James Dyson: Inventor

I saw an interesting interview with James Dyson, an inventor who has revolutionized vacuum cleaners, hand dryers, fans and heaters, who’s company sells it’s product on http://dyson.com.  He said what inspires him to invent is his frustration with products that don’t do what they should. He studied design and engineering. Among with those inventors who he admires is Thomas Edison.   Edison it is said made 100 attempts before he got the electric light bulb right.  Dyson took over 5,000 attempts to get his improvements on the vacuum cleaner right, and then struggled to market it. He says with each try, they learned new things from each prototype. It reminds me that it’s okay to fail at first. One of the important things for me, is the process, the end goal not being what it’s real about. Taking a class is about how much you learn from it, not the grade you get. I am not saying one should not try to get good grades, but the learning is the point. For those of us who lean toward perfectionists, not getting top grades can be very hard, so that is not my point. Remember the saying: If at first you fail, try try again. He gives the following advice to inventors. In an article on CNN, he says that in order to compete, one must take risks, which is true for both individuals, companies, countries, etc. Without taking chances, one can never succeed. You might fail, that may be a necessary step to succeed.

Enough with Steve Jobs

I have heard far too much about Steve Jobs of late, following his death and now with the new book by Walter Isaacson.

He was clearly gifted with a nack for understanding what people would buy and find useful. His products had style and we well designed and implemented.

Let’s not deify Steve Jobs, the man was far from a saint. People have commented that traits like kindness and generosity are traits are true of “Saints”, which he was definitely lacking.

With the media attributing all that was great about Apple to Steve Jobs, when a large number of talented people made their products what they are. These people were never credited with the work they did that produced those products. Jobs didn’t do much to deflect the adulation directed to him, to his employees who really made the magic happen.

He had a number of personality traits typically connected to  Narcissism, including: Being touchy, cruel,  critical, destructive, selfish, heartless, along with entitlement and seeing himself as special and above the rules that the rest of us live by. A story that is kind of telling, is his never getting a license plate for his car. He exploited people in China to build the devices they made so much money on. He had a daughter that he took several years to acknowledge and be willing to take responsibility for the care and well being of the child he contributed to being born. He was cruel to his employees and partners.

Beyond this that has been mentioned by several other writers…

The technical aspects that people attributed to him and Apple were far from original.

The tablet computer which Apple popularized as the iPad, Microsoft had attempted, though could not market successfully. Perhaps Apple made it slick and publicized it.

The user interface that the Macintosh introduced, had actually been originally created  by people at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), work that software developers at Microsoft and X.Org built on.

The technology behind the iPhone, had been developed by other cell phone companies such as Nokia, Research In Motion, LG and Microsoft. The Android operating system was underway while the iPhone was being developed as well.

The operating system at the core of  iPod, iPhone, iPad and their computers and laptops is a derivation of BSD Unix.

The computer language Objective-C which is the core language of apple products which was inspired by Smalltalk which was a development of Xerox PARC.

It’s Hard Being Gifted

There are lots of ways it can be hard for gifted people. Let me count the ways…

  1. A world of people who don’t get you.
  2. People not getting things that seem so clear.
  3. People who get threatened by our intelligence.
  4. People who think we are crazy, when we are making sense.
  5. People who want simple answers to very complicated problems.
  6. Feeling alone because of the above.
  7. Getting stressed out because of excessive sensory stimulation (noise, smells, surfaces, etc).
  8. Feeling angry with all the stupidity you see.
  9. Feeling afraid of being attacked.
  10. Being ridiculed by those less than you.
  11. Bored of the same old stupidity.
  12. more to come …

Personal Stories–Small N Examples

Quantitative researchers will refer to small examples as annecdotal evidence, which often won’t hold up in quantitative research. In Qualitative research, which focuses on depth, individual experience, does not dismiss small N examples and see them as starting points for research, or look at them for deeper kinds of information than normally is tracked in Quantitative research. One might see from a Qualitative a possible pilot study that might explore an exception to the rull than may influence other research.

Research is pointing to more environmental influences, particularly shared environment variables which could argue against theories that substantial influences on intelligence are genetic. In my own family and my partner’s large extended family I see examples that show cases that break the rule.

My Family

My parents were gifted (both deceased), and all of my siblings. My mother was very accomplished and received an Ed.D in the ’70s in education. Her interest was in disabilities. She served on the State Board of Education. She devoured books. My father was an actor, writer, newspaper publisher and politician in New Hampshire politics involved in rather esoteric theories about land value taxation. My grandfather a sailor, detective working in early fingerprinting and photography, when these tools were very new in criminology. My mother however had problems with alcohol and never healed wounds from her childhood and didn’t know what to do with gifted children.

The picture at left is me at age 1, already very precocious. We lived in a very unstimulating factory town. If it were our school or neighbors, I can’t see how it would have influenced us. In many ways our parents were very limited and I think we became who we are in spite of them. they were challenging and I am sure this had an influence. I have to think genetics was the source of our intelligence. My brother’s children are gifted. His first son, devoured books when a small child. He has had to deal with Asberger’s, though a “chip off the old block,” interested in studying biochemical engineering. He is entering his first year of college.

My Partner’s Family

My partner was Mexican-American born in East-L.A. the youngest of ten. Though his father had only a seventh grade education, he read Shakespeare. The children were very accomplished.  My partner is a playwright and supporter of animal causes, and a real fascination with classic literature. The real story surfaces in his oldest sister’s children and their children. His sister who is disabled had two daughters J and L, both intelligent and have spent most of their time with their children, though I am sure they could do much more. Jennifer’s first son with a different man, than the rest is in the GATE Gifted programs in his local school. He is in advanced classes, and now has to chose a college. He hopes to be an anesthesiologist. The next two children of J are very average, and came from a different father. Later another child was born. From when she was an infant, it was clear she is gifted, seeing her at one and one-half, she seems like three. She has had a tremendous curiosity, taking apart everything in the house. Their father is unemployed and has substance issues. If there isn’t a genetic factor going on, it is hard to say how she surfaced, her oldest brother is also gifted. Her cousin, L’s daughter has the most infectious laugh and smile, she is very  bright and it is clear she is very smart.

The multiple meanings of ‘Gifted’

We know how we use the term gifted and it’s meaning, but the term has been misused as in “She is a gifted artist.” While, a person may be a gifted singer, it does not follow that the person has the prerequisite IQ to be “Gifted.” Such a person may have talent, but may not necessarily be among the most talented. I think it can make it hard for people to talk a bout gifted people. Being gifted is not necessarily about artistic talent, though gifted people can be artistically talented. Try searching for gifted among for instance Twitter, or using the Web, and you can find these examples, and you learn more about these people and I do not wish to diminish or demean people, but this is not what I was searching for.

Simon Schama

I was watching Charlie Rose interview Simon Schama the other night. He was talking about American and World politics and I was wishing more people could hear and understand what he could tell us. I had listened earlier to him talking about the History of Britain and his talks on art. I am always taken by how thoughtful, intelligent, and articulate Schama is. He had taught at Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and is now a professor at Columbia University. If you are interested in History and Art History, he is someone to listen to. There were a number of videos done by PBS with his comentary and art and locations. I have found history fascinating, am knowledgeable about history, but hearing his History of Britain was a major experience. This is an interview  on PBS.

More Simon Schama Videos

Brain: The Inside Story

The American Museum of Natural History in New York is running an exhibit “Brain: The Inside Story” until August 15th 2011. It presents a lot of informatation about the human brain, including neuroanatomy, from a neuroscience perspective talking about the brain from different perspectives.

The Sensing Brain is about how the brain records and processes information from our senses. The Emotional Brain is about how we process emotions in the limbic system of our brains based on information by our senses. The Thinking Brain is about our cognitive processes. The Changing Brain discusses how our brain changes from when we are babies growing through adulthood to decline when we age. The 21st Century Brain talks about the challenges facing the brain in our current world.

The exhibit is interesting and worth seeing. Those who have studied the brain and neuroscience might not find it as interesting as it doesn’t really cover new information just being discovered, but for the rest there is plenty of great information to learn from. The exhibit is great for children and teens with things like games, demonstrations that can engage them as they learn. 

Witgenstein’s Poker

Witegenstein’s Poker–The Story of a Ten-Minute Arguement Between Two Great Philosophers by David Edmonds & John Edinow Published by Ecco/Harper Collins

This is a book about a confrontation between the two Philosophers (Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper) just post WWII at Oxford. It covers the story itself, and numbers of perspectives on what happenned during that 10 minutes.

I had come to find this book because of my interest in Wittgenstein, but came to learn about Karl Popper a lesser known Philosopher that influenced business theory, who also came from Vienna Austria.

For those who are interested in Philosophy, this is a very interesting book, particularly if you find these two of interest. Wittgenstein’s definitely a gifted person and his ideas are quite fascinating and worth investigating and considering.

 Along with this discussion are two other books to consider.


More Recent Contributions to the Nature Vs Nurture debate

In more recent discussions, Daniel Shenk’s book “The Genius in All of Us” suggests that we all can be geniuses if we nurture children and have an optimum environment. This is an interesting argument and it’s become understood that environment influences  many outcomes including culture, behavior and intelligence. It’s an interesting response to the Bell Curve. One can clearly support the idea that children should be given a positive environment to grow up in. Lead and other toxins can lead to lowered intelligence and learning disorders, and nutrition is very important, lack of certain vitamins can lead to birth defects. I have seen many exceptions to this, people from questionable, and even problematical backgrounds who show brilliance. Why does this happen. I have also seen in this within large families, numbers of people with giftedness in those families. I doubt gifted people grow up in families with normal or sub-normal intelligence like the television show “Family Guy” would suggest. There may be many cases where giftedness is masked by other problems and one may hide their giftedness from others for fear of ostracism and rejection. I suspect that one’s ability can be enhanced by an enriched environment, but the real differences between gifted and non gifted people are unlikely to be the result of environment solely.

In another book by Steven Pinker, “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature” he reminds us how John Locke’s (1632-1704) idea Tabula Rasa, which suggests we are born a blank slate has permeated social science research and every day beliefs about what contributes to human development and behavior and the world in general. He suggests that we deny human nature. I doubt that we want to see this as an either/or type of situation, but we need to consider how influential Locke’s theory was.

Nature or Nuture: What Contributes to Giftedness

For centuries, theorists have debated what contributes to human behavior, is it how we are born or is it what we learn. John Locke (1632-1704) had a theory called Tabula Rasa or blank slate, which argued that nothing was innate and it was all learned. This perspective influenced social sciences for many years going forward. Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) associated with the development of  genetics as a theory, spawned significant amount of research and theorizing about how genetics influenced human development, however it would be many years before human DNA was sequenced. During the Third Reich, Nazis murdered those with disabilities, those who were different, gay, Jewish, gypsies and communists thanks to beliefs in eugenics. The Nazis thought they were superior and many of the others were inferior racially. This is an example of how science can go terribly wrong.

Twins Studies have been considered the gold standard for considering if traits are genetically predetermined. Monozygotic (MZ) or identical twins share 100% of their DNA as they were from the same egg. Dizygotic (DZ) twins share less common DNA. Comparing identical twins living together and who were raised apart and the differences between MZ and DZ twins, helped develop estimates of heredity. In an article in a professional psychological journal Wendy Johnson, Eric Turkheimer, Irving I. Gottesman, and Thomas J. Bouchard, Jr. authored “Beyond Heritability–Twin Studies in Behavioral Research” in which they suggested that time has come for abandoning twin studies in research into genetic influences. It has become clearer and clearer that environment poses many confounding variables in proving causation. As one would hear in a research class, “Correlation does not mean causation” that just because there is a relationship between two factors, does not mean that one causes the other. There can be many variables that could interfere or confound or cloud research into the relationship. Instead of arguing that A causes B, B could cause A or perhaps they interact. One of the realities that many of us are such a large mixture of various genes and influences that it is hard to know who’s who, and what I got from whom.

After much research, the current state of research suggests estimates of the heredity of Intelligence are in the vicinity of 50 to 80%. Current thinking suggests that genetics interacts with environment in terms of Genes x Environment rather than Genes + Environment. The interaction leads to genetic expression in terms of proteins and amino acids and others, which influence the outcome.

In another example of how science can go wrong (there are many examples), the book published in 1995, the Bell Curve by Harvard Psychologist Richard J. Hernstein and American Enterprise Institute political science researcher Henry Murray suggested that genetics contribute to far more than one would expect. Including African Americans are less intelligent than white people because of genetic differences. This smells a lot like Eugenics to me. This generated a lot of controversy and seems rather questionable. Another book from other scientists was published to refute those findings “Intelligence, Genes, and Success: Scientists Respond to THE BELL CURVE (Statistics for Social Science and Public Policy)” Edited By: Bernie Devlin, Stephen E. Fienberg, Daniel P. Resnick, and Kathryn Roeder. The American Psychological Association formed a task force and developed their official statement on the matter arguing that race, gender are  not correlated to intelligence, but intelligence is related to many factors and influences.