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The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ Paperback – March 8, 2011
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With irresistibly persuasive vigor, David Shenk debunks the long-standing notion of genetic “giftedness,” and presents dazzling new scientific research showing how greatness is in the reach of every individual.
DNA does not make us who we are. “Forget everything you think you know about genes, talent, and intelligence,” he writes. “In recent years, a mountain of scientific evidence has emerged suggesting a completely new paradigm: not talent scarcity, but latent talent abundance.”
Integrating cutting-edge research from a wide swath of disciplinesâcognitive science, genetics, biology, child developmentâShenk offers a highly optimistic new view of human potential. The problem isn't our inadequate genetic assets, but our inability, so far, to tap into what we already have. IQ testing and widespread acceptance of “innate” abilities have created an unnecessarily pessimistic view of humanityâand fostered much misdirected public policy, especially in education.
The truth is much more exciting. Genes are not a “blueprint” that bless some with greatness and doom most of us to mediocrity or worse. Rather our individual destinies are a product of the complex interplay between genes and outside stimuli-a dynamic that we, as people and as parents, can influence.
This is a revolutionary and optimistic message. We are not prisoners of our DNA. We all have the potential for greatness.
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Format and Structure: The paperback edition is 348 pages, the first 166 pages contain The Argument; pages 167 through 348 contain The Evidence (Chapter Notes). In the first part of the book, Shenk used five footnotes , which appeared in the good old-fashioned way: on the same page of the reference. However, nowhere in the body of the work is there a reference to the Chapter Notes. Only after I finished the main content did I realize the latter portion of the book was as informative as the former, without reference thereto. Perhaps I missed something when I earned my Masters in English, only having been required to follow APA or MLA protocols (neither of which did I entirely agree with). Reading this book would have been more enjoyable had the two (split) portions been integrated/collated so that the details of The Argument and The Evidence could have been read and absorbed together.
Recommendation: Notwithstanding the above comment, I really enjoyed this book and will keep it for reference as I continue to expand my mind which is composed of GxE.
Shenk has done his homework, citing in his 25-page bibliography eight seminal articles published by K. Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University. For almost four decades, they have conducted research on the process of achieving peak performance. Their influence on Shenk soon becomes evident: He names Part One, Chapters One to Six, "The Myth of Gifts." The Ericsson research leaves little (if any) doubt about the importance of (on average) 10,000 hours of "deep, deliberate practice under strict and expert supervision. Natural talent ("gifts") and luck can also be factors. For example, when members of youth sports teams are grouped according to calendar year birthdays, those born during the first six months have an advantage and those born in January-March have a significant advantage.
Shenk suggests another factor to consider, also. "The genius-in-all-of-us is not some hidden brilliance buried inside of our genes. It is the very design of the human genome - built to adapt to the world around us and to the demands we put on ourselves. With humility, with hope, and with extraordinary determination, greatness is something to which any kid - of any age - can aspire."
These are among the dozens of observations of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of the book's thematic scope. All but the first and last are Shenk's.
o "Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources...Stating the thing broadly, the human individual lives far within his limits." William James)
o "Contrary to what we've been taught, genes do not determine physical and character traits on their own. Rather, they interact with the environment in a dynamic ongoing process that produces and continually refines an individual." (Page 15)
o "Intelligence is not an innate aptitude, hardwired at conception or in the womb, but a collection of developing skills driven by the interaction between genes and environment. No one is born with a predetermined amount of intelligence. Intelligence (and IQ scores) can be improved. Few adults come close to their true intellectual potential." (34)
o "Child prodigies and superlative adult achievers are often not the same people. Understanding what makes remarkable abilities appear at different phases of a person's life provides an important insight into what talent really is." (84)
o "The old nature/nurture paradigm suggests that control over our lives is divided between genes (nature) and our own decisions (nurture)). In fact, we have far more control over our genes - and far less control over our environment - than we think." (115)
o "It must not be left to genes and parents to foster greatness; spurring individual achievement is also the duty of society. Every culture must strive to foster values that bring out the best in people." (144)
o "We have long understood [believed to be true] that lifestyle cannot alter heredity. But it turns out that it can..." (155)
o "Evidence for the contribution of talent over and above practice has proven extremely elusive...[In contrast] evidence is now emerging that exceptional performance in memory, chess, music, sports and other arenas can be fully accounted for on the basis of an age-old adage: practice makes perfect." David Shanks (171) However, Ericsson and his colleagues have concluded that there are many different types and degrees of practice that produce different types and degrees of result.
As indicated, David Shenk`s approach in this book is to review the situation: misconceptions about individual differences in talent and human intelligence; identify the problem: very few of us ever get to know or are even aware of our human potential; offer a solution in the form of an argument: use dynamic development to "tap into the genetic assets we already have"; and then present 178 pages of evidence in support of that argument.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Shekerjian's aforementioned Uncommon Genius as well as Doug Lemov's Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better, Geoff Colvin's Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How, and Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success. All of these authors express their substantial debt to Ericsson and his pioneering research. If you really want to put some white caps on your gray matter, read Gerald Edelman's Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On The Matter of The Mind.
One of the central themes of this book is, "Everything shapes us and everything can be shaped by us. The genius in all of us is our built-in ability to improve ourselves and our world." (p.131). It's a book about permission - permission to move beyond the myths that heretofore have hampered our ability to imagine the plausibility of becoming more than we are, by virtue of the common knowledge that is broadly distributed regarding intelligence, genetic predisposition and talent. Listen to Shenk: "But the new science suggests that few of us know our true limits, that the vast majority of us have not even come close to tapping what scientists call our "unactualized potential." It also suggests a profound optimism for the human race." (P.9). Now that's empowering!
David Shenk is a national bestselling author with five previous books, including The Immortal Game, Data Smog and The Forgetting - is also a correspondent and contributor to NPR, PBS, The New Yorker, The New York Times, National Geographic and The [...] This guy is incredibly insightful and an incredible researcher. This book has appendices ("Sources, Notes, Clarifications and Amplifications" that run some 160 pages) that are an integral part of the sumptuous fare provided for the reader - and comprise the body of evidence that support the authors arguments....don't overlook these.
Shenk argues: "We need to replace "nature/nurture" with "dynamic development." (P. 27). What does he mean?
"Dynamic development is the new paradigm for talent, lifestyle, and well-being. It is how genes influence everything but strictly determine very little. It forces us to rethink everything about ourselves, where we come from, and where we can go. It promises that while we'll never have true control over our lives, we do have the power to impact them enormously. Dynamic development is why human biology is a jukebox with many potential tunes not specific built-in instructions for a certain kind of life, but built-in capacity for a variety of possible lives. None is genetically doomed to mediocrity." (Pp.27-28.)
Once again, a myth-busting - empowering insight. His thesis is that "talent is not the cause but the result of something." (P.49)
He doesn't stop there. Listen to the following excerpts that evidence additional dimensions of his arguments:
"What we do know is that our brains and bodies are primed for plasticity; they were built for challenge and adaptation. This is true from life's earliest moments." (P.106).
"each of us is a dynamic system, a creature of development." (P.17).
"No one knows. We do not-and cannot-know our own limits unless and until we push ourselves to them. Finding one's true natural limit in any field takes many years and many thousands of hours of intense pursuit. What are your limits?" (P.58).
In a world that is desperately yearning to empower people to explore frontiers that will contribute to ameliorating current societal ills and providing new pathways to a better future, Shenk's argument obliterates our tendency to become complacent and/or accepting or mediocrity, when he writes:
"But the new science tells us that it's equally foolish to think that mediocrity is built into most of us, or that any of us can know our true limits before we've applied enormous resources and invested vast amounts of time. Our abilities are not set in genetic stone. They are soft and sculptable, far into adulthood. With humility, with hope, and with extraordinary determination, greatness is something to which any kid - of any age - can aspire." (P. 10)
Solid journalistic research, powerful prose, and penetrating arguments in habit this work by David Shenk. However, this particular book is actually much, much more than that. From time to time certain literary works unmask the fallacy behind "common knowledge" masquerading as "certainty." The Genius In All of Us - Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent and IQ is Wrong, is one of those.
Thinking and the collective consciousness that any society tends to develop over time has an inertia behind it - an energy that maintains the body of widely held beliefs and assumptions about "what we think we know," including all the rationalizations behind our "certainty. However, as it pertains to genetics, talent and IQ (like a myriad of topics every society comes to be "certain" about) - this "certainty" has unconsidered consequences. What do I mean? Listen to David Shenk: "I believe the answer lies in the profound inertia of human thought. When an entire society believes something is impossible, it suppresses, by its very way of life, the evidence that would contradict that belief." p.123.
In David Shenk's The Genius In All of Us - Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent and IQ is Wrong he provides a new inertia that unmasks the myths masquerading as talent, intelligence and genetic predisposition. It's a book written in a way that can be consumed by a broad audience. It's a book about permission - permission to embrace the new inertia contained in the following truth:
"The genius in all of us is our built-in ability to improve ourselves and our world." P.131.
Buy this book! One of my favorites for 2010. Required Reading.
(1) Burton, Robert A. M.D. On Being Certain - Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not, St. Martins Press, New York, NY Copyright © 2008 by Robert A. Burton, M.D. p.223-224