It is difficult to fathom, but some people believe that intelligence is determined strictly by nurture. These people subscribe to the belief that nature conveniently packaged all its creatures into neat categories and that our category, called “human”, has no meaningful variation when it comes to inherent intelligence.
But even according to the above doctrine, if a person is mentally retarded due to a genetic defect, for example a mongoloid*, then this would be an exception. Barring genetic defects, all the rest of us are subject only to the accidents of nurture when it comes to the power of our intellect.
What about the other side of the Bell Curve? A 13 year old Oregon girl, Kristin Qian, is blessed with an intellect most of us could hardly even dream of (from The Oregonian 12/12/2010):
… At one and a half, Kristin learned to read; at two, she had her first solo painting exhibition, at Portland French School. At three, possessing perfect pitch, she could sing any theme she heard, At four, she performed in her first violin concert; at five, she won a national piano competition. The same year, she had her first composition published in a national magazine…
… She won her first local piano competition at eight; at ten, she became the youngest finalist at the Turech International Piano Competition in New York City. Also at ten, her book of poems and illustrations, “The Silly Monkey World”, was published…
… She teaches violin, speaks six languages and won a Rubik’s Cube contest in sixth grade. Three years ago, she surprised her parents and dazzled her classmates at Oregon Episcopal School in a pi competition where contestants tried to recite as many digits of the never-ending decimal as they could… After preparing for half an hour, Kristin rattled off 500.
How does she do it? Is it innate? Genetic? Nurtured by parents?
Who knows? Prodigious talent remains a mystery.
Is The Oregonian seriously suggesting that any child can learn to read by age one and a half – if only her parents nurture her the right way? I nurtured my children very well (so they tell me), but none of them came anywhere close to Kristin. Perhaps the author of this article, David Stabler, appreciates the absurdity of attributing such genius to good upbringing and, therefore, allows that it might by genetic. Clearly, Stabler is one of those people I described at the beginning of this post. In this case, reality threw a real-life ad absurdum objection to his convictions and he wavered. Still, he would rather leave it “a mystery” than admit the obvious. Perhaps he realizes that once we admit that genius is hereditary, the genie is out of the bottle and some people might conclude that finer differences in intelligence are also hereditary. So he would rather let his readers believe that some sort of magical, mystical power is responsible for Kristin’s abilities.
I’ll be the first to admit, I am not as smart as Kristin. But it is difficult for me to understand how people can believe that genes only influence intelligence at the extremes. How would they explain this? Do they claim that anybody with an I.Q. under 70, or over 140 is a product of his genes – but everybody in between must only answer to his environment? What an odd proposition! Perhaps, some day, we can ask Kristin herself.
* I find the term “Down’s Syndrome” too negative so I prefer the term “mongoloid”.