Read The Genius in All of Us: New Insights Into Genetics, Talent, and IQ Online

Authors: David Shenk

Tags: #Psychology, #Cognitive Psychology & Cognition, #Cognitive Psychology

The Genius in All of Us: New Insights Into Genetics, Talent, and IQ

For my parents

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


Introduction to the electronic edition


Introduction: The Kid

Part One:
The Myth of Gifts

Genes 2.0—How Genes Really Work

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.

Intelligence Is a Process, Not a Thing

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.

The End of “Giftedness” (and the True Source of Talent)

Like intelligence, talents are not innate gifts, but the result of a slow, invisible accretion of skills developed from the moment of conception. Everyone is born with differences, and some with unique advantages for certain tasks. But no one is genetically designed into greatness and few are biologically restricted from attaining it.

The Similarities and Dissimilarities of Twins

Identical twins often do have striking similarities, but for reasons far beyond their genetic profiles. They can also have surprising (and often overlooked) differences. Twins are fascinating products of the interaction between genes and environment; this has been missed as “heritability” studies have been wildly misinterpreted. In reality, twin studies do not reveal any percentage of direct genetic influence and tell us absolutely nothing about individual potential.

Prodigies and Late Bloomers

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.

Can White Men Jump? Ethnicity, Genes, Culture, and Success

Clusters of ethnic and geographical athletic success prompt suspicions of hidden genetic advantages. The real advantages are far more nuanced—and less hidden.

Part Two:
Cultivating Greatness

How to Be a Genius (or Merely Great)

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.

How to Ruin (or Inspire) a Kid

Parenting does matter. There is much parents can do to encourage their kids to become achievers, and there are some important mistakes to avoid.

How to Foster a Culture of Excellence

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 its people.

Genes 2.1—How to Improve Your Genes

We have long understood that lifestyle cannot alter heredity. But it turns out that it can …

Epilogue: Ted Williams Field


Sources and Notes, Clarifications and Amplifications



Introduction to the electronic edition
Welcome to the ebook version of
The Genius in All of Us
, which offers a number of significant enhancements not available in the paper editions. Beyond the obvious advantages of portability and searchability, this ebook contains two nice features particularly suited to this book:
First, readers can link directly from endnote marks in the main text to the corresponding sources and notes in the Evidence section—and then link directly to many of my original online sources. With about half of the book’s content residing in the notes section, this is a great opportunity to follow your curiosity as far as it will go.
Second, each chapter concludes with a direct link to an online discussion forum and to my ongoing blog on the subject. This book touches on a lot of powerful questions and concerns, and I hope readers will share their own thoughts and observations.
Of course, you can also simply ignore all these digital treats and read this ebook like an ordinary book-book. Perhaps after that you will sit down at an old oak table and hand-write me a letter on a nice thick piece of cotton-fiber vellum. I’d love to read that letter too.
- D.S.
The Kid
aseball legend Ted Williams was one in a million, widely considered the most “gifted” hitter of his time.
“I remember watching one of his home runs from the bleachers of Shibe Park,” John Updike wrote
The New Yorker
in 1960. “It went over the first baseman’s head and rose meticulously along a straight line and was still rising when it cleared the fence. The trajectory seemed qualitatively different from anything anyone else might hit.”
In the public imagination, Williams was almost a god among men, a “superhuman” endowed with a collection of innate physical gifts, including spectacular eye-hand coordination, exquisite muscular grace, and uncanny instincts.
“Ted just had that natural ability,” said Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr
. “He was so far ahead of everybody in that era.” Among other traits, Williams was said to have laser-like eyesight, which enabled him to read the spin of a ball as it left the pitcher’s fingers and to gauge exactly where it would pass over the plate.
“Ted Williams sees more of the ball than any man alive,” Ty Cobb once remarked
But all that innate miracle-man stuff—it was all
“a lot of bull
,” said Williams. He insisted his great achievements were simply the sum of what he had put into the game. “Nothing except practice, practice, practice will bring out that ability,” he explained. “The reason I saw things was that I was so intense … It was [super] discipline, not super eyesight.”
Is that possible? Could a perfectly ordinary man actually train himself to be a dazzling phenomenon? We all recognize the virtues of practice and hard work, but truly, could any amount of effort transform the clunky motions of a whiffer or a chucker into the majestic swing of Tiger Woods or the gravity-defying leap of Michael Jordan? Could an ordinary brain ever expand enough to conjure the far-flung curiosities and visions of Einstein or Matisse? Is true greatness obtainable from everyday means and everyday genes?
Conventional wisdom says no, that some people are simply born with certain gifts while others are not; that talent and high intelligence are somewhat scarce gems, scattered throughout the human gene pool; that the best we can do is to locate and polish these gems—and accept the limitations built into the rest of us.
But someone forgot to tell Ted Williams that talent will out. As a boy, he wasn’t interested in watching his natural abilities unfurl passively like a flower in the sunshine. He simply wanted—needed—to be the best hitter baseball had ever seen, and he pursued that goal with appropriate ferocity.
“His whole life was hitting the ball,” recalled a boyhood friend
. “He always had that bat in his hand … And when he made up his mind to do something, he was going to do it or know the reason why.”
At San Diego’s old North Park field
, two blocks from his modest childhood home, friends recall Williams hitting baseballs every waking hour of every day, year after year after year. They describe him slugging balls until their outer shells literally wore off, swinging even splintered bats for hours upon hours with blisters on his fingers and blood dripping down his wrists. A working-class kid with no extra pocket change, he used his own lunch money to hire schoolmates to shag balls so that he could keep swinging. From age six or seven, he would swing the bat at North Park field all day and night, swing until the city turned off the lights; then he’d walk home and swing a roll of newspaper in front of a mirror until he fell asleep. The next day, he’d do it all over again. Friends say he attended school only to play on the team. When baseball season ended and the other kids moved on to basketball and football, Williams stuck with baseball. When other boys started dating girls, Williams just kept hitting balls in North Park field. In order to strengthen his sight, he would walk down the street with one eye covered, and then the other. He even avoided movie theaters because he’d heard it was bad for the eyes. “I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from being the hitter I hoped to be,” Williams later recalled. “Looking back … it was pretty near storybook devotion.”
In other words, he worked for it, fiercely, single-mindedly, far beyond the norm. “He had one thought in mind and he always followed it,” said his high school coach Wos Caldwell.
Greatness was not a
to Ted Williams; it was a

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