It's easy to blame your parents for your lack of great genes.
It's just as easy to praise your parents for their superb genes.
But while genes may be a handed down trait, talent is not.
And to understand talent you have to first understand genes.
Genes are sequences of DNA letters that when activated by the cell makes a particular protein.
So a gene can make a bird's beak longer or shorter; thicker or thinner. FOXP2 is a gene, for instance. FOXP2 helps humans speak and birds sing. Take out that gene or some how mutilate the gene, and you have the inability to ‘communicate'. A mutation will cause language defects in people. Without FOXP2, the brain doesn't form the necessary links that would help us record what we learn. In humans especially, FOXP2 is important for our very complex behaviour of lips and tongue movement.
Humans and animals share the same genome. Sad but true.
It's just the pattern and the sequence that makes us humans or animals.
For instance a giraffe doesn't have a long neck because it has a different gene. It simply grows a long neck because the gene switch stays on longer. Our gene switch switches off once our necks are a certain height.
So unfortunate as it may seem, genes for most of us are exactly the same.
It's just that the genes over time decide to keep the switch on for a longer or shorter period, resulting in taller humans or shorter humans etc. Of course you could quite easily say that this would then result in bigger and smaller brains.
Sure you could. But that theory while plausible falls apart for one reason alone
If it were just genes, then everyone in the same family would have the same gene structure. And then every one in that family: brothers, sisters, and relations with that specific gene would be brilliant—or dumb as the case may be.
This is rarely the case. Or rather never the case.
This is because learning is not based on genes, but rather is very dependent on the firing of neurons in your brain. When your brain fires neurons often enough it creates a bridge. This bridge is called a synapse (let's call it the synapse bridge). But this bridge is rather flimsy with loads of spots where you can fall off the bridge. But if you keep firing the neurons, a coating forms over the ‘synapse bridge'.
This coating is called myelin.
Myelin plugs all the gaps in the bridge, coating it over and over, till finally the bridge is like an underground tunnel. The chances of you falling off the bridge are non-existent. Instead of cagily making your way across the bridge, you can now run across. As myelin coats the bridge even further, you can now drive a car, then a train, then a bullet train.
The factor of “strengths” doesn’t come into play at all.
The brain doesn't know the difference between learning algebra or learning Japanese. And while genes help build the structure to learn and communicate with each other, it is not built to learn Japanese any better than it is built to learn algebra or how to make a coffee. This concept of strengths is something that has been drilled into our heads, and we believe it simply because we can't see a person's talent unfolding frame by frame.
It's not a question of nature or nurture.
Nature gives us the gene structure. Nurture gives us the environment. But our learning comes from a simple firing of neurons; then the creation of synapse (bridges) and then the coating of myelin. The more we understand these core scientific facts, the more we'll understand the possibility that we can learn anything we choose.
An example of gene structure vs. what we make of it is easily described by the letters of the alphabet.
All the letters we know exist in the alphabet from A-Z. So if we were to take the letters and make the word ‘cow', it would be structure that's put together to form the word ‘c-o-w.' If we wanted to keep that switch on longer, we could make the word ‘c-o-w-a-r-d.' Or if we kept it longer, we could make the word ‘c-o-w-a-r-d-i-c-e.' This is how gene structure works. Talent and learning works when you take those words and stringing them together in a way that makes sense. That's talent.
If I were to take the same structure and put it together like this: “talent sense that way in them stringing words the of a” etc… then you'd consider me untalented in stringing words together. And of course I could take the same words and string them together like this: no a mtraet fo kitang (on a matter of taking) and you'd consider me untalented in spelling.
But spelling and stringing sentences together is not based on our gene structure. It's based on pattern recognition. Barring mutations in genes, most of us can spell or string words together with little or no problems. This is important to understand if we are truly to understand our brains and how we get ‘talented.'
Talent is pattern recognition that can be acquired.
And of course, this can be proven. Unlike the whole concept of ‘talent' being born, which cannot be proven or substantiated, because then we have to go back to the gene structure. And we already know you're the smarter one or the dumber one. And if genes really played that much of a role, everyone in your family would have the same talents, based on the exact same gene structure that runs in your family. Barring any mutations, of course.
So thanks mum. Thanks dad. Thanks for the genes.
But hey, do you mind if I make my own talent?
(Information sources: National Geographic Magazine: Feb 2009 and “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle).
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