Nature or Nurture

As someone who recently became a parent, the nature vs nurture debate has ceased to have a merely academic interest. Is my son purely who he is because of the grab bag of genes my wife and I saddled him with? Or is he a tabula rasa awaiting the imprint of the right kind of upbringing?

Bringing up Genius is a fascinating look at this question, largely focused on the Polgár sisters, who were raised by their father to be geniuses:

By their first meeting, a dinner and walk around Budapest in 1965, Laszlo told Klara, his future bride, how his kids’ education would go. He had studied the lives of geniuses and divined a pattern: an adult singularly focused on the child’s success. He’d raise the kids outside school, with intense devotion to a subject, though he wasn’t sure what. “Every healthy child,” as he liked to say, “is a potential genius.” Genetics and talent would be no obstacle. And he’d do it with great love.

The Polgár sisters all became chess prodigies, but this doesn’t prove anything:

Intense practice and an early start may help, but they still involve making a bet with your children. For every Polgár, there are countless unknown chess players.

Gobet, who was once one of the best chess players in Switzerland — he played Judit twice — has seen it. “I know some people who tried to do the same thing as the Polgár family,” he says. “But most of them failed.”

I love that there’s an implicit free will vs determinism debate wrapped up in all of this and that we’re all probably screwed either way!


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