Monday, 3 March 2014

What next for Nature v Nurture?

From time to time I find myself binging on literature on a particular topic. This time around it has been a lot of pop literature taking on the nature v nurture debate. Joshua Foer's 'Moonwalking with Einstein', David Epstein's 'The Sports Gene', Daniel Coyle's 'The Talent Code' and Geoff Colvin's 'Talent is Overrated' have all been on the hit-list in recent weeks. All these titles have an undercurrent of Gladwells 10,000 rule close to their heart (or more to the point Gladwell's rather rough interpretation of Anders Ericsson's deliberate practice theories).


All make equally compelling arguments for their position. While all give some form of credit to the opposite side of the argument, their titles alone should indicate which side of the park they are kicking from. Be it the vast genetic landscape that Epstein presents, the somewhat hang-your-hat-on-the-Myelin peg of Coyle, or the "I'll prove it myself" approach of Foer, they all make extremely compelling arguments for both sides.

Where to next for the nature v nurture debate? Through contemporary literature such as this, an increasing interest in the psychology of expertise and massive leaps in sports science in particular, we have gained massive insight into this debate over the last 40 years. This field has never been more popular and never had as much exposure. The interest has reached unprecedented levels to the point where you can tune in and watch people live the debate almost reality TV style. (Warning you'll be watching for a few years yet to see who gets kicked out of the house there).

But more pertinently, given how far we have come so quickly, are we near to an answer on this debate? And where do we expect that answer will come from? With all due respect to Dan McLaughlin, regardless of the outcome of his, and other similar experiments, one will be able to conclude very little from it. Genetics also, may deliver convincing pockets of correlation but is lacing in some causality finesse.

So will neuroscience provide the answer? Is Foer right - can greatness under the right conditions be grown? Should the nurturists in us, sit back, relax and let neuroscience unlock the secrets and then rush to get a copy of the script? I shudder to think what we'll be like when we all have a copy of that.  

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