There is certainly some inborn variation between people. Anyone with children is aware of it. Two children of the same parents can have very different personalities. So what exactly is it supposed to mean to "eliminate a belief" in variation in inborn ability? That we're supposed to believe something that's not true? That seems a bad road to go down. Not just because it's unwise to base your ideas on lies, but also because you won't convince anyone smart with an ideology based on a premise so obviously false.
Better just to say that determination can matter as much or more than inborn ability. That works just as well and has the added advantage of being true.
As tokenadult points out, these studies are serious business. Anecdata doesn't really cut it.
How do you explain savants/prodigies?
We are all born differently. Our brains work different ways. Our muscles want to do different things. As such we have a propensity towards one thing or another.
It is true if you have kids you can see this. Every single baby is completely different, even newborns, in how they respond to things.
We are, of course, all different. Diversity is a great strength. That doesn't mean that there's a biological basis for every kind of difference.
Also, even if it was, I'll take scientific evidence over 'belief' any day.
Not that I'm saying these type of studies are not useful.
It is, unsurprisingly, called "Regression to the Mean".
> Broad genetic influence on the five dimensions of Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness was estimated at 41%, 53%, 61%, 41%, and 44%, respectively.
Johnson, Wendy; Turkheimer, Eric; Gottesman, Irving I.; Bouchard Jr., Thomas (2009). Beyond Heritability: Twin Studies in Behavioral Research. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 4, 217-220
Indeed, there are psychologists who are fully aware of the research base on heritability of the "Big 5" personality dimensions you mention who nonetheless research interventions to change people's personality along one or more of those dimensions. It is already well known to personality researchers that personality changes over the course of life (from early childhood to old age) much more than most people think it does.
On the flip side, just because a feature isn't heritable, doesn't mean it can be changed through an environmental intervention. Many people assume that what isn't strictly genetic, must me malleable but there may be more than a fair bit of just randomness there or hard to alter circumstances (pre-natal environment, remnants of infections).
"Don't think that you can't do what other people can. And I agree you shouldn't underestimate your potential. People who've done great things tend to seem as if they were a race apart. And most biographies only exaggerate this illusion, partly due to the worshipful attitude biographers inevitably sink into, and partly because, knowing how the story ends, they can't help streamlining the plot till it seems like the subject's life was a matter of destiny, the mere unfolding of some innate genius. In fact I suspect if you had the sixteen year old Shakespeare or Einstein in school with you, they'd seem impressive, but not totally unlike your other friends.
"Which is an uncomfortable thought. If they were just like us, then they had to work very hard to do what they did. And that's one reason we like to believe in genius. It gives us an excuse for being lazy. If these guys were able to do what they did only because of some magic Shakespeareness or Einsteinness, then it's not our fault if we can't do something as good.
"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."
We are NOT sure, on the basis of research, what anyone's upper limit of ability is. We have no idea about the extent of the "reaction range" constrained by the shuffle of genes a person obtains before a person is born, but we are absolutely sure that the reaction range is a RANGE, exquisitely sensitive to environmental influences. The discordance of identical twins for all human behavioral characteristics amply proves that. So, yes, let's say determination can matter as much or more than inborn ability. There are ample examples of that in today's world.
EDIT AFTER SEEING stiff's COMMENT AT THIS LEVEL:
Yes, many children bail out of further study of mathematics because they assume school lessons should be easy, and so they think "they have no talent" for subjects that become hard. A series of FAQs I have written about mathematics learning,
"Problems versus Exercises"
"Repetition and Practice"
"Resources about Learning Mathematics"
"Courage in the Face of Stupidity"
were written to encourage learners to be willing to challenge themselves when they feel stuck learning mathematics. Most professional mathematicians feel stuck a lot of the time when they do their daily research work, but they keep going.
As my dad always used to say, 50% is talent, 50% is effort. Someone with the 100% talent, who's a lazy fuck (50% overall) will be outperformed by far by someone with 50%/mediocre talent putting in 100% of work (75% overall).
Their personality might keep them from succeeding at learning (e.g. too lazy to read a book), but that doesn't mean they're mentally incapable of it.
Equally, I spent a long time struggling at school with french. The amount of work I had to put in to achieve an "acceptable" result was considerably more than my peers. When the opportunity presented itself, I stopped studying french.
I firmly believe that, given enough tutoring, almost anyone could learn the maths that I studied all the way up to at least the first year of my degree. Equally, the evidence is that anyone is capable of learning a language. If I'd put in enough work, memorised enough vocabulary and been willing to practice I almost certainly could have achieved something approaching fluency.
However, in both those cases my sister and I came to the table with some innate abilities. She pursued what she found easy and enjoyed, and I pursued what I found easy and enjoyed. Today she's fluent in 3 languages and I'm fluent in 1, while I have an engineering degree.
Incidentally, I have an older sister who did study maths to a higher level. Hopefully that's slightly indicative that the environment that we grew up in wasn't discouraging towards girls studying maths or sciences.
In the OP's defense, perhaps the OP is referring to the idea of women being less genetically suited to programming? If so, I agree that that is a problem and a harmful mythos. But overall, I think the programming profession does not celebrate the idea of "born programming"
Seriously? Just read the comments above. I'll quote you some of the best if you'd like.
I taught myself programming. I'm now very good at it (at least I like to think so) but it took 12 years of constantly pushing my limits and constantly learning. People who like to go out and drink with their friends every day after work, instead of learn new things at their computer will never be competitive with me. You need to be self-motivating, inquisitive, constantly improving yourself, and put in the massive amounts of time required, not just from 9-5.
Sorry, but... citation needed. I think the point the article tries to make is that there is no substitution for good old hard work: not your preschooling (or preschool parenting), not your genes, not the colour your bedroom walls were painted: dedication to improving your skills always wins.
> People who like to go out and drink with their friends every day after work, instead of learn new things at their computer will never be competitive with me.
I spent a large part of my 20's drinking & socializing, and it made me a much more rounded, resilient person. I now occasionally work on my side projects at home, but it's no substitute for the 100,000 hours of in the trenches experience in various sectors of the IT industry. What I've learned at work vastly dwarfs what I've learned at home.
However, I'd bet you anything I'm in a different league compared to you when you were 29, because I spent most of my 20's learning and coding (about 50K LOC/year on average across 20 languages.)
There's no substitute for putting in the time. However, who I was permitted me to make those choices while most of my peers made choices more similar to yours. So in a sense, there is a very real effect that's out of your control and probably goes back to your childhood.
It seems very hard to break out if it was curiosity, parental encouragement, or genetic ability. I am certain that #1 is the biggest driver, and #2 was involved. I suspect #3 is too, but not as much as we give it credit for. The breakout programmers did it day and night because they loved it, and quickly expanded on whatever initial advantage they had.
On the other hand it's a common anecdote that the best (most?) programmers are self taught, like you, they don't learn it as part of their 'nurture'. Couldn't this point to a predisposition to enjoy it?
What if you go out and drink with top programmers after work? ;)
The argument given here is basically "mathematical ability is not innate, because if it were, women would react badly to this fact." The article provides lots of evidence that women react badly to this belief, but no evidence whatsoever that the belief is wrong.
Or feel free to cite applause points and declare victory. HN is still smart enough to see through such nonsense, though it does get worse every day.
Do you disagree that the original author characterizes the belief as false, in addition to destructive?
I'm not wasting any more time debating this with you. Cheers.
Further, the evidence cited here does not show that women are just as good at math as men, since the samples used were not randomly chosen. The samples chosen consisted of men and women who had already taken calculus (and some other criteria).
The articles do a good job of showing women are sensitive to stereotype threat. But that's all they show.
Lots of people like to believe they got something from working hard for it, when they really had a lucky breaks (genetics perhaps for math?, height for basketball, rich parents for business).
I see this in sports interviews all the time. The current best in any sport is always "the hardest worker." Too bad nobody else in the league ever thought about that.
What effect nature has on it may be unclear, but it is definitely there.
That's not the argument. I think the argument is that when people are told that they are expected to do worse than their peers, they do, but when they are not told that, the gap disappears. Therefore arguments from statistics about innate ability to perform being associated with other characteristics (being a woman, for example) when widespread, become circular.
This is the argument.
>[...]belief in gift and natural born ability is toxic to all, and by eliminating it, we won’t alienate so many from technology.
This is a consequence of the argument.
As to the identification of some actual physical ability in math or programming which is defined at birth, it requires a positive proof that's not circular. A study on the innate relative unemployability of American blacks would find a lot of statistics to back it up, but would be a circular waste of everyone's time and a consequence of that (based on experimental evidence) would be a higher rate of unemployment in American blacks. Note that the fact that there's a pragmatic consequence of pursuing a field of study in a particular way has no reflection on the truth of the thesis, yet taints the effort of determining that truth.
As far as I'm aware, the only arguments for innate mathematical ability are dripping with survivorship bias.
- People who believe that mathematics is an ability that can be trained perform much better than the ones that believe it is an innate skills some people have some people don't
- Intelligence, and as a consequence the upper limit of mathematical ability, is to a large extent genetically determined
There is no conflict between those two statements.
>both being true, as far as current research shows
"There are two distinct things, both being true, as far as current research shows"
because a publication by Carol Dweck in a collection edited by Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams just has to be worth a read. (The various monographs edited by Ceci and Williams are some of the best books available today about psychology research.) We still need to find out more about the issues of "innate" talent distribution and especially about the issues of talent development over the course of growth from infancy to adulthood. It may very well be that there is a lot of latent talent for mathematics, for programming, and for plenty of other challenging domains that stays latent (hidden) because no one lifts a finger to find it and develop it.
It's unclear whether programming can be taught, but the most depressing study in this area is called The Camel Has Two Humps :
We have found a test for programming aptitude, of which we give details. We can predict success or failure even before students have had any contact with any programming language with very high accuracy, and by testing with the same instrument after a few weeks of exposure, with extreme accuracy. We present experimental evidence to support our claim. We point out that programming teaching is useless for those who are bound to fail and pointless for those who are certain to succeed.
It will take more than this single study to fully convince me, but it definitely put a dent in my initial belief.
It looks like there's a meta-study too: http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/research/PhDArea/saeed/SD_PPIG_2009...
I don't think most of the current inequality in representation is due to those reasons, but certainly understanding the extent to which those may exist and play a part in determining outcomes has something to say about the results that should be hoped for.
I was neither raised by or knew my biological family growing up (though I know them now). My mother is a developer, my supposed bio-dad is a developer, my late grandmother on my mother's side was a mathematician & psychologist, my grandfather on my mother's side was on the early teams at IBM, and my uncle whom is close to a doppelganger of me is a developer/linux admin. I knew none of these people growing up. My father and mother who raised me are respectively a restaurant manager and a hair stylist. Neither have any significant interest in the sciences or mathematics realms. Somehow I ended up in the family business without a shred of influence from them.
Take my story for what you want, but in this case the women were very much involved with the biological version.
So we don't dig up a bunch of bones and look for evidence that dinosaurs evolved into birds, we predict that if we dig, we will find something that looks a little like a dinosaur and a little like a bird, and then we dig.
Reflexive ideological dismissals, on the other hand, are just tedious.
Exceptions if people's self-conceptions are what is actually being studied; in that case collecting self-reports can be legitimate data-collection.
An anecdote, you mean? I expect better from HN, though I'm not sure why.
The childish belief in stereotype threat is killing our culture.
I don't understand how people struggle to transfer this simple truth to mental abilities.
You born being introspective or not. This will have a great influence in what kind of professional you will be.
I'm not saying that you can't change yourself, but in my opinion a big part of you is defined by your natural talents.
I consider myself as an introspective guy. This is something that I'm not able to change, and surely it has a great importance in what kind of work I'm able to be useful.
I reject the idea of innate "talent" or "skill". However, I firmly believe that certain individuals are more adept -- either through genetics or environmental factors -- at "learning" a skill, which is a by-product of the assumptions and abstractions that we construct to process information in the world.
I think that this myth is much more prevalent in the visual arts. Any one can be taught to draw; a good chunk of the first half of art college is unlearning the bad assumptions you have made about visually processing the world. Those that learn "quicker" are a product of an environment where they never made those assumptions in the first place. But that is simply the first step -- the foundation -- beyond that it takes hard work and practice... A dedication to the craft. If you lack the commitment to the craft then it will suffer... And I think that's true for anything: math, programming, writing, drawing, sports, cooking... and so on.
I think that telling someone they "can't" do something or they are naturally "bad" at it is definitely an environmental pressure that could affect ones ability to learn a craft. In fact, it doesn't sound like a good environment to learn anything.
Whatever cause you attribute to your interest, I find it more reasonable to believe that you found the concept of having a computer render your input on a screen to be fascinating and that it led you to teach yourself and practice further how to do this, or a multitude of reasons, but not that you had some inherent predisposition to being a programmer.
That an entire generation got started the same way may very well be indicative of "inherent predisposition": that period made it easy for the predisposed youth to reach the leading edge of technology very fast and keep pace for a very long time. This in contrast with the current generation, whom I often worry find it nigh unto impossible to "begin at the beginning", there being such a vast swath of complexity between individual transistor and, say, Skyrim: the nature may be there, but nurturing it is much more difficult.
This doesn't demonstrate innate ability. It demonstrates your interest in programming. Do we have natural born interests?
I don't know what verbiage would constitute "demonstrate innate ability" to you. I thought what I wrote did.
I don't deny that some people are more capable and likely to pursue certain crafts and trades, but your initial example was mediocre.
Some people also say that the reason there aren't more women in computer science is because they lack some sort of programming attribute.
And while my ability to play basketball can indeed be developed to some degree, can it be developed to be good enough to play it professionally? I doubt that.
Now, some my say that there is difference between physical and mental abilities, but really, are we so sure that we are all born with exactly equal mental setup and potential?
Or is this a problem which is better avoided, because it does not play well with polit-correctness?
For the last point: does this "belief in natural born ability" apply only to programming and math?
What hurts technology is not those "childish believes" but belief that it is at the centre of the universe.
Because "natural born" means "genetically determined", and your genes are something you get from your parents, right?
Maybe not NBA but probably NBADL(the NBA's farm league).
Personally I believe it is sort of a sliding scale(not sure if that is the right term), natural talent makes hard work more effective but doesn't negate the need for it. Hard work can compensate for some lack of natural ability but not all of it. Kind of like the tortoise and the hair, the one with the highest average speed will win the race but that isn't necessarily the point in time fastest.
What hurts technology is not those "childish believes" but belief that it is at the centre of the universe.
Fully agree with that.
According to studies, this will make it a lot more difficult for you to get your basketball playing to a professional level.
Morpheus: Your mind makes it real
Neo: If you're killed in the matrix, you die here?
Morpheus: The body cannot live without the mind