Re: Innate talents

Subject: Re: Innate talents
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 8 May 1995 13:13:46 PDT

>Robert, your most recent posting seemed to me to implay that innate talent
>doesn't exist.

I didn't say that. But I haven't seen much evidence to dispute my
contention that much of what passes for "innate talent" is the
result of hard work, or simply a reflection of the prejudices of the

Basing your life, and decsions that may influence the lives of other
people, on the mere prejudice that "either you got it, or you ain't"
strikes me as reckless.

>I disagree with the American credo "you can be anything you want as long as
>you work hard enough." It's not true. You need a combination of determination,
>skill, luck, and, yes, innate ability. Some people can jump like Michael
>Others can't, and never will be able to, no matter how hard they practice. I'm
>a good writer, but I'll never be a mathematician, and no, I'm not math-phobic--
>I'm very good at balancing my checkbook, figuring interest, etc. I simply get
>lost in all the abstractions, and what would excite someone who loves math just
>leaves me cold.

You are making a romantic assumption: that if someone loves math,
they and math were "meant to be." You are making another assumption:
that people who love math don't get lost in the abstractions. Both
are false. I love math. I got good grades in Algebra in high school
only through working five time harder at it than in any other class.
I flunked my first term of Calculus in college -- in spite of having
a wonderful instructor -- and passed it only after spending an enormous
amount of time on it (several hours a day, seven days a week, which is
a lot for a make-up class).

All around me, I saw people drop out of the School of Engineering
because they had suddendly realized that they were "no good at math."
Most of them had were the "naturally gifted" people everyone is so
fond of talking about. They had breezed through high-school math,
had never learned how to study, and shriveled up like cut flowers
when presented with a cirriculum which was genuinely difficult.

Those of us with "plod" got through it okay. You just had to work at
it, instead of expecting your wonderful, god-given talents to deliver
the world to you on a silver platter.

>While I think you can become COMPETENT at just about anything if you work hard
>at it, to become really good at it--a shining example--requires an extra spark
>that I would call talent.

I knew of only one student who got straight As in Electrical
Engineering. He was smart, sure, but his most notable characteristic
was that he studied night and day, did all the problems in all the
books (not just the assigned ones), and spent a lot of time going over
anything he did not understand perfectly with the professors during
their office hours.

Of course, everyone thought that he had "talent," too. Personally, I
think that, with that kind of tenaciousness, you don't need talent.

>I would also like to point out that most people who get degrees in English feel
>that they have a talent for reading, writing, and analysis, because let's
>be honest--If I had wanted to work really hard in college, I would have picked
>a discipline like Engineering where I could have gone right out and earned a
>lot of money. I had no idea what I could do with an English degree, but it
>was like play to me. It was the only thing that I thought I could do really

People who do well in English as a profession have to work like dogs.
It makes being an engineer look like a walk in the park. Just TRY
getting tenure at a major university.

English looks like an easy major because, on most campuses, it IS an
easy major. My favorite English professor infuriated his students by
taking his profession seriously, and loading them up with reading
assignments and nasty tests that you couldn't bullshit your way out
of. His students were divided into camps: the ones who appreciated
the high level of content, the ones who were infuriated that they
weren't getting an easy "A," and the ones who seemed generally
confused. English is a much better major when there are more people
like him around. You realize that a deep understanding is something
you wrest from a topic, not something that the Muses built into your
skull before you were born.

-- Robert

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