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I agree with him when he says that it is mostly how hard you work, dedication, and ambition. But wouldn't we just be fooling ourselves when we say it's not genetic? Maybe I'm wrong but, there are such things as kids that knowledge comes easier to, and kids that they simply can't understand something.

Also, for example, a kid with ADHD is woefully behind on the "being able to sit and work" ability. I think it's nice that we say "everyone is equal and let's hold hands" But I personally don't understand that.




That's one of those facts that is probably true, but not useful (at least to an individual plotting their own course.) If you feel stupid, what's the more likely thing? That you are up against a fundamental barrier, or that you haven't worked hard enough? What's the better outcome, that you knuckle down or give up?

Knowing the genetic basis for intelligence is kinda like knowing about obscure diseases. When you have the sniffles, it's probably just a cold, not lupus. When you're finding something beyond your grasp, you're probably not working hard enough, or working smart enough.

Sure, if you're a policy maker allocating budgets and looking at the population in aggregate, it makes sense to have a deep understanding of all the problems that may not be fixable. But if you're deciding what to do with yourself, why give yourself the excuse?


Don't you like logic & understanding? I am not sure why anyone here would promote an ignorance is bliss kind of attitude when it comes to mental or learning disorders. This reeks of the military's inability to accept PTSD as a real condition, ostracizing those who claim they have it as being weak or lazy. Does the hacker/geek crowd have the same trouble accepting learning disabilities as a valid form of mental illness?


Appeals to genetics are usually made by the successful to convince the unsuccessful that their success was inevitable.By doing that they help ward off potential competitors.


I really haven't heard any successful startup founder say "My genetic make-up made my project successful".

The truth is genetics do matter if for no other reason than the fact that who your parents are will greatly determine your opportunities later in life by the fact that they control the country you're born in. Not to mention that your family's mental or physical health history can have a great impact on you as well. If your family has a history of depression, anxiety, attention deficit, dyslexia or substance abuse you are indeed at higher risk of developing those same issues later in life. Also families with those issues can have a greater struggle creating a nurturing environment to break free from the cycle of dysfunction.

I feel that people ignoring the genetic or parental factor are ignoring science & using that ignorance as an excuse to call people lazy so that they feel more in control of their situation despite a considerable amount of their success having nothing to do with their own effort or ingenuity.

My appeal isn't to give people a reason to be lazy, but to admit that we don't know how the brain learns or re-learns things. A person's life my be an eternal struggle until they find help that allows them to escape whatever disease they are dealing with. Ignoring those diseases does not help the person & merely casting them off as lazy or needing to try harder is not a valid remedy.


"My appeal isn't to give people a reason to be lazy, but to admit that we don't know how the brain learns or re-learns things." If we dont know how the brain learns why should we hurriedly conclude that it is genetic and fixed.Why cant we adopt an attitude that will make us better and work our butts off?


Why cant we adopt an attitude that will make us better and work our butts off?

Because the point of a learning disability is that the person is working their butt off already but still struggling.

It's like having two people try to catch a pig, but one of those pigs is greased. If you tell both participants to use exactly the same effort to catch the pig, the person who has to get the greased pig will probably fail. The person with the greased pig may even try harder than the other person yet still fail to catch the pig.

There isn't an easy solution to mental illness or learning disorders. Again, I am not saying that we should tell people to not try hard, I am just saying that people shouldn't go around saying learning disabilities are an excuse for the lazy or those who don't like to work their butts off.


Also if you feel smart and you think you can coast through life maybe you can, but you're equally foregoing your full potential.


You are right, and I came here to take issue with this quote:

  I admired R., and I looked up to him, and while I doubt I 
  will ever compete with his genius, I recognize that it's 
  because of a relative lack of my conviction and an excess 
  of his, not some accident of genetics.
Endurance, focus, and determination are likely to also be substantially heritable, just like raw intelligence.


I simply refuse to believe that :) As soon as you start thinking it's out of your control, it becomes out of your control.


You can believe that something is both heritable and flexible. Most personality traits are at maximum about 50% heritable; I don't think that's so bad.


Height is heritable yet highly subject to manipulation at a young age.


You are right in not buying into that.

Henry Ford: If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.


"Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by others doing it." -James A. Baldwin


> there are such things as kids that knowledge comes easier to

Of course, if it's possible to learn how to learn--that is, if you can learn more efficient study methods--one would expect to see this disparity (effort expended per unit of knowledge acquired [not that you could measure this]) even in a hypothetical population of genetic clones raised in different environments.

As to why downplaying genetic potential could be a good thing, I've got this excellent pg quote fairly well seared into my brain:

"I'm not saying there's no such thing as genius. But if you're trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right." - http://www.paulgraham.com/hs.html


I think people with disabilities or disadvantages in whatever capacity have the ability to hack the system and find the power to overcome these issues but maybe just in a different way than someone without these problems would solve this problem. I guarantee you, there are kids like me who've gotten fantastic grades at University levels without the scholarly understanding, effort, and aptitude that other people exhibit--but we find a way (and I mean more in taking advantage of the system rather than crossing the line to cheating).

Still looking at genetics, look at height--then look at all of the athletes who've defied "sports logic" and excelled in their sport despite the naysayers and their "disadvantage"-- Muggsy Bogues, Doug Flutie, and Martin St. Louis to name a few.

I think knowledge does come easier to some kids, but there are always people with the drive, ambition, and passion that find a way to persevere despite their issue. I know it's cliche but, those that want it, find a way.


There are definitely those who have succeeded despite the odds, but there are also plenty who have failed because of the odds. To ignore genetics is to put your head in the sand. My Portland Trailblazers have had major issues with injuries. Brandon Roy retired due to the knee issues he was born with. Greg Oden's knees appear to be made of rice krispie treats. LaMarcus Aldridge had to get his genetic heart condition treated before this last season started. You cannot just ignore those issues, so I don't see it of value to ignore mental health.


Of what use is it to think this way? It's just another excuse to not try and succeed. Life isn't going to see you sitting over there with a 10-point lower IQ potential and give you some extra breaks.

If learning comes harder to you then it just means you've got to work that much harder. Bad luck.


It's true that some people are genetically more intelligent than others. What matters is what you do with your intelligence, which only makes the work easier or harder, and the amount of improvement. People can get much better or worse, regardless of their genetic characteristics. After all anything genetic has been simply given for free..


I agree with you that biology has a definite effect. However, every time I express an opinion here on HN, I get down voted into oblivion.


Not sure why that would happen. I studied Neuroscience as an undergraduate and the topic never really surfaced, largely because enough research has been done to confirm what most of us had already suspected: It's mostly nature, with a bit of nurture to round out the edges. Still, rounding those edges is a big deal, so posts like the one we're discussing here are worth a read (though, to be frank, this one was a little dull. You need good study habits and a bit of humility to be successful? I'd hope all college students know this, not just the ones at MIT). There's a nice book on the subject by Steven Pinker, though a lot of it is filler.


Same old nature vs nurture discussion. It's like with the text editors flames.


regardless of where you sit on that discussion, he was addressing a specific student who was one grade away from valedictorian and discouraged about not getting into MIT. That being said I think the advice is solid for anyone; there's only one way to find your true limit.




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