Saturday, June 19, 2010

Shenk’s The Genius in All of Us & Straud’s Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain

I just finished listening to David Shenk's recent The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong
(2010 320p.). Shenk's book joins The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How (2009) and Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everyone Else (2nd entry) in emphasizing what we do by way of learning over what we endowed with by nature. Shenk goes after the idea that genius, however we define it, resides in our genetic inheritance. He argues that we no longer can accept a G (genetics) + E (environment) paradigm. Instead, we have to think of G x E; that is, how genes interact with the environment to create outcomes. Genetic expression, not genetic inheritance, becomes a foundation for understanding how we come to perform and act. He follows many of the common examples, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Yo-yo Ma, Michael Jordan, and others. What sets them and others at that level apart? It isn't their genetic inheritance; it's their intense practice and drive.


These three books, all quite interesting, all point to one answer: if you want to be really good at something, do the hard work of practice. "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, man, practice."

I usually wouldn't note a book that I haven't read, but since it's in a similar vein, and I have it on good authority, I'll make an exception. C read and enjoyed The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind
by Barbara Strauch (2010 256p.). This book helps us older folks understand that our aging brains have a lot left in them. Among the most interesting things, some studies have shown persons who functioned at very high levels up the time of their death had definite signs on autopsy of Alzheimer's. Their brains perceived that some portions weren't functioning and apparently moved the functions to a different area of the brain. And, of course, the nuns study gets plenty of mention. It also seems that a high level of education is as good a protection of brain health as one can hope for. It's going on my "to read" list.

NNT & Roubini on Newshour

NNT appeared with Nouriel Roubini in a recent segment of Newshour. Both of them predicted the crash, and did so on Newshour in 2006, so they invited them back for a joint appearance. Interestingly, Roubini joins in the call of deficit reduction although he recognizes that it could trigger an economic slowdown. I trust his opinion in this regard more than NNT's. Both fear the potential for a longer, bigger downturn if we don't act to reduce the deficit.

NNT Interview & Krugman to the Contrary

A pithy interview with NNT here. He really likes the UK's new PM, David Cameroon, whom impressed me on a TED talk that he gave. This interview gives a sense of NNT's irreverence and insight. And in case anyone is interested, more drum beating on deficit reduction. I think that we may want to think about debt reduction as St. Augustine prayed about chastity: "Oh, Lord, make me chaste, but not yet." (This may be a loose translation, but we'll go with the popular version.)

But Paul Krugman to the rescue from Germany in today's NYT. Krugman uses the 1937 analogy, and he notes that stimulus seems the way to go because the economy far under capacity, with no sign of inflation. So why the belt-tightening now? NNT & NF & others like them have to answer the question. Of course overeating is bad, but if you've been undernourished for a while, you should eat more than you normally would. Contrary to NNT, is all debt bad? For those out of a job—as I was in 1974 under Gerald Ford's "Whip Inflation Now (WIN)" recession, you'd really like to have paycheck and you don't worry so much about the long-term balance of the federal budget. And, by the way, where were these deficit hawks from 2000-2010. Do they all think that Obama and the G-20 stimulus was unjustified? What's different now?