Re: "Rage to Master" from Dr. Winner

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Date: Tue Feb 06 2001 - 11:11:49 PST

This is very interesting.

Rohit Khare <> writes:
> Myth 5: Genius is entirely environmental.
> The Reality: The brains of the gifted are atypical. Their heads tend
> to be larger, their reflexes are faster, and their brains show
> atypical brain scan patterns. Brain structure, brain size, brain
> speed, brain efficiency, bilateral representation of language,
> language-related problems, non-right-handedness, immune system
> disorders.

It's not apparent a priori that these things constitute evidence
against environmental influence. Brain structure, reflex speed, brain
scan patterns, brain speed, brain efficiency, immune system disorders,
etc., all change over time, and most of them are not easy to correlate
between ages 1 month and 5 years.

It would be obviously wrong to suggest that a body-builder's
much-larger-than-average muscles demonstrate that his great strength
is due to genetic factors rather than environmental ones; why, then,
are faulty syllogisms like the above so often accepted?

I don't know what the truth is on the nature-vs.-nurture scale, but I
think that the sort of nonsense in the paragraph above doesn't bring
us any closer to it.

> Myth 7: Gifted children are glowing with psychological health.
> The Reality: As with a disability, giftedness can lead to unhappiness
> and social isolation. With adult minds in children's bodies,

Talk about "myths"! No gifted child I ever met had an "adult mind"
--- and I've met a lot of gifted kids.

This is a sort of Eliza effect; it's easier for the man off the street
(at least in 1970) to imagine that Eliza is a real consciousness that
understands his feelings than to understand what Eliza really is.
Similarly, it's easier for an average adult to imagine that young
Kragen (or Aaron Swartz, or Albert Sittler, or any of a number of
other kids I could name) is really an adult mind that has somehow
transmigrated into a child's body than to really understand the person
before them.

Gifted children no more have "adult minds" than adult dwarfs have
"children's bodies".

> When parents push too hard, the child may rebel or "burn out"
> Examples of this phenomenon are John Stuart Mill and William Sidis.

What's the story with Mill? Didn't he revolutionize political
philosophy after he had finished being a child?

> little overboard. His data actually showed that the brighter the
> child, the less well-adjusted he/she. was. There was a "sweet spot"
> ranging from IQ 120 to, perhaps, IQ 150 where the individual is
> smarter than the average bear, but not so smart that they have
> problems adjusting to a lesser world--like the plight of a 6' 4" man
> versus that of his 7' counterpart.
> . . .
> The news that I find perhaps the most disturbing is that most
> child prodigies don't mature into adult leaders in their fields. Once
> the IQ reaches or exceeds a level of 120, there is no correlation
> between adult intellectual output and IQ(!).
> . . .
> This conclusion of flat performance once the IQ exceeds 120 flies
> in the face of common sense. If this is true, what are we doing wrong?

I've noticed that the vast majority of the obstacles in my life today
are really unrelated to the areas of my intelligence. I suspect
that's true for most smart people. Things like interpersonal
relations, planning, presentmindedness, personal discipline,
detachment, resilience, perseverance, and optimism seem to matter

I'm pretty smart in some ways, but in many of the ways listed above, I
am only average, or worse.

In some ways, I've been able to use my intelligence to compensate ---
for example, during high school, I didn't have to learn to plan
because I could always do everything at the last minute.

I think the artificial world of school, where intelligence is valued
far out of proportion to its real value, is dangerous in this way; it
blinds its victims to the other important factors in their lives. In
eighth grade, I refused my last spelling-bee trophy on these grounds,
and was expelled from my school as a direct result. (That's not the
whole story, of course --- I was already on long-term suspension when
the spelling bee happened. I would have resumed classes at the school
shortly after the spelling bee, but instead, the principal was

> * Because of their high energy levels and boredom with trivial
> busywork, gifted children are often misdiagnosed with ADHD.

FWIW, I think most children would be a little more gifted if they
weren't forced to be bored with trivial busywork.

An important detail --- unsaid here --- is that this diagnosis often
results in treating the children with mind-blunting drugs, crippling
our mental and emotional development.

> Greatest classical composers tended to have been child prodigies.
> Prodigies take about three fewer years to achieve greatness, and they
> tend to achieve greater adult eminence. However, the majority are not
> child prodigies. Writing and the visual arts, and law and medicine
> don't lend themselves to prodigies.

This is an aspect of what I meant about "adult minds".

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