Re: Howe 3

From: Lyons Tim (
Date: Tue Mar 10 1998 - 21:27:06 GMT

section 3, reply to liz

firstly i can think of no human trait or ability that is not normally
distributed throughout the population. from height and shoe size, to
physical strength and running speed, to memory and ability to rotate
mental images, to complex abilities like maths and musical
composition, they all seem to show an approximately normal
distribution. so therefore there are always a small amount of people
who can do any particular thing better than most other people. there
fore it can be said that these people have a talent to do the thing
in question, maths for instance.

I believe that this can be said for everyone who has a particularly
high ability in a particular area. yes they will of course have done
a lot of practice in the area but so will a lot of other
people. i believe those other people dont achieve such high standards
because their brains are not constructed in the necessary way for
them to do so. that is to say that certain brains are constructed in
such a way as to be good at maths, others to be good at music, others
to be good at waiting tables etc. these 'brain shapes' do not mean
that an individual definitely will realize this ability, this is of
course dependent upon the opportunities they get and the practice
they put in.

so, on with the commentary and reply and stuff:

possibly the best evidence for the existence of talent comes from
autistic savants, whose remarkable abilities often arise <without
above- average degrees of parental support and encouragement>. liz
put this down to them being <absorbed in an "internal" environment
where they constantly rehearse> and i would have to agree. their
talent is that they are somewhat more shut off from the rest of the
world than most people and are therefore able to concentrate almost
entirely on whatever it is that most interests them. (some thing
which would be particularly useful if you could switch it on and off)

so what are howe's main arguments against talent?

>>3.1 Lack of early signs

talented individuals are those whose ability reaches exceptional
levels. this takes many years of practice. therefore even if those
who become excellent did not appear any better than normal at an
early age does not mean that they did not have an inbuilt talent.

>>3.2 Evidence pointing to an absence of differences in ease of
>>learning between "talented" individuals and others

note he says <pointing to> not <showing> or <proving>. also note that
the word <few> appears several times in the paper where im sure he
would much rather have used <no>.

still the same argument i used above works for this too: even if
there is no difference in ease of learning the basics of a certain
skill (i.e. maths) between two individuals does not mean that one of
them does not have a talent, their talent may be that they will be
able to take their ability to a higher level that the other person's
'brain shape' is not capable of.

>>3.3 Exceptional levels of performance in "untalented" people

what is this evidence? you may ask. well, it's this:

>>ordinary adults who are given large amounts of training at skills
>>that make heavy demands on memory or perception. In some instances,
>>the trained subjects achieved performance levels far higher than
>>what most people (including experts in the psychology of learning
>>and memory) had believed possible.

(authors and dates removed cos i know you never read them)

note once again that he said <in some instances>. the way i would
have put this is <in the instances where the subjects brain shape
meant that they were naturally talented at the task in hand>.

he then tells us about one specific study, thus:

>>cocktail waitresses in Bennett's study could regularly remember as
>>many as twenty drink orders at a time: their performance was
>>considerably better than that of a control group made up of
>>university students. It is conceivable that people who are employed
>>as waiters and bar staff gravitate to such jobs because of an
>>inborn memory skill, but the Chase & Ericsson findings make it far
>>more likely that employees excel in recalling orders because of
>>on-the-job practice.

to which liz said (ive just remembered that this is supposed to be a
reply to her mail):

>Whilst I think putting these on-the-job skills in the same category
>as musical composition or ability at chess is a bit of a joke, it
>does illustrate the point that doing the job, day in, day out, is
>just practicing the skill. Waitresses are motivated to remember
>orders by the promise of better tips.

exactly, i think that this is all that this study proves. the fact
that waitresses, who were specifically chosen for the study because they
have good memories for drinks orders, could remember them better than
students certainly doesnt prove that the ONLY reason that they have
such good memories is because they have to use them a lot. there must
be others who were waiters but did not have the 'brain shape'
necessary for such good memories for drinks orders and therefore
either were not very good waiters or have given up the job

>>3.4 Conceptual difficulties with the notion of talent
>>In everyday discourse reasoning about talent is often circular, for
>>example: "She plays so well because she has a talent. How do I know
>>she has a talent? That's obvious, she plays so well!"

yeah, ok, well spotted. forget i said anything. (w/ sarcasm)


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