Saturday, February 25, 2012

This article is a review of the book “The Genius in All of Us” by David Shenk. In this book he argues that humans have a dormant talent abundance which most people are not even aware they possess.

In his book he has two main arguments. The first relates to the science of epigenetics, which is the study of the effect environment has on the expression of genes. People think of genes as a set of fixed instructions that cannot be changed or altered in any way. But according to Shenk genes can indeed be influenced by elements such as environmental stimuli, nutrition, hormones, nerve impulses, and even other genes. He even says that it is, to some extent, under our control to change our genetic limits.

His second body of research is the qualities of exceptional abilities. He believes that talent is not a product of nature but of “highly concentrated effort.” He thinks of talent as a process that can be achieved through practice, not as a “gift” that someone is born with. Shenk describes the genome as a control board, with switches that can be manipulated in order to alter our genes.

          All in all, Shenk believed that nature and nurture were not opposites. Nature is what is provided to us when we are born, and nurture is how well we take advantage of it. He thinks that deliberate practice can actually produce changes in the brain. So in order to be a “genius” Shenk argues that practice and ambition are imperative. Whatever it is one wishes to do well, one must practice over and over again with the mentality that failure is part of the process. One must also be ready to sacrifice time, money, sleep, etc. in order to reach this goal.

          Shenk's ideas are very different from many others I have read about. Instead of putting the ideas of nature and nurture against each other, he presents them in a way in which they are both part of something greater. Also, he believes that every human has the mental capacity to achieve great things. The reason why people don't is beacause they don't try hard enough and just give up before even trying. He makes it very clear that in order to achieve this "intellectual greatness" people have to make it a priority and practice, practice, practice.

Reflection question:
         Is the dedication required to achieve these goals inborn? Does everyone have the same capacity to have such intense drives?

Murphy Paul, Annie. "How to Be Brilliant." The New York Times 18 Mar. 2010. Web.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pinker, Peter de Florez professor of psychology in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, is the author of various popular science books including How the Mind Works (1997). In this book he discusses the debate of nature vs. nurture. He attempts to answer the question of whether personality, intelligence, gender, and moral sense are due to genetics or cultural influence.
             Pinker is an opponent of the belief that humans are born with an empty mind, a tabula rasa. The blank slate is the idea that all knowledge comes from experience and that differences between races, ethnic groups, sexes, and individuals are dependent on experiences and environment. Pinker believed that the blank slate theory was simply false. He argues that differences are due to the fact that our minds are partially “hardwired” at birth. He even thinks that traits such as personality traits are partly genetic and that male and female minds differ biologically.
             Although he believes that morality does not depend on biology, he says that people are wrong to think that the Blank Slate is a moral good. He thinks that all aspects of a human are at least partly genetic but that doesn’t mean that crimes such as murder and rape should not be condemned.

                Pinker strongly believes in Darwinian science and most of his claims are from the point of view of evolutionary psychology. He even claims that human’s moral sense is itself a product of evolution. Most of his arguments though, are too extreme to a point in which it is hard to find evidence that confirms his beliefs which makes some of his tales sound like sheer speculation.
               The Blank Slate idea is itself very extreme. The belief that humans are born with an empty mind seems ignorant due to the fact that we have plenty of scientific research that proves that human minds are partially "hardwired" at birth. Most of Pinker's main ideas are in base of these research and findings, but he also makes many claims that cannot be supported. For instance, he says that personality traits are partly genetic when there is no concrete research that confirms this. In my opinion, this article didn't give as much information on Pinker's beliefs. Instead it was mostly criticizing the book for the most part of the article.
  •  Is there any kind of evidence that confirms the belief that humans are born with an empty mind?
  • How do male and female minds differ biologially?

Orr, H. Allen. "Darwinian Storytelling." New York Review of Books. Feb. 27 2003: 17+. SIRS Renaissance. Web. 19 Feb 2012.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Why I chose this topic?
     In my psychology class we have been learning about human intelligence since chapter one. The most debated topic is the nature versus nurture conflict. The discussion on whether intelligence is something humans are born with or something acquired through experience is something I find fascinating and something I would like to learn more about.

Is intelligence something humans are naturally born with or is it something that is shaped through experience?