Sunday, April 30, 2006

Talent Under A Microscope...

...but before that, a hello to the new blogs in my Links: My fellow Frees Chris, Khoon Yu, and Shaun - who also happens to be my second cousin... or my first cousin once-removed - but who's counting? :P

I've been thinking a bit about human achievements, evolution, that line of thought. Specifically I've been thinking about some of Dr Shinichi Suzuki's theories on the nature of talent - his position (very much simplified here, of course) is that everyone has talent for learning and that if a prehistoric caveman (his example) were given the same opportunities and education he would turn out with the same abilities as modern man.

Here are my personal thoughts:

1. I'm not sure I care for the caveman example. I personally would prefer to think that today's human being would have somehow be better off via the process of evolution - to think that evolution happens only on the physical level (no toes!) would be disappointing. But then, neither my opinion nor Dr Suzuki's seem to be based on a scientific antropological studies, but rather two separate optimisms.

2. I like the way Dr Suzuki works on two levels - first, that everybody has a general talent for learning, adapting, and absorbing the world around. Second, is that at the same time there can be there are individual affinities - in his own example, that not having a talent for the violin, does not mean that a person doesn't have talent, but rather that his talent - no less than anyone else's talent - is geared towards something else. The common perception is that one has talent or he doesn't - first of all, this somehow is escapism for the person who doesn't work. And second - the other side of the coin - it diminishes the effort of those who do. One of the worst things for me to hear is, "Hey, you've got a lot of talent", to which I am as yet too polite not to reply, "That, and 2703 running notes in Kreutzer 9 every freaking day. But thanks." Lacking, of course, all the subtlety of Fritz, that oh-so-fab violinist:
A member of the audience approached Kreisler after a concert, and said: "Maestro Kreisler, I'd give my life to play like that!"
To which the violinist replied, "I did."

2. It interesting to think about his position that there is an expiry date to environmental boosting of the talent of learning. Basically, that if you start your child late on something, there's no way of making up for the early period where the child absorbs the most, fastest. Well, one has to realize that Dr Suzuki was from a time before modern pediatrics, and the concept of late-learners, but physically perhaps there is certain truth in it - the muscles just don't adapt as well the later one tries something new. In sports too, I would imagine.

3. Whatever we've gained through evolution, I don't think today's regular Joe has the talent to take a club, go out and bring back a dino for dinner. Jurassic Park my foot.

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