Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nature vs. Nurture

Three recent events prompted me to revisit an old argument about whether our genes or our lives make us who and what we are.

Jae Crowder
First, there was my Alma Mater, Marquette, making it to the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight year, and doing so largely through the leadership and on-court contributions of Jae Crowder, whose father spent sixteen years playing professional basketball and had a newsworthy moment when his flight was cancelled disallowing him to see Jae in the round of thirty-two.

Then, there was the hype surrounding the film, The Hunger Games, which offers Jack Quaid his first significant role in film.  Jack is the son of two rather prominent actors: Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan.

And finally, there was a Wall Street Journal article titled “How to be Creative”, adapted from a forthcoming book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer.

These three, seemingly disparate incidents reminded me of a book I read in undergraduate school titled “Hereditary Genius”.  My memory is that the premise of the book, authored in the mid-nineteenth century by Sir Francis Galton, postulated that we were limited in our life accomplishments by our parentage, in the case at the time meaning our “class”.  Even when I read this in the late 1950s, I was affronted that boundaries were set over which we had no control.

Sir Francis Galton - 1850s
Sir Francis must have felt the same way because he was the one who coined the phrase, “Nature vs. Nurture”, which I used as the title of this post.  He went on to show that Nurture played a large part in development; although he was probably restricting development to what Heredity gave us.

Jae Crowder has excellent credentials on his own.  For instance he didn’t shift his primary interest from football to basketball until after high school, lettering in both sports at school. His first year of college was at an unaccredited school, which he led to a championship and he had to catch up on admission requirements to Marquette by a concentrated year and a half at an accredited school; which he also led to a championship.  When he got to Marquette, he came as the leading Community College player in the nation.

But he would be the first to admit that exposure to his father’s professional basketball players, sharpened his skills and, more importantly, provided realistic tools for excelling at the game.  And I would conclude that there is a genetic component of consequence, much as with the Manning brothers.

Jack Quaid as Marvel
Jack Quaid also, probably inherited something of the acting craft from one or, more likely, both of his parents.  I have yet to see The Hunger Games, but I assume that he will do quite well.  Parade Magazine seemed to feel so.


Jonah Lehrer builds a strong case, as described in the article, that nurture plays a much more significant role than previously thought in problem solving, which would seem to be the core of conquering life’s challenges. The article uses examples, such as the discovery of ©Post-its, and how Yo Yo Ma played an impossible chord to, first of all encourage us to believe we can improve our ways of problem solving and then, provide us tools to do so.  A link to this article is worth the time to read it.

I am inclined to believe that it is more the nurture of the Quaid and Crowder family; i.e., Jae’s father's history of playing in Europe and Canada, and his circle of friends, and Jack’s observations of his parents work ethic and their circle of friends, that contribute to these two young men’s success than the genes that may make Jack a Casting Director’s dream or make Buzz Williams get down on his knees in thanks for Jae’s decision to honor his contract.

But, whatever the mix of Nature vs. Nurture in theirs and my family’s lives, it is interesting to observe their success and I am thankful that the lives of my loved ones are so great.

Looks like we are seeing a new movie about The Three Stooges.  Next post, I think I’ll explore what made those movies so long-lasting and what are the chances of success for the new film.

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