For the Record: Nature vs. Nurture

As the “Alt-Right” or whatever we’re calling Our Thing* now descends further into its inevitable SJW-ish purity spiral, more and more people are going to start calling for “litmus tests” — they’ll assume that you believe X, and because of that, etc.  So I’m going to post a few things For the Record, to make it easy to throw me out when the time comes.  First up: Nature vs. Nurture.

Aside from the perfidy of Teh Jooooos!!!, nothing gets folks on this side of the aisle more worked up than “race realism.”  If you take this to mean “race is real, it’s heritable, and there’s a strong genetic component to behavior,” then I’m as “race realist” as they come.  Alas, lots of folks seem to have a specific IQ number in mind, with those below it getting relegated to Epsilon-minus Sub-moron.  Which is bullshit.

Consider the child prodigy.  Years ago I read a silly horror novel in which the Gary Stu character, a twelve year old boy, not only invented all kinds of stuff, but was able to talk Wittgenstein with his university professor uncle.  And he wanted to grow up to be a writer, of course — don’t they all? — and he knew ancient languages and…

The human brain simply doesn’t work like that.  There’s a large part of the brain that’s like a computer — add more power to the processor, and it can do more things, faster.  A kid with a turbocharged CPU is a prodigy.  BUT: Just as a computer can really only do one thing — math — so the child prodigy can really only ever do math (music is a subset of math; I bet that when he wasn’t writing operas, five year old Mozart was solving trig problems).

The other part of the brain, though, needs experience to work.  A twelve year old simply can’t talk Wittgenstein meaningfully, because philosophy is not math and no matter how much your analytics want to pretend that it is, one can only philosophize with words, which require experience to use properly.  One can be immensely talented in non-math fields, but it’s impossible to do adult-level work in them without actually being an adult.  For proof, I give you the Romantic poets.  No one denies that, say, Shelley was an exceptionally talented poet, but unless you yourself are a quick-witted, verbally precocious teenager when you read him, you’re probably going to bust out laughing at stuff like “The Masque of Anarchy” (there’s a reason they don’t reprint this one in college Lit. anthologies).  Shelley was one of the world’s most talented sophomores, but it’s sophomoric for all that.

My totally unscientific belief is that it’s about 70/30 nature/nurture.


*Since there’s no Mafia anymore, I propose we repurpose their old self-designation.  It’s Our Thing now.

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9 thoughts on “For the Record: Nature vs. Nurture

  1. Hydrocephalus

    Thank you for taking a position, and let me be the first to say heresy will not be tolerated. REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

  2. roger

    “Consider the child prodigy.”
    OK, I’m of the opinion that most forms of child prodigiousness are memory displays – another thing computers can do. BTW, computers can’t do math but they can do logic…

  3. jeff smith

    The Z-Man has been calling it “our Thing” for awhile now, but this is as pointless as a commenter calling himself “first!’.

    I came to your blog via a suggestion by the Z-Man. I like what I see here.

    1. Severian Post author

      Thanks! That’s probably where I got it from in the first place. (I guess I should denounce myself for “plagiarism” now, since according to Vox Day et al that’s now a part of Our Thing).

  4. philmon

    Hmmm… I never thought of the “Alt-Right” as “our thing”… probably because I could never get a bead on exactly what the people who flew that banner actually believed. I noted some merit at the root of some of the things I read from them, but it seemed to me that they often went off the rails for lack of a well-functioning moral compass.

    Personally, I think that there is some genetic component in some basic behaviors … which would logically lead to the idea that since some genetics are common to people of a particular race this might manifest itself, but I’m probably more of a nurture guy. I think culture overwhelms almost every meaningful difference in genetic predisposition. I’m thinking 85/15 or even 90/10 when it comes to actual differences.

    Got nothing to back that up but observation from my particular vantage point in life … but there you have it.

    Therefore, I denounce myself as well. 🙂

  5. Al from da Nort

    Anybody who has more than one kid can tell you that they can show pretty wide variances in outlook and personality despite having a common environment and upbringing. So, I’m with you that ‘nurture’ (aka culture) only matters so much. IOW, the ultimately Marxist ‘blank slate’ theory is complete quasi-religious nonsense.

    OTOH, nurture does matter. IIRC, the classic ‘twin studies’ of genetically identical twins reared apart in different homes but similar culture came to the conclusion that ‘nature’ (aka genetics) only accounts for about 60% of their adult personality (don’t know if they tested for IQ) outcomes. This is lot of influence for genetics, but it’s not determinative. So your 70% ‘nature’: 30% ‘nurture’ ratio is likely within the statistical confidence limits, if we actually knew what they were with any degree of precision.

    But it’s on the high side, if that matters. Could it be as low 50:50 (i.e. ‘nature’ being 10 points the other way from our semi-reliable estimate)_? Yeah, but probably not much lower. Based on what, you ask. A: Gut feel for these kind of statistical issues + experience + common sense. IOW, it’s semi-subjective and it’s best to admit that.

    But I see a danger in trying to load IQ with explanatory weight it can’t really carry simply because it’s easier to measure and looks like the f’n science that we all love so much. I’d say culture matters, a lot. As evidence, everybody says N Asians are = to N Europeans in IQ (or maybe higher). But they were overrun by N Europeans 100 years ago. Why_? I’d answer: ‘Culture’. IOW, IQ as surrogate for genetics is not destiny either.

    But, based on ample real-world evidence, we know that ‘cultural relativism’ is *also* Marxist-derived quasi-religious nonsense. All cultures are certainly not equal on any meaningful measure. So the critical question to me is, since culture is obviously inherited but also changeable, what’s its relationship to genetics_? Not so clear, I’d say.

    My guess is that genetics sets ‘boundary conditions’ within which culture can vary

    1. Severian

      That’s my guess too. I usually use a football metaphor: Between the tackles, people are pretty plastic. “The tackles” being nature; the plasticity being nurture.

      Of course, the metaphor fails when you realize it’s possible to run outside the tackles — the team I follow doesn’t really do that, though, so you’ll forgive me for forgetting that. (I’m not sure the coach really knows about this newfangled “fore-ward pass,” frankly, but that’s a rant for another day).


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