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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 @02:21AM (#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:Woohoo! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @02:33AM (#15917119)
    the problem with those 10 years is, that Mozart took public concerts when he was 6 (to the emperrors btw).And was able to repeat incredible hard compositions.If its not born, then what is it?
  • Partial credit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PresidentEnder (849024) <wyvernender@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @02:37AM (#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.
  • Uhh, sorta. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bm_luethke (253362) <luethkeb@co m c a s t .net> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @02:52AM (#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.
  • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:00AM (#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.
  • by jkrise (535370) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:10AM (#15917208) Journal
    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 simply abandon proprietary IDEs and languages, despite loud calls and offers of money from ... you know who...

    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."

    After MS-DOS, Microsoft has stopped publishing any meaningful literature on it's products. Hell, it looks like it doesn't want to document it's protocols and interfaces either.

    This also explains why Sun atleast makes more noises about going Open Source.... they don't want to be eclipsed into obscurity, a decade from now.

    With devleopers moving away in hordes, it would be an uphill task for even a behemoth like Microsoft to survive a decade, let alone stay relevant and contemporary.
  • Re:Partial credit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ResidntGeek (772730) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:24AM (#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.
  • Re:Partial credit (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kfg (145172) * on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:26AM (#15917246)
    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 is just a matter of doing the work. Busting your ass, or head I guess, although for some there seems to be little difference between the two, which doesn't appear to relate to talent. A lot of "smart" people are dumbasses.

    I already posted once about a journalist who went to the Olympic training center at Colorado Springs soon after it opened to do a story on the high tech methods being used to train the national cycling team. The sports scientist was explaining how they could now measure oxygen uptake, which was genetic, and predict the performance of the cyclists. The journalist looking at some charts pointed out one cyclist and asked, "What about him? His oxygen uptake is only average."

    The scientist looked at the chart and responded, "Oh, yeah, well, that's Paul Deem. He just wants it more than anyone else."

    Think about that one the next time you make yourself excuses for something.

    The difference between the very goods and the really greats is generally only a matter of a percent of ability or so, not some huge, honking divide. Whatever "brilliant" performance you see you can, fairly easily get to about 90% of that and with hard work get to within a few percent, which will likely see you in the top percentile of the art/craft.

    Graham Hill, two time world driving champion was not considered a great driver by his contemporaries, people like Jim Clark and John Surtees, but he worked at his craft and when the great "talents" failed he was there, in workman like manner, to pick up the victor's laurels.

    Coordination in particular is learned behavior. It's simple repetitive patterning. A dog can learn coordination. I suppose a dog has it easy because he doesn't make it impossible for himself by telling himself he can't do it.

    I've got a cousin, went to Julliard, piano. They were thrilled to take him in because he knew how to play properly. He had been well trained. They're actually not used to that at Julliard. My cousin was an exception. Typically they have to spend the first year or so in remedial training.

    Bear in mind that people who go to Julliard have been, for most part, aimed at that since they were between 5 and 8 years old. Their parents raised them to go to Julliard and did the best they could to get the best training they could find to give their little prince/princess a shot.

    And almost all of them need remedial training when they get there.

    And there's nothing wrong with the little prince/princess. S/he is the best of the best, that top percentile, or they wouldn't even be auditioning. What has happened is that have been taught badly by the teachers mentioned at the start of the article, who were also the best teachers available.

    The average teacher is unspeakably incompetent (especially in piano for some reason), and there's no reason for it really, except, of course, that they themselves were badly trained and pass that on.

    If you want to be good at something, I mean really good, do your homework, do the work; and odds are you will be.

    In Walden Thoreau notes that it was perfectly well understood at the time that the reason most businessmen fail is not because they have no talent for business, but simply because they fail to do what they themselves know they need to do to succeed. A failure of will, not talent.

    They goof off. It's their, ummmmmmmmm, talent. :)

    KFG
  • by kfg (145172) * on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:35AM (#15917256)
    I guess spending lots of time playing counts as training. . .

    Yes, there's even a word for "lots of time playing." The word is:

    "Practice."

    You might have heard an aphorism using that word.

    I'll bet he wasn't very good at the subjects he ignored at Columbia. There just might be a relationship.

    KFG
  • by davros-too (987732) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:42AM (#15917276) Homepage
    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 is that there is a strong implication in that statement that anyone else could have done so if only they'd chosen to work that hard. This is simply not true. Yes, they have worked hard - but the difference between them and all the other people who worked equally hard is luck - the luck to have been born with more talent/aptitude.

    The myth that it 'only' takes hard work to get the most outstanding results is a corrosive and unpleasant put-down for the vast majority of us who toil away for modest results. By all means acknowledge the dedication of those who reach the top, but remember they also partly owe their position to simple luck.
  • Re:Partial credit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kripkenstein (913150) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:48AM (#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 @04:00AM (#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
  • by illuminatedwax (537131) <stdrangeNO@SPAMalumni.uchicago.edu> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:00AM (#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.
  • Re:Partial credit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by misleb (129952) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:19AM (#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

  • by oliverthered (187439) <oliverthered.hotmail@com> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:58AM (#15917476) Journal
    That's strange, I always thought capatilist retoric was that we are all born equal so all have an equal chance in life.

    Socilist retoric is that we are all born differerent but should be treated equal so those with more tallent should support those with lesser tallent because it's not the fault of those with lesser tallent that they cannot do so well.
  • by annakin (994045) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:04AM (#15917492)
    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.
  • Re:Metatalent? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by poliopteragriseoapte (973295) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:16AM (#15917520)

    I disagree - I believe people can be very different at their talents - the minds of different people can work in very different ways.

    No matter how hard I tried, I was always terrible at soccer and at juggling. I just don't have enough control of my body for that. On the other hand, learning mathematics has always been effortless for me, and I can "view" in my head 3 and 4-dimensional functions with ease. Regardless of how hard I try, I am definitely NOT good at picking up the correct accent of foreign languages - even languages that I have been speaking for decades. Other people can sound like native speakers in a couple of years. I spent lots hours trying to learn chess, and just about anybody could defeat me. At Go, in scarcely a few months I became good enough to hold my own with most players in my city.

    The belief that "education does all" is the kind of belief you have before you see enough students, and especially, before you have children. After that, you know very well that kids are born with very definite personalities and abilities - you can educate them, but the personality and basic abilities are there from day 1, perhaps not fully expressed, but there.

    Education, or training, just feeds the prepared mind or body.

  • Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:29AM (#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.

     
  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:41AM (#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.
  • Re:Partial credit (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @05:59AM (#15917612)
    I cannot believe that any child, taken at a young enough age, can be trained to be a chess master.
    The whole notion that one can be physically but not mentally talented draws on a distinction cemented in western culture by Descartes, when he postulated his famous mind-body split, that mind and body are two distinct and different entities, the former inhabiting the latter. Surely we know now that this is not the case. Surely making a distinction between "physical" and "mental" talent is bogus. There is no mind AND body, there is only body, its various components and their seamless integration.
    Does anyone really believe that a child of Forrest Gump's intelligence can be trained to become a chess master, no matter the starting age?
    And what about a talent for hard work, or sustained concentration, or accurate recall? In my (admittedly tiny) experience of human beings, people are born with these qualities already wired in at certain levels of ability.
    Perhaps social factors such as a new book on how to become a chess master simply increase the likelihood that those born with the innate characteristics helpful to such mastery find their way onto that particular path. It cannot be the case that every child schooled via a decent book on chess becomes a chess master.
    But all this is not to say that social factors are not important, of course they are. What becomes of a child is, intuition tells me, a result of the interplay between genetic and epi-genetic factors. To argue intelligence/mental-talent is entirely social is to argue that mind is not body, and body is not mind. That is not so.
  • by _tognus (903491) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @06:02AM (#15917619)

    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 fades away after a few years, wouldn't you have an easier time of retraining than the guy who learned a language and not the general concepts?

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

    by i_should_be_working (720372) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @06:19AM (#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 Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @06:58AM (#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.

     
  • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @07:55AM (#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 Terje Mathisen (128806) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @07:56AM (#15917932)
    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 one of the best PC graphics programmers ever, and he even managed to speedup John Carmack's original Quake C rendering code by a factor of 3 when writing the asm version.

    According to Mike, John Carmack had the ability to grok many (5+ ?) different subjects at this level, at the same time!

    Terje
  • by Diamonddavej (851495) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:05AM (#15917966)
    I was pissed off when I read this article. I have Asperger's Syndrome, I and people like me develop narrow intense interests as part of our AS. In our case it is obvious, that we are born to be made experts, in our field of interest.

    My interest is Mineralogy. I just finished a PhD in geology. As a child and adolescent, more so then now, I was obsessed with Mineralogy and collecting minerals. I would study about minerals practically all day every day, week after week, month after month for years. I had the knowledge of mineralogy that surpassed a typical university graduate by the age of 14! I can identify my entire collection behind my back by touch and I can identify ~750 different minerals without needing a text book.

    If you made an average child adhered to my self directed mineralogy education program, you would possibly have been done for child cruelty, but I enjoyed it, would not have change a thing.

    If I was into Chess I would have been a damn good Chess player. If I had been into Mathematics, I would have been a damn good mathematician. I was into Physics, I would have been a damn good Physicist.

    Asperger's Syndrome demonstrates than a predilection to develop narrow intellectual interests and to set up your own personal Suzuki School, is for some, innate.

    Bobby Fisher, Mozart, Einstein, Newton and others. People who are obsessive, single minded, often self-thought and are socially isolated/eccentric, have all been speculated to have had AS (or Tourettes Syndrome in the case of Mozart).
  • by illuminatedwax (537131) <stdrangeNO@SPAMalumni.uchicago.edu> on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:08AM (#15917974) Journal
    You've got to be kidding me. Bush looks like a dummy, and his policies might be completely terrible, but he knows his stuff, and he has worked hard to get to where he is. Bush knew his stuff solid at both debates (unless you still subscribe to that "wire" garbage), and he's put in a lot of effort to get to where he is. Winning a presidency is not an easy thing to do, and Bush is good enough that he makes it look like anyone can do it. True, he has Karl Rove, but believe me, you have to devote yourself to the task. In fact, look at places where Bush didn't work hard: failures.

    I'm not talking about "success" as defined as "making lots of money" or "being the highest in the corporate ladder" or even "being promoted." I'm talking about "success" as "being the best at what you want to do." But on the other hand, if what you want to do is make lots of money or climb that corporate ladder, then you have to work at it. Guile and craft take a damn lot of work, and if you don't think so, there's a reason you're not crafty or guile...y. Now, of course it's not fair that those who are the best at their craft don't get promotions, but if you are in fact the best in your craft, the fact is you have succeeded. If you shun the "corporate machine" so much, don't complain when you get screwed by it.

    Of course hard work will never guarantee success. But there's the rub - success is never guaranteed. But you can be damn sure that probability will drop damn close to zero if you don't work hard.
  • by Diamonddavej (851495) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:18AM (#15918009)
    Asperger's Syndrome demonstrates than a predilection to develop narrow intellectual interests and to set up your own personal Suzuki School, is for some, innate. I was pissed off when I read this article. I have mild Asperger's Syndrome. I and people like me develop narrow intense interests as part of our AS. In our case it is obvious. We are born to become experts, in our field of interest. My interest is Mineralogy. I just finished a PhD in geology. As a child and adolescent, more so then now, I was happily obsessed with Mineralogy and collecting minerals. I can now identify my entire collection behind my back, by touch, and I can identify ~750 different minerals without needing a text book. If you made an average child adhered to my self directed mineralogy education program, you would possibly have been done for child cruelty, but I enjoyed it and would not have change a thing. If I was into Chess I would have been a damn good Chess player. If I had been into Mathematics, I would have been a damn good mathematician. I was into Physics, I would have been a damn good Physicist etc. Bobby Fisher, Mozart, Einstein, Newton and others. People who are obsessive, single minded, often self-thought and are socially isolated/eccentric. They have all been speculated to have had AS (or Tourettes Syndrome in the case of Mozart).
  • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:22AM (#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 CFTM (513264) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @08:53AM (#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 Colin Smith (2679) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @09:13AM (#15918324)
    "Andy Soltis of Chess Life remarked on something like the 8-year limit whereupon nearly infinite amounts of continued work produce *no* further gains. This presumably relates to where natural talent leaves off."

    Or where it's increasingly difficult to find the information necessary to progress. example...

    Starting at 0% of the subject, 100% is available.
    50% knowledge, 50% is available to learn.
    90% knowledge learned only 10% is available to learn.
    99% knowledge, only 1% is available to be learned.

    As you progress it becomes harder and harder to find the information nesessary to progress so progress plateus. Extraordinary drive and motivation is necessary to search out those extra 0.5% and 0.1% bits of skill/knowledge because you have to search/train constantly for little reward.

     
  • Re:Of course (Score:4, Insightful)

    by QMO (836285) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @10:17AM (#15918994) Homepage Journal
    I disagree.

    I would say they both can be fixed, to some extent but:
    1. We tend to decide between smart and stupid or between lazy and hardworking as if the scale were discrete, rather than continuous.
    2. We tend to only look at one or two facets of intelligence, and think they're the whole thing. Consider someone that can read between Melville's lines, but can't factor a trinomial to save their life. Smart, or stupid?
    3. Lazy vs. hardworking is, in the cultures I'm familiar with, an issue relating to character, not ability.
  • by Bamafan77 (565893) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @11:41AM (#15919924)
    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. Some people assume that just because you ask questions about something (and thus admitting you don't know "everything"), that disqualies you as an expert. This is VERY prevalent in geek circles. I've been in many meetings where people's opinions were discounted because someone admitted to not having memorized some detailed technical nuance, smart programmers (not me, I swear!) were denied jobs because they didn't know some arcande aspect of SQL, or whole business plans that cost real dollers were made with hardly any technical basis in reality (just high level fluff).

    Now that said, someone who understands the low level technical nuances and is able to switch between that and the "high level fluff" I just mentioned has a true advantage in any endeaver they undertake.

    I think this is a skill that can be learned assuming a person is confident enough in their intelligence, yet humble enough to admit they don't know everything. Few people have that balance, sadly.

  • by Garse Janacek (554329) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @12:20PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @12:52PM (#15920618)
    All men are born equal is not about equality of ability, but equality of rights, with rights per the Natural Rights doctrine.

    Capitalism is not about rights, but about lack of government controls, instead relying upon greed (note: this does not mean that greed is good or bad, merely that it exists and is a core part of a true free market). Freedom/Rights loving individuals lean toward capitalism because the government limits rights - any controls that the government creates limit the rights of the governend.

    Socialism is not about rights, but about "from each what he can do, to each what he needs." In other words, it's about each person producing whatever s/he is able, and getting whatever s/he needs to survive. Nice, in theory, but greed breaks socialism. Someone, somewhere, will not produce everything that s/he can. Or, someone, somewhere, will want more than their "needed" share. Because of this, socialism requires Government oversight to function (for the purpose of this discussion, let's assume an altruistic government). This government oversight, by definition, is government control. Freedom/Rights loving individuals shy away from socialism, as socialism requires government controls, which, by definition, must limit freedoms.
  • by radtea (464814) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @01:52PM (#15921120)
    Winning a presidency is not an easy thing to do, and Bush is good enough that he makes it look like anyone can do it.

    The presidency is not won by a person, but a team. The team with the most money and the fewest ethical constraints generally wins.

  • by ultranova (717540) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @03:26PM (#15921851)

    As you progress it becomes harder and harder to find the information nesessary to progress so progress plateus. Extraordinary drive and motivation is necessary to search out those extra 0.5% and 0.1% bits of skill/knowledge because you have to search/train constantly for little reward.

    This of course assumes that not only is there a finite amount of information relevant to a given field, but also that this amount is limited enough that you can master a significant proportion of it in your lifetime.

    It might simply be that as you progress, for example as a chess player, the only people who can still give you a real challenge are other obsessed players, and they are advancing just as fast as you are, so your skills - as determined by the ratio of won and lost games - seems to stay the same. In reality you're improving, but there's no way to measure it - you win against casual gamers every time, and you and your peers are all improving at the same pace so you keep on winning and losing against them as often as before.

    Same thing applies for example to arts. It is easy to tell a stickman from a realistic drawing - but once you achieve that level, how is anyone going to tell your process ? You may draw faster, and make less errors you have to correct later - but how is anyone watching the finished drawing going to know ? Or music - once your playing is perfect, it's perfect, and no one can know how much or little effort it takes on your part. Or mathemathics - in most cases I can't tell which one of two arbitrarily picked mathemathical problems is harder to solve.

  • by danpsmith (922127) on Wednesday August 16, 2006 @04:04PM (#15922102)
    Capitalism needs this lie. I understand the original underlying intention of course: everyone gets the same rights. But often capitalism pushes this idea to the fact that everyone through hard work can succeed at things. That way bums are just lazy, middle class workers are just people who work just hard enough to be able to keep their job, etc. etc. The successful, who by far and large are not just one but a combination of hard work, luck, position and influence use it to make it seem as if everyone could be them. The fact of the matter is that some peoples' abilities will never match up to other peoples'. While it's good to try things, and even invest a bit of hard work into these things, the fact of the matter is that some people actually need help (in terms of bums) or don't posess the ability to be Einsteins and Mozarts, and that laziness isn't the real factor.

    It's a nice lie we like to tell ourselves in a capitalistic society so that we can justify 1% of the population owning most of everything: they are the harder workers. Please.

Genius is ten percent inspiration and fifty percent capital gains.

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