The book

The author

  • David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including The Forgetting ("remarkable" - Los Angeles Times), Data Smog ("indispensable" - New York Times), and The Immortal Game ("superb" - Wall Street Journal). He is a correspondent for, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.

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Main | The Narrowness of Greatness »

January 09, 2007



Reminds me of Carol Dweck's research on motivation and learning -- just displaying, roughly, the intuitive conclusion that whether we believe "intelligence" is plastic has a large impact on our attempts to better ourselves, and that feedback cycle plays a fair role in our success.

That said, I also find it a bit hard to believe that the main effects picked up in so many heritability studies are completely without basis; to interpret them as "genes causing intelligence test behaviors" is probably silly, but "genetic variation explaining a large portion of the variation in intelligence testing behaviors" is still quite important. If, i.e., an environmental intervention (persistent or transient) which could successfully interact with a particular genetic-and-neuronal set is woefully rare -- or implausible/impossible on the basis of some set of laws about our situation -- and the class of situations that would result in that same biological background leading to a given, different IQ are painfully ubiquitous, then it would be very useful to think of that genetic-neuronal setup as 'causing' said person's intellect, and essentially vacuous to point out that 'everything is an interaction.'

But there's certainly something fishy with the way the old debate's been investigated; I look forward to reading your argument in your upcoming book, Prof. Shenk! Is the release date still a tentative early 2009? I only just found your blog today, I think through some combination of MR and orgtheory...

james r burke

If one endeavours to start a project of which it may in the future be seen as a great accomplishment, and may in fact be seen as pivotal in one field or another, is it the process that fuels the passion that creates the achievement, or is it the passion that fuels the process that produces the achievment? My theory is that the soul is the engine that determines the path an individual may take in life and therefor make use of that potential and create a thing of beauty or complexity through it's use of this inherent ability to see patterns in things that others can not hope ever to make connections between. For some of us, it occurs later in life; others happily it manifests clearly in the beginning, and some dear one may in fact reward them for their achievement through recognition, a process I found sorely lacking in the public school system.

David Shenk

Three fantastic comments -- thanks. I will track down Monkey Luv. Getting past nature vs nurture is absolutely a part of this project. I'm going to write a short post on that shortly.


I read an interesting book over Christmas by a biologist at Stanford, "Monkey Luv". One of his comments stuck with me, essentially the concept of 'nature vs nurture' is sooo last century. He's all about the role of environment in mediating gene expression, and has stacks of evidence to support his thesis that the old debate is really a false dichotomy.


The new research on this stuff is really excellent, but it's easy to fall into traps here. When a researcher runs an experiment with, say, perfect pitch, it is almost irresistable to extrapolate the results to other areas, say, musical ability as a whole. These are wildly different talents, and I would venture to say that perfect pitch has little to do with musical ability beyond easy entrance to the art.

That being said, we should all be grateful to people like Ericsson, Zoudi, etc etc for applying REAL SCIENCE to a nebulous topic.

Hypothesize, test, revise! It's a brave new world.


Nature vs. Nurture is a topic really close to my heart, and hence the comment.

A big part of making it happen in a child is having a perceptive and an aware parent, who is able to spot a 'natural' talent and then able to 'nurture' it.

The biggest challenge in raising a child is letting him or her grow into the 'individual' he is, and not stereotype him into the family way, the society way, the religion way, the country way of doing things... A child is born 'unique', but the world only accepts 'similarity'... The world thrives on perpetuating clones. The biggest challenge is going to be raising children who are confident of being different, who are rewarded and encouraged to have a unique identity of their own, who are 'nurtured' for their uniqueness, the way 'nature' intended them. That's what will make the difference

Would love to have more exchanges on this, as you write the book and very keen on seeing how the book comes out. I might just be your first buyer in India

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