Mathematical flair, musical ability or a way with words have come to be thought of as innate talents or, biologically speaking, in our genes. But now David Shenk, the American writer on genetics, asks people to think again.
Stepping into the nature v nurture fray, he argues that the case for genetic predisposition has been vastly overstated and that this view is causing us to overlook our potential. “There is a profound misunderstanding about what great achievements are all about. Our genes don’t limit us to mediocrity or worse than mediocrity,” he says.
In his new book The Genius in All of Us, which is drawing comparisons to the work of the Canadian pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell, Shenk describes an emerging view that far from being a static blueprint, our DNA is open to continual influence by external factors.
Nature and nurture are constantly interacting: genes can be turned on or off or expressed to different degrees, depending on our environment. The slate is not, as was once assumed, wiped blank for the next generation. The field of epigenetics is increasingly showing that environmental experiences during our lives leave imprints on our genome that are passed on to our children.
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