This interesting article in The New Yorker checks in on the modern obsession with nature versus nurture.

For some things, like games, practice explained about a quarter of variance in expertise. For music and sports, the explanatory power accounted for about a fifth. But for education and professions like computer science, military-aircraft piloting, and sales, the effect ranged from small to tiny. For all of these professions, you obviously need to practice, but natural abilities matter more.


In the spirit of wild speculation with no empirical evidence, I have some additional hypotheses specifically for computer science. I think that people have an innate interest in computer science and innate ability; those things may be different, though they must often appear related.

And here’s something else the article mentions that I’ve always wondered about which doesn’t make the topic an iota simpler.

As it turns out, though, even work ethic may be heritable. … "Practice is actually heritable. There have now been two reports of this - ours, and one using ten thousand twins. And practice is substantially heritable."

A final philosophical topic that the article hints at is the idea of "killing people’s dreams" by establishing requirements beyond one’s control (i.e. innate ability). I think that may not be an entirely bad thing. I am thankful I never dreamed of being in the NBA and respect those wise people who would counsel me to not follow that dream.

I happily feel like the research has vindicated my approach to life. I like to try everything and I like to be pretty good at everything. Pretty good, not the best. A guy recently replaced the wax seal on my toilet… in 8 minutes. I, on the other hand, know what a wax seal is, how it works, and I think I can replace one in about 90 minutes. This professional plumber probably has replaced 1000s of toilets; I have replaced about half a dozen. The idea is to practice only in the range where practice really is most potent.

Another idea is that if by some chance I was natural material for a world champion marathon runner, C programmer, gardener, motorcycle mechanic, oarsman, molecular biologist, guitar player, cryptographer, etc. that I would have given myself the greatest chance of stumbling across that fact. By being promiscuously good at many things, I increase my chance of finding what I’m truly great at. And if that turns out to be nothing (alas) well, I’m still always finding life quite interesting.