Nature vs. Nurture Revisited

A meta-study showed that IQ has a heritability between 40% to 80%. However, the thing inherited is not a specific IQ score. People aren’t born with a genetic IQ of, say, 110. Your genes predispose you to a certain range of intelligence, for example between 80 and 140. Your actual IQ score depends on this genetic range, your childhood history (both psychological and physical), and your social circumstances.

There’s a problem. The nature vs. nurture debate presents us a false dichotomy. Your intelligence not only depends on genes and circumstances. This worldview reduces people to puppets. Perhaps it’s easier to blame bad genes and discrimination for your lack of ability. But what if you actual intelligence depends as much on your past as on your own actions? I call this nature versus nurture times effort.

Your intelligence is not only determined by your genes. It’s not only determined by your circumstances either. It’s determined by what you do with those givens. The conservative worldview dictates you are a victim of your biology. Although your DNA doesn’t change, the expression of specific genes does change over the course of your life. As a child, for example, different genes are active. In adulthood, other genes are dormant.

The socialist worldview dictates that you are a victim of the society you were born into. Both the socialist and the conservative worldview are false. Your biology and your society have provided you with a range of opportunities. It is still up to you what to do with that range. Your brain can rewire itself after prolonged exposure to a new situation. So, if you want to become smarter, you must expose yourself to new situations that require you to think smarter. Over time, your brain will adapt and the problems you face will become easier.

One way I’ve found people can become smarter is by reading books and by learning languages. Reading not only increases your knowledge, it also trains you to think. Reading exposes you to new situations you might never have encountered yourself. Books offer the opportunity to think through solutions for situations otherwise alien to you. Your brain will adapt.

Learning languages provides one with access to more reading material and even more diverse situations to encounter. The real strength in language learning lies in seeing the world in new ways. When you acquire a second language, you have learned to see the world from that language’s perspective. Each problem you encounter now has at least two equally valid solutions.

People can also become less intelligent. Prolonged exposure to rote tasks that require little to no thinking will make you dumber. Menial tasks hurt your verbal skills, your problem-solving skills, and your intellect. It will blur your imagination, it will kill your social skills. It will diminish your ability to learn. It will lower your IQ.

So, my advice is: reject the notion that either your biology or your society has imposed limitations. Instead, embrace the platform provided to you. Start reading books and lots of them. Start learning new languages and lots of them. Start using that mind for thinking and think your way out of your circumstances. I promise you, with this mode of thinking you will achieve greater successes in life than by blaming your mom’s bad genes or condemning an ‘oppressive’ society.

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