Einstein’s Brain

I was listening to The Skeptics Guide to the Universe which is a laid-back podcast that preaches the value of the scientific method.

They briefly mentioned a quote from Stephen Jay Gould:

“I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

There wasn’t any discussion of the quote but it got me thinking about the old nature vs nurture debate, given my recent reading of Mountains Beyond Mountains and the realization of just how dire the living conditions are for most of the world’s population. My intuition on this debate is that both your genetics and your upbringing contribute to what you accomplish as a member of society, but the circumstance of the upbringing is much more important. Genetics, I think, can provide a ceiling, but for most of us that ceiling is so high that it does not prevent us from changing the world through brilliant ideas or exceptional productivity.

To me, genetics provides the ability for an individual to be consumed by a goal, a passion for an idea. Our parents, our surroundings, and the minuscule details of our upbringing determine if that passion is able to flourish.

At the time of writing this, I am a progressive, a liberal, in that I believe in a government’s utilitarian value to society. However, effective “nurture” requires an unabashed respect for individual accomplishment. In other words, give a liberal $100 and 2 school kids, and he’ll give $50 to each to buy school books, lunch, transportation to and from school. This is what I believe is morally right. However, it is not most effective at developing either of the kids into Einstein. In my opinion, the more effective policy is to run a contest for the two kids. Give them one week to come up with a good idea, and whoever comes up with a better idea, gets the whole $100. It’s not about money, it’s about valuing the elite. It’s what the objectivists preach as their ideal. It’s unjust in my view, but a little of that individualistic spirit is needed to serve as a catalyst for the development of genius in our education system.

0 thoughts on “Einstein’s Brain

  1. Azeez Hayne

    Lex, I would add a variable, the “pie” is not fixed at $100 in the long run. Aside from the moral/ethical question of how to divide the pie, the more salient question perhaps is how we grow the pie so that both kids get $100 (or more)? Combining both thoughts, I’d prefer an allocation that grew the pie to $200, gave the more “deserving” child $150 and still had room to provide the $50 subsistence amount in your example to the other child.

    1. Lex Post author

      Azeez, I like your style 😉 Very well put. Step 1: Grow the pie. Step 2: divide it according to accomplishment to some degree.

      Determining that degree is tough. As we know from evaluating teachers, quantifying accomplishment is difficult.


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