

        Another truism is that your core routine, your truly great material, grows in direct relation to how much time you spend working on it, performing, and writing. If you treat it like a full-time job, write every day, and perform every chance you get, then you'll add about 1 minute of core material to your routine for every year you practice your craft.

        In comedy, then, the theory holds. It takes 10 years to become an expert.

        On a related note, while talent can reach its potential in a decade, I'm of the opinion that a total lack of talent can never be overcome. Some people can't tell a joke. Ron Jeremy (a name that should be familiar to most Slashdot denizens) used to desperately want to be a standup. (I don't know if he still feels that way.) I've seen his act many times over a number of years. He has no timing and even though the material is pretty good, he just can't tell a joke. He gets some laughs. He may even be just good enough to make a living at it (as a novelty act) if he wanted to. But I'm convinced that he proves that a LACK of talent can never be overcome no matter how hard you work.

    • Got any evidence to back up that theory cowboy? Note: a plausible analogy or "seeming likely" are not hallmarks of a credible theory, especially when said theory conflicts with a study done by professionals.
    • Re:Partial credit (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kfg (145172) *
      I tell all my students that there is a difference between talent and skill. Talent is what is innate, skill is what you learn. You can't do anything about talent, but skill is entirely learned behavior, so as long as there is nothing wrong with you you can develop just as much skill as anyone else.

      If you're 5'4" you're probably not going to have a career in the NBA, but you can develop just as much skill at basketball as people who do. Maybe you're not "smart" enough to be a chess Grand Master, but a Master
      • "They goof off. It's their, ummmmmmmmm, talent. :)"

        I've got to ask, are you a Paul Deem in anything (I sure as hell am not)? I'm betting that with nearly 10,000 posts to Slashdot, posted in a very short amount of time, you probably used to be, but you aren't anymore.
      • Can a failure of will be a success of imagination, a complete lack of willingness to do the same boring repetitious task, over and over and ad nauseam.

        Marketing might proclaim jock straps etc. as amazing and heroes because it sells product but is it true. Prior to rampant, I am not lying, I am acting, product promotion by jock straps the only quality that was truly respected was good sportsmanship.

    • While I believe, definitely, that it has to take work to master something, and that work is the defining characteristic of a grand master, it's also important to have some inborn ability.

      Yes, that sums it up exactly. Inate ability is essential, as well as hard work over a long time, to achieve true mastery.

      The thing that really annoys me is talented people (whether in sports, the arts, science, or any other intellectual area) who say "I got to the top of my chosen field through hard work". My problem i

      • I don't think you read the article.

        "Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time."

        The key term being "effortful study". The science almos

    • Absolutely right our genes aren't just there for show.
      We were all at school and were shown new sports/skills/concepts at the same time as our classmates, yet we all know that some of us found one, or some of these things easier than others. I can remember our sixth form school rugby team, I had played and trained outside school for a couple of years, yet there were a couple of my friends who just joined the team and just seem to pick up the skills. Conversely I always couldn't understand how some people jus
    • While I believe, definitely, that it has to take work to master something, and that work is the defining characteristic of a grand master, it's also important to have some inborn ability.

      The important inborn ability might be the motivation and ambition to actually do the hard work required to master something. Of the Polgar sisters [psychologytoday.com] Sofia was considered the most talented chess player, but only Susan and Judit had the motivation. As Susan has said, "Everything came easiest to her, but she was lazy."

  • by Anonymous Coward
    In the early '90-ies Michael J.A. Howe published a book called "The origins of exceptional abilities", which concluded the same by studying the life history of exceptional people like Mozart. Mozart did not write any music worth listening to before after about a decade of hard training. His father made him practice several hours a day from a very young age. Compare that to the "loose your beer belly" gymnastics commercials "five minutes a day for a month for great results", and you understand why Mozart bec
    • I think the American composer Charles Ives is an even better example, because the training his father gave him reflected very specifically in his later works. His dad was an experimental bandleader, and forced Charles to listen to atonal, semitonal, and overlapping music.

      Semitonal and quatertonal music never really caught on, but for Charles Ives it was quite natural, because he was familiar with it as a child. However, overlapping music is an entire industry, we call it deejaying today.
    • Compare that to the "loose your beer belly" gymnastics commercials "five minutes a day for a month for great results", and you understand why Mozart became great!

      Those things are funny. About the only thing those gadgets do in 20 minutes of exercise per day performed while you sit in front of your TV, occasionally stopping to munch on a super sized McDonalds menu, is calm your conscience. If you want to lose weight you have to exercise and control your diet. Either one on it's own will not do the job well a
    • Mozart did not write any music worth listening to before after about a decade of hard training.



      However, for every single Mozart there's probably several orders of magnitude more people who will not write any music worth listening to, no matter how long they train.



      As they say ... don't try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

  • by davidwr (791652) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:47AM (#15917159) Homepage Journal
    By the tender age of 10, I was regional champion couch potato.

    In another 10 years I'll be a world-class Slashdot Humorist. Obviously, I'm still working on that one.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The premise:

    Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence.

    The conclusion:

    Capablanca, regarded to this day as the greatest "natural" chess player, boasted that he never studied the game. In fact, he flunked out of Columbia University in part because he spent so much time playing chess. His famously quick apprehension was a product of all his training, not a substitute for it.

    So, I g

  • Uhh, sorta. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bm_luethke (253362) <luethkeb@cREDHATomcast.net minus distro> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:52AM (#15917173)
    You will never find a "master" at what they do that does not practice and have lots of experience. That is, of course, a given. I don't think any one says otherwise - to a large extent the article implies it. No coach thinks raw talent alone will win the olympics, it takes practice, practice, practice, and more practice.

    It also requires Chess to be a near perfect look into intellect and ability - the author obviously understands this as roughly half the article is an attemp to prove it. If this is not true then the whole theory falls apart and I do not think enough is shown for this to be true (not being in that field I do not know if it is considered a given, but again I doubt it is. I can not see chess having much bearing to archery).

    I can assure you that innate talent exists. It is not hard to find. I have two fairly good archery students - one shoots only the one day of our course and the other shoots at home every day. If hard work and focus was the deciding factor the wrong one is getting much higer scores.

    We can all find people in our own schooling that exemplifies this. In science/math courses I did very very little and was generally one of the higer grades. I knew quite a number of people who were obsessed and spent WAY more time than I ever did who never came anywhere close to my ability. I knew people who surpassed me that worked less and some that worked more. Of course I still spent quite a bit of time at it. I could not learn how something worked without reading about it or taking it apart, yet I needed only to do so once or twice. Some could do it hundreds of times and never get it, some would only need to get halfway before they understood it. That's innate talent.

    It's so trivial to find people that break this theory I can not see how it is talked about much. Obviously hard work will get you a long ways, pure talent on never using it is horrid, and pure talent with hard work is what makes world champions. I can (and have) practiced enough to be a champion in Archery, I'm nowhere close and I'll never be - I just can not hold the bow steady enough. No amount of practice will overcome it.

    Coaches and teachers say this because after running thousands of people through thier programs it is obvious that a thing called "talent" exists.

    And, lastly, they gloss over that all of thier examples were considered prodigies even before they invested years and years of hard work, to be a world champion requires both. The study pre-assumes that talent is the same, notes that practice is different so it *must* be the cause (how can you say that with more than one variable?). How about we try and hold everything that affects the outcome constant that we can (practice, initial novice level, user motivation, etc) and see if everyone performs at the same level. I bet they do not. Right now there are too many variables from the study listed to draw any conclusion - talent could very well still play a large role, it has not been ruled out. Just as it is obvious that hard work is needed to be a world champion it should be obvious that not including talent will make talent irrelevant in thier study. Unless you control or adjust for a variable you *can not* make any conclsuion on how much it affects your outcome.
    • Thus, motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise. It is no accident that in music, chess and sports--all domains in which expertise is defined by competitive performance rather than academic credentialing--professionalism has been emerging at ever younger ages, under the ministrations of increasingly dedicated parents and even extended families.

      Philip E. Ross, a contributing editor at Scientific American, is a chess player himself and father of Lau

    • "No coach thinks raw talent alone will win the olympics, it takes practice, practice, practice, and more practice."

      Close. Too many people think practice makes perfect, when in reality, most people who do so simply perfect their mistakes.
    • Re:Uhh, sorta. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Clovert Agent (87154) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:09AM (#15917506)
      I can assure you that innate talent exists. It is not hard to find. I have two fairly good archery students - one shoots only the one day of our course and the other shoots at home every day. If hard work and focus was the deciding factor the wrong one is getting much higer scores.

      I don't necessarily disagree with you, but it's hard to tell where background stops and talent starts. For example, perhaps your talented student simply had exposure to a range of activities as a child which meant s/he developed better hand/eye coordination - a head start, in other words, which just looks like innate ability.

      I imagine "talent" to a degree depends on prediliction. I'm not at all musical, and gave up piano lessons as a child because I just didn't find it fun. Kids who /do/ enjoy it and spend hours and hours practising because it's fun, are obviously getting much more training than those who endure a weekly lesson and do a minimum of practice.

      And, of course, what you like probably depends largely on your home environment. So an inclination to develop talent, perhaps, can be instilled from infancy.

      None of which precludes the possibility of innate talent, of course, like you described. Some kids really do just pick up a golf club and show a frightening ability to get it right first time. Seems obvious, really: if talent="physiognomy and mental state being just right to start with", then perhaps everyone's got a statistical chance of being naturally good at any given skill.
    • Re:Uhh, sorta. (Score:2, Informative)

      by wathiant (968373)
      What you are missing here is that there is usually a right way and a wrong way to practice. The right way is usually to actively search for your boundaries, actively analyze what the problem is and then work on that specific problem for a few hours or so. Most people think that 'practice makes perfect'. But as the article states (the golf example), most people lose their will to spend time to really improve when they reach the level of their rivals. I think that what is called 'innate talent' is actually mo
    • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @07:22AM (#15918026)
      There is a commonly-held belief among teachers:

      "I was taught it this way, I'm good at it, so that's the right way of teaching it." Really, what "it" is doesn't matter. This belief is held by language teachers, sports coaches, music teachers and many more. This belief is then supported with examples of pupils/students who are also good at their particular "it".

      Over the last hundred years, many many teachers have studied teaching or their disciplines in new ways which have disproved this commonly-believed falsehood.

      The first example I'm aware of is described in Harold Taylor's book The Pianist's Talent. In it, he examines the work of a turn-of-the-19th/20th-century Parisian piano teacher by the name of Raymond Thiberge. Thiberge was vexed by the vastly differing -- even contradictory -- advice coming from the various piano conservatories in Paris, so he went to all the individual conservatories for further study. In one, he would be told that there should be tension in the front of the forearm; in the next, tension in the back of the forearm. Thiberge was blind, so to study another's technique he had to touch them. When he lay his hands on any of the teachers, he found that they all had one technique: no tension anywhere.

      The teachers were not successful because they followed their professed technique, but because they didn't. Worse, their pupils who they used as proof of the efficacy of their techniques also used a completely different technique than that which they were taught. Worse still, teachers were dismissing their failures as not the teacher's fault -- they were simply untalented -- while the reason they failed was because they were doing what they were told. To quote shlmco, another \.er: Too many people think practice makes perfect, when in reality, most people who do so simply perfect their mistakes. In another example, over the last few decades, top-level swimming coaching has changed dramatically, leading to athletes capable of such incredible feats as the Thorpedo's alleged ability to cross a swimming pool in two strokes. The trigger for this was the invention of the underwater tracking camera now so commonly used in major competitive events. Traditional teaching of front-crawl stroke said that the arms should travel in an "S-stroke" and that the fingers should be closed against each other. Coaches who were former gold-medal winners professed this technique as the technique that had won them their fame, but when the cameras started rolling, suddenly people could see that their hands were travelling in an almost straight line, and that their fingers were slightly apart. It became noticed that coaches were ignoring their star students' "non-standard" technique because they were doing so well, but were constantly "correcting" the technique of their other students, hindering their progress.

      I was discussing all this with a Scottish country dance teacher recently, trying to demonstrate that another commonly-held notion -- the idea that there are different teaching techniques suited to different people -- was at best an overstatement, at worst a complete falacy, and in any case a result of bad teaching practice. At this point he tied it in to his own personal experience -- one tricky dance-step, the "pas-de-bas", which his student's could never get, although he taught it as all the top teachers do. He eventually came to the conclusion that it was a teaching problem, not a learning problem, so he stopped to study it. At every possible opportunity, he watched the feet of the top dancers until he saw what they were doing and realised that it was not what he was teaching, but it is what he was doing. It is now a point of frustration to him that the teaching fraternity continues to teach it incorrectly when it is perfectly possible to teach it correctly.

      Effort will always fail to bear fruit if misdirected. Concientious hard work will make matters worse if the teaching is wrong. In fact, as the Inner Game philosophy is now trying to popularise,

  • by ispeters (621097) <ispeters@nOspam.alumni.uwaterloo.ca> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:57AM (#15917181)

    In case anyone else prefers one, nearly ad-free, page [scientificamerican.com] over 6 skinny pages full of blinky bits.

  • by Rie Beam (632299) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:59AM (#15917189) Journal
    The question I have is, had Mozart been taught to write and to write constantly, would he be a famous writer? Or would his interests lie elsewhere and writing simply serve to be a hobby?

    I think what seperates genius from someone who is simply "good" at something is a geniuine love for what they do later in life. They tend to be more well-rounded and express themselves through the various mediums, but the true geniuses excel in one or more of these modes of expression. The fact that they're well-versed in some skill just makes it all the more likely they'll end up producing something of great value in that area of the arts or science.
  • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @02:00AM (#15917191) Journal
    Theres a fundamental truth different people pick different things up more quickly than others. Some are "naturally" good at math and others at sport (and some at both but not nitting). Not everyone's going to react like Mozart to the same music training.

    So if you're good at something from the start you're going to get more positive feedback earlier on and you're going to get further and progress more quickly through the same training. But fundamentally yes both the gifted person and the talentless hack are going to need to be exposed to the same tools, techniques and ideas to progress in anything. Mozart wouldn't have gotten anywhere with the piano and orchestras if he'd grown up in a culture that didn't have pianos and orchestras. With his innate abilities perhaps he'd have been Africa's best drummer or a killer on the diggeri doo instead :-)

    Another thing. It's important to do things you're not good at for a couple of reasons. One is that some things you're not good at are fun...go to a karoke bar and you won't see people trying to perfect their world class opera voices. You don't even discover what you like if you don't try and life is there to be embraced and tasted. The other is that not everyone progresses at the same rate. It is possible to spend weeks (but probably not more than a few weeks) and make a breakthrough in understanding that suddenly means you improve dramatically even if you're never going to be world class.

    However yes, nothing replaces hard work and training. If you're good at something without these you could be much better with the correct focused training.
  • Arg (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hyfe (641811) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @02:04AM (#15917197)
    In fact, they appear to be confusing ability with precocity
    ARG!

    Just as with the nature versus nurture debate, it's not a question of which one it is; but of how much of each one.

    Obviously, the surroundings, encouragement, over-stimulation, lack of stimulation etc are going to have an tremendous on a child. Anybobdy saying anything else is a loony.

    On the other hand, it's a well known fact among strategy gamers that everybody has, more or less atleast, a limit to how good they get. During 5-6 years of steady play, most people just max at some point, usually after a couple of years and stop becoming better. Be it lack of intelligence, lack of patentience, lack of anal-retentivness, it still happens. They hit their roof.

  • it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field.

    For nerds in Computing and IT, this means a lot. Which programming languages to learn? Which editor to use? Which IDE to get addicted to? All the answers would slant in the direction of Open Source and Free tools. It makes absolutely no sense for an intellectual, one whose primary assets are cervaux, to go in for expertise and proficiency in proprietary stuff.

    This will be the reason why "Developers, Developers and more Developers" will simp
    • IANA Programmer, but I work around them:

      Wouldn't focus upon the concepts be a better way to do it? Someone who has spent ten to twelve years writing code should be capable in pretty much any environment, and able to learn a language in a relatively short period, what with buzzwords and all. If you focus on Python, you've learned Python, but if you focus on say, object-orientation, you can use that with any tool that utilizes that concept, be it FOSS or proprietry. And if your commercial tool of choice fad


  • ...this was accepted for publishing or posting.

    The basis of the article threads itself into and througout chess, and whilst I have a fondness for it, it cannot be the only form of being an expert, mental prowess, etc., can it?

    If it had been "The Expert Chess Mind", that would be a different thing altogether.

    I'd expected more until I realized the cover picture depicted the meat of the article.

    I haven't renewed my subscription yet, but if it had come under the label of a subscription, I'd have asked
  • by yusing (216625) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @02:26AM (#15917243) Journal
    Of course "It takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field."

    In music for example, certainly Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Berlioz had to work hard to learn their craft, with some of the best teachers.

    Nonetheless, most people would not benefit from that tutelage, because they would be unable to grasp what was important and what was not. A work of genius is not the result of privilege, but of someone whose innate ability to absorb, digest, and then apply in strikingly original ways are simply beyond the grasp of most of us.

    The answer to the question of nature vs. nurture is that both are necessary. A genius feral child will not recreate social skills alone. Nor will a privileged imbecile be able to govern a nation.
  • For what it's worth, Peter Norvig has already pointed this out (he cites research from John Hayes [amazon.com] and Benjamin Bloom [amazon.com]).

    Check out his short essay on how to learn to program in 10 years. [norvig.com]
  • by illuminatedwax (537131) <`ude.ogacihcu.inmula' `ta' `egnardts'> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:00AM (#15917327) Journal
    This article is going to bring up the subject of formal study vs. hard work. It's very simple: You will get nowhere without hard work. But you will go farther and faster with formal study.

    Example: Dizzy Gillespie was an amazing trumpet player, but the way he played was all wrong. Does this mean that our idea of the "right" way to play is wrong? No; Dizzy succeeded despite playing the wrong way, simply because he practiced so goddamned hard. But if you want to learn to play the trumpet, should you just shirk all advice and just practice? Of course not. You'll be a better player if you don't have obstacles - and the "right" way is "right" because it has fewer obstacles. Just don't think you can relax, because you'll get blown away by those who are working hard.

    Now take for example the computer programmer. The computer programmer who studies on his own not only has to figure out what is going on from scratch (this is actually beneficial), but he has has to figure out what to study. An education in computer science will prepare this programmer for that. But all too often the computer programmer with an education uses this as a crutch - they soon become stagnant.

    FAQ
    Can you succeed without working hard? No.
    So, do you need education? Maybe not, but it helps.
    Would you be better at what you want to do if you have education? Undoubtedly.
  • Genius vs. Expert (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nacturation (646836) <nacturation AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:06AM (#15917346) Journal
    Mozart wrote his first symphony (and not some half-assed attempt) before he was ten years old. So unless he received training while still a sperm, I think it's safe to chalk that case up to something other than ten years of hard work. Of course we're talking about people operating at the genius level, not just the expert level. Anyone of sufficient intelligence can become an expert at whatever they work at. I like the quote that I read in a Feynman book a while back as I think it sums it up fairly well:

    "There are two kinds of geniuses: the 'ordinary' and the 'magicians'. An ordinary genius is a fellow whom you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they've done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. Even after we understand what they have done it is completely dark. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest calibre." - Mark Kac
     
  • Question: If I learn the rules of baseball until I can chant them in my sleep, including the current stats on all current players and teams, what is my skill on the field?

    Answer: Who the hell knows.

    Or how about creative expression? How many years do I have to study Picasso to become a leading force in a revolutionary new art movement?

    What about personality? How long do I have to intern with Bill Gates to become a billionaire?

    Using chess is an awful example because it's a small closed system with a simple
  • So, there basically trying to say that someone with Dyslexia only has Dyslexia because they haven't trained hard enough even though it runs in famalies.

    There also trying to say that someone who has always had a low IQ can become an expert if they spend ten years in the field.

    Given the number of things I cannot do even though I have tried as hard or harder that most people and compairing them to the things I can do and always have been able to do without even thinking about them I'd say this artical is a loa
  • Effortless Mastery (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jazzman251 (887873)
    There is a book out called Effortless Mastery and It's written by jazz pianist Kenny Werner. A very good read for anybody, not just musicians. I highly recommend it if this topic interests you.

    From Amazon [amazon.com]
    "Werner, a masterful jazz pianist in his own right, uses his own life story and experiences to explore the barriers to creativity and mastery of music, and in the process reveals that 'Mastery is available to everyone,' providing practical, detailed ways to move towards greater confidence and profici
  • I believe in the context of being able to play instruments TFA has a point about how good you appear being related to how long you've been practising.

    Mozart was remembered for being a great creator - that kind of insight cannot be given by training alone, though it *usually* does help to know the ground rules of whatever field you are in to be able to be a visionary in it.
  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:41AM (#15917569)
    I played trombone for about 10 years, starting in elementary school ending in university, and I observed that while hard work and study were a major, major factor in how good you were, talent was necessary. You had to have a certian "it". I can't put a name to it or tell you how to check, but it had to be there if you were ever to be really good. I think it most likely had to do with a talent in hearing music. I could tell you, just by listening to the tone (sound charestic) of a player if they had "it" or not.

    If they did, they had the potential to be quite good. How good they were depended in a large way on how hard they worked, but that "it" allowed for them to do it. If they didn't, no amount of work could make up for it. There was just a wall that they could not surpass with any amount of effort.

    In highschool I saw this in quite a pronounced fashion. I had "it", something I discovered in 7th grade. I could produce a tone that sounded good, sounded like the kind of sound professionals get. I don't mean I sounded that good, but I mean it was the same kind of sound. My 2nd chair player didn't have "it". His tone was blatty and sounded more akin to a beginner. I felt really sorry for the guy because he busted his ass. I kinda slacked off, as I like to do, and so while I was good I wasn't a star or anything. I'm sure I could have been much better if I'd been willing to commit more time to it (though in retrospect I spent quite a bit of time on it).

    He worked his ASS off. I mean I couldn't believe how much he practised, at least 2 hours a night usually more. He really, really wanted to be better, and in particular wanted to be better than me. He just couldn't do it though. The technical aspects he could get down wutie well through all the repetition but the musicality never came. He had private teachers try to help, I tried to help, but it didn't do any good. He lacked "it", he lacked the talent to ever really get good.

    Same thing in university. There was a hard cutoff in trombones at the 4th chair. The first 4 all had "it", we all sounded good. Differeing skills of course, but all sounded as a trombone should. The next 5, nope. It was just painfully obvious. I could switch with the and 2nd, 3rd, or 4th chairs on a solo or something and it would work. They didn't sound just like me, but they sounded right. However sub in any of the others and man, you'd notice straight off.

    I think it may have something to do with listening ability. There are things relating to that which can't be trained, like perfect pitch (the ability to identify the absolute pitch of a note with no context). It's not perfect pitch that is required (I don't have perfect pitch) but perhaps something like it.

    Either way, I certianly don't disagree that being proficiten/an expert/a master requires a hell of a lot of work, in think in many cases talent is necessary, but not sufficient, condition. Maybe it's genetic, maybe it's something that can only be learned during a critical developmental phase, either way if you don't have it, you'll never be great, no matter how hard you try.
  • I think just the summary shows a fundamental flaw in this theory -- there was a jump in music experts _after the book was published about Mozart. Sometimes it takes genius to make the leaps in a field. Then, so long as the leaps are properly documented, it is much easier for non-geniuses to tackle the same material. Just think, if that wasn't true then most of us would be stuck with a prehistoric concept of the world. It took a leap to link the movement of the stars with the roundness of the earth, or to th
  • by kahei (466208) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @06:46AM (#15917896) Homepage
    I've noticed, like many others, that some 'expert' programmers are perhaps 8x as
    productive as regular programmers; their work does not require checking,
    they solve complex problems in such a way that the problem can actually
    be forgotten about, and they never find that something can't be done
    because of the decisions they made earlier. I would rather have one of
    these guys with on a project than three regular Joes, and the wise
    project manager scours the organization for them and collects them all
    in a fiercely guarded hoard. What vast innate aptitude they must have!

    And yet I notice that these experts are, coincidentally, also the same
    people who use a spell-checker, who ask what terms mean before trying to
    use them, who write down what they're going to do before they do it, who
    understand what the business context of the work they're doing is, and
    who understand the imperfect realities of the workplace. In other words,
    they're not natural computer geniuses; they're people who bother to learn
    how to do stuff right.

    An image of the naturally talented 'geek' or 'nerd' has grown up in the
    last 20 years, especially outside of the IT community. These
    individuals, the story goes, can be awkward and eccentric in the more
    'people' aspects of life but are gifted with tremendous focus and
    ability to understand complexity in technical areas. Often seen
    watching Star Trek and blowing things up in their back yards, they are
    the highly specialized new breed on which the information revolution
    depends.

    The fact is, the above is half-right. 'Geeks' do exist -- but there
    is absolutely no correlation between geek-hood and technical ability.
    Quite the reverse, in fact; technical ability is acquired by learning
    from others, and you can't learn from others if you don't communicate.
    The basement-dwelling machine-code-writing ubergeek of the 80's really
    existed, but only due to social factors; had he left his basement and
    gotten a girlfreind, he would have become more productive, not less.
    This is pretty well recognised in business now; nobody hires the
    basement-dweller if they can hire the rugby-player, which is rather bad
    luck for the basement-dweller but sound thinking on the part of the
    business.

    And yet the image persists in popular culture, so much so that people
    who learn that I work with computers still occasionally expect me to be
    into a whole nerd culture of comics, DIY demolitions, and so forth.
    Sure, some people are bigger or stronger or smarter than others to some
    degree; but how remarkably seductive this idea that certain people just
    naturally fall into certain slots, where they are good and bad at
    specific predetermined things, is! And how very different from reality
    it is.

    Except for mathematicians, mind you. Those guys are born not made, I'm sure of it.

    • And yet I notice that these experts are, coincidentally, also the same people who use a spell-checker, who ask what terms mean before trying to use them, who write down what they're going to do before they do it, who understand what the business context of the work they're doing is, and who understand the imperfect realities of the workplace. In other words, they're not natural computer geniuses; they're people who bother to learn how to do stuff right.

      It takes a certain level of talent to see this. Som

  • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @06:55AM (#15917930)
    The summary of this article doesn't really convey the content - it's not really about nature vs nurture or how long it takes to train to become an expert...

    The real article content is that the expert mind works differently (i.e. uses different brain functions to achieve a better result) from the novice one. Chess is used as an example because it's easy via ratings to objectively measure expertise in this area.

    In a nutshell, a novice in a field has to use general (new) problem solving skills to figure out what to do, but the expert, from years of focused experience, instead uses memory recall (not problem solving) of domain-specific chunked memories to determine the best course of action.

    This result is proven for chess by brain scans of novice and expert chess players in action showing which areas of the brain are active, as well as by showing that experts perfrom better at memorizing real rather than random chess positions, while novices perform muich the same (poorly) in either case; the inference of the memorization task is that experts are able to chunk real positions into pre-learnt patterns, and therefore have less to remember, but for random positions (which therefore don't occur in their learnt patterns) they have to resort to piece-by-piece memorization like the novice.

    The article quotes Casablanca being questioned on how many moves he plans ahead, and answering "one - the right one!". This isn't bragging, but rather reflects the reality of seeing (via automatic memory recall) the right position rather than having to work it out via a computer-like game alogorithm.

  • by CFTM (513264) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @07:53AM (#15918199)
    I do not believe in talent; I believe in potential. We are all born with innate potential but no one is just "talented" at something. Some people are able to pick up nuisances faster than others; for instance I'm dsylexic. It causes me to be slower at picking up foundational material than other people. There is a flip side to it though, my whole life I've had to work a bit harder and be more adaptive to learning new material in order to not fall too far behind. It instilled in me a work ethic that is second to none; at 25 people look at me and think that I'm "incredibly talented". I worked my fucking ass, learned how to "learn" better than anyone I know and approach new topics without ego.

    For ancedotal evidence to support this one need only look at the realm of professional sports. Yes these men and women have a genetic predisposition that gives them the basics ability to compete at the highest level and most people do not have that but what made Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player to walk this planet was not his genetic predisposition nor his "innate talent". He worked harder than any other guy out there...I remember being told a story at basketball camp when I was a wee lad; the point guard for UCLA at the time thought that he'd sneak on to the Warner Brothers set to play some ball in the fancy gym set up for Jordan while filming Space Jam (in the evenings they'd play pick up games with Jordan at this facility). He figured that no one would be using the facility and apparently it was quite good. Finally gets in there and whose shooting jumpers? None other than Michael Jordan.

    We like to use talent as our scape-goat. It explains why someone else is better at something than we are; reality is it's just an excuse.
  • by Garse Janacek (554329) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @11:20AM (#15920330)

    A lot of people are pointing out that natural ability vs. training isn't a boolean, so the article oversimplifies. But a lot of people are also saying "Natural ability is necessary, I know because I spent 10 years doing [whatever]" or "I saw people who spent 10 years working on [whatever] and they still aren't the best."

    That's making very unwarranted assumptions: no one is saying that it's enough to work for 10 years at something, no matter how you work at it. People who drive every day for 10 years still aren't typically world-class drivers, because they aren't spending that daily driving time doing anything that would lead to real improvement. Even people who work hard to improve at something, for years, can still make little or no progress because of how they are working or being taught, completely independent of any innate ability they may have.

    I believe in innate ability, and I think it would be very difficult to honestly argue it doesn't exist at all. But I think it can be overstated -- as one of the other commenters noted, in some disciplines the experts don't do things the way they tell their students to (and as a budding mathematician who is appalled with the state of mathematical exposition today, I think the same is true in that field -- it would be very easy for someone with a lot of ability in math to nevertheless become discouraged by the way higher math is presented). Apparent "innate ability" in such cases may just mean that someone happened upon the correct approach to something despite, or at least independently of, their "official" training. If that's true, it doesn't mean natural talent doesn't exist, but it does suggest that there are many more "naturally talented" people than we are aware of because of our limited understanding and education.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.

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