Nature's Gambit: Child Prodigies and the Development of Human Potential

Nature's Gambit: Child Prodigies and the Development of Human Potential

Nature's Gambit: Child Prodigies and the Development of Human Potential

Nature's Gambit: Child Prodigies and the Development of Human Potential

Excerpt

I was standing on the deck of his house in Geneva looking out at the lake and the mountains when my friend Howard Gruber said: "So you have written a book about evolution once again." I had been describing this book to him, explaining that it was a report of my work with prodigies but also a speculation about how the prodigy phenomenon may shed light on other issues such as the expression of potential and the importance of a long-term perspective on the development of abilities. When Gruber had written six years ago that an earlier book of mine was about evolution he had taken me somewhat by surprise, since I thought I had written about developmental psychology and education. Not that I was totally unaware of thinking about evolutionary matters in relation to my topic, but Gruber's characterization of the book as being fundamentally about evolution was more than I had anticipated. When I reflected on what he had said, though, there was a certain plausibility in his statement. When he said it again, about this book, I should not have been as surprised as I was. Either Gruber's own extended study of Darwin had left him so obsessed with evolution that he interpreted everything through that lens, or he had once again recognized a deeper theme in my work and was bringing it to my attention.

As before, it is not that I was unaware that issues concerning evolution were a significant aspect of the prodigy work. Evolutionary themes have always played a prominent role in my thinking. Although I have no formal training in disciplines like biology or ethology, it has been apparent to me for many years that psychologists must consider evolutionary issues if they are to create a complete picture of human behavior. This has been true ever since my student days. When I entered graduate school in developmental psychology several professors asked me about my interests. I replied, with the naiveté and arrogance that only a first-year student can muster, that the only thing that really interested me was understanding how thought could evolve from primitive to advanced reasoning, both for individuals and for the species as a whole. It is a testimony to the patience and wisdom of my teachers that they allowed me these preoccupations within the confines of developmental psychology, gently weaning me away from topics too general to be addressed in my discipline. I guess that in spite of my real identification with investigating the psychology of . . .

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