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Opinion | You Don’t Want a Child Prodigy - The New York Times
"One Thursday in January, I hit “send” on the last round of edits for a new book about how society undervalues generalists — people who cultivate broad interests, zigzag in their careers and delay picking an area of expertise. Later that night, my wife started having intermittent contractions. By Sunday, I was wheeling my son’s bassinet down a hospital hallway toward a volunteer harpist, fantasizing about a music career launched in the maternity ward.

A friend had been teasing me for months about whether, as a parent, I would be able to listen to my own advice, or whether I would be a “do as I write, not as I do” dad, telling everyone else to slow down while I hustle to mold a baby genius. That’s right, I told him, sharing all of this research is part of my plan to sabotage the competition while secretly raising the Tiger Woods of blockchain (or perhaps the harp).

I do find the Tiger Woods story incredibly compelling; there is a reason it may be the most famous tale of development ever. Even if you don’t know the details, you’ve probably absorbed the gist.

Woods was 7 months old when his father gave him a putter, which he dragged around in his circular baby-walker. At 2, he showed off his drive on national television. By 21, he was the best golfer in the world. There were, to be sure, personal and professional bumps along the way, but in April he became the second-oldest player ever to win the Masters. Woods’s tale spawned an early-specialization industry.

And yet, I knew that his path was not the only way to the top.

Consider Roger Federer. Just a year before Woods won this most recent Masters, Federer, at 36, became the oldest tennis player ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world. But as a child, Federer was not solely focused on tennis. He dabbled in skiing, wrestling, swimming, skateboarding and squash. He played basketball, handball, tennis, table tennis and soccer (and badminton over his neighbor’s fence). Federer later credited the variety of sports with developing his athleticism and coordination.

While Tiger’s story is much better known, when sports scientists study top athletes, they find that the Roger pattern is the standard. Athletes who go on to become elite usually have a “sampling period.” They try a variety of sports, gain a breadth of general skills, learn about their own abilities and proclivities, and delay specializing until later than their peers who plateau at lower levels. The way to develop the best 20-year-old athlete, it turns out, is not the same as the way to make the best 10-year-old athlete.

The same general pattern tends to hold true for music, another domain where the annals of young prodigies are filled with tales of eight hours of violin, and only violin, a day. In online forums, well-meaning parents agonize over what instrument to pick for a child, because she is too young to pick for herself and will fall irredeemably behind if she waits. But studies on the development of musicians have found that, like athletes, the most promising often have a period of sampling and lightly structured play before finding the instrument and genre that suits them.

In fact, a cast of little-known generalists helped create some of the most famous music in history. The 18th-century orchestra that powered Vivaldi’s groundbreaking use of virtuoso soloists was composed largely of the orphaned daughters of Venice’s sex industry. The “figlie del coro,” as the musicians were known, became some of the best performers in the world. The most striking aspect of their development was that they learned an extraordinary number of different instruments.

This pattern extends beyond music and sports. Students who have to specialize earlier in their education — picking a pre-med or law track while still in high school — have higher earnings than their generalist peers at first, according to one economist’s research in several countries. But the later-specializing peers soon caught up. In sowing their wild intellectual oats, they got a better idea of what they could do and what they wanted to do. The early specializers, meanwhile, more often quit their career tracks.

I found the Roger pattern — not the Tiger (or Tiger Mother) pattern — in most domains I examined. Professional breadth paid off, from the creation of comic books (a creator’s years of experience did not predict performance, but the number of different genres the creator had worked in did) to technological innovation (the most successful inventors were those who had worked in a large number of the federal Patent and Trademark Office’s different technological classifications).

A study of scientists found that those who were nationally recognized were more likely to have avocations — playing music, woodworking, writing — than typical scientists, and that Nobel laureates were more likely still.

My favorite example of a generalist inventor is Gunpei Yokoi, who designed the Game Boy. Yokoi didn’t do as well on electronics exams as his friends, so he joined Nintendo as a machine maintenance worker when it was still a playing card company before going on to lead the creation of a toy and game operation. His philosophy, “lateral thinking with withered technology,” was predicated on dabbling in many different types of older, well-understood (or “withered”) technology, and combining them in new ways, hence the Game Boy’s thoroughly dated tech specs.

Roger stories abound. And yet, we (and I include myself) have a collective complex about sampling, zigzagging and swerving from (or simply not having) ironclad long-term plans. We are obsessed with narrow focus, head starts and precocity.

A few years ago, I was invited to speak to a small group of military veterans who had been given scholarships by the Pat Tillman Foundation to aid with new careers. I talked a bit about research on late specializers and was struck by the reception, as if the session had been cathartic.

One attendee emailed me afterward: “We are all transitioning from one career to another. Several of us got together after you had left and discussed how relieved we were to have heard you speak.” He was a former member of the Navy SEALs with an undergrad degree in history and geophysics and was pursuing grad degrees in business and public administration from Dartmouth and Harvard. I couldn’t help but chuckle that he had been made to feel behind.

Oliver Smithies would have made that veteran feel better too, I think. Smithies was a Nobel laureate scientist whom I interviewed in 2016, shortly before he died at 91. Smithies could not resist “picking up anything” to experiment with, a habit his colleagues noticed. Rather than throw out old or damaged equipment, they would leave it for him, with the label “Nbgbokfo”: “No bloody good but O.K. for Oliver.”

He veered across scientific disciplines — in his 50s, he took a sabbatical two floors away from his lab to learn a new discipline, in which he then did his Nobel work; he told me he published his most important paper when he was 60. His breakthroughs, he said, always came during what he called “Saturday morning experiments.” Nobody was around, and he could just play. “On Saturday,” he said, “you don’t have to be completely rational.”

I did have fleeting thoughts of a 1-day-old harp prodigy. I’ll admit it. But I know that what I really want to do is give my son a “Saturday experiment” kind of childhood: opportunities to try many things and help figuring out what he actually likes and is good at. For now, I’m content to help him learn that neither musical instruments nor sports equipment are for eating.

That said, just as I don’t plan to push specialization on him, I also don’t mean to suggest that parents should flip to the other extreme and start force-feeding diversification.

If of his own accord our son chooses to specialize early, fine. Both Mozart and Woods’s fathers began coaching their sons in response to the child’s display of interest and prowess, not the reverse. As Tiger Woods noted in 2000: “To this day, my dad has never asked me to go play golf. I ask him. It’s the child’s desire to play that matters, not the parent’s desire to have the child play.”

On the strength of what I’ve learned, I think I’ll find it easy to stick to my guns as a Roger father."
davidepstein  children  parenting  ports  talent  2019  burnout  generalists  specialization  specialists  prodigies  rogerfederer  tigerwoods  music  performance  gunpeiyokoi  gameboy  nintendo  oliversmithies  genius  science  learning  mozart  sampling  quitting  precocity  headstarts  education  focus 
june 2019 by robertogreco
William Kentridge: "The Magic Flute" | ART21 "Exclusive" - YouTube
"Episode #134: In his 2005 production of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" (1791), artist William Kentridge reframes the opera's original themes of Enlightenment philosophy through the bitter legacy of colonialism. "The most toxic combination in the world is...the certainty of being right and a monopoly of power," says the artist, who casts the character of Sarastro in the role of a colonial overlord, "a benevolent figure that hides a monster."

Having witnessed first-hand one of the twentieth century's most contentious struggles—the dissolution of apartheid—William Kentridge brings the ambiguity and subtlety of personal experience to public subjects most often framed in narrowly defined terms. Using film, drawing, sculpture, animation, and performance, he transmutes sobering political events into powerful poetic allegories. Aware of myriad ways in which we construct the world by looking, Kentridge often uses optical illusions to extend his drawings-in-time into three dimensions.

Learn more about William Kentridge at: http://www.art21.org/artists/william-kentridge "
themagicflute  williamkentridge  art  monsters  sarastro  mozart  2005  apartheid  colonialism  certainty  poer 
december 2016 by robertogreco
The End of Creativity — Medium
"People living in the twentieth century heard a lot of talk about “creativity.” People living in the twenty-first century will not. Creativity is not dead yet, but its end is in sight. Alfred North Whitehead invented the word in 1926."

75 years later, it was one in every 70,000 words published and had become the name of a popular hypothesis: that new things are created by “geniuses” who solve problems by deliberately not thinking about them — a step called “incubation” — until they receive answers in sudden, dramatic moments of “insight.” One of the most frequently cited examples is attributed to Mozart:
“When I am, as it were, completely myself, and of good cheer, my ideas flow best and most abundantly. My subject stands almost complete in my mind. When I write down my ideas everything is already finished; and it rarely differs from what was in my imagination.”

These words, which I have edited for length, first appeared in a letter to Germany’s General Music Journal in 1815, then in many other places, including Jacques Hadamard’s 1945 The Mathematician’s Mind; Creativity, edited by Philip Vernon in 1976; and Roger Penrose’s 1989 The Emperor’s New Mind. They remain popular: in 2015, they have already appeared in at least one book and one journal.

But Mozart did not write them, they do not describe how he composed, and we have known this since 1856, when Mozart biographer Otto Jahn showed that they were forged.

"Why do so many people writing about creativity keep citing them as if they were true? Because there is little else to cite. Psychologists have been trying to prove the creativity hypothesis for nearly a hundred years. Their results are, at best, mixed.

In the 1920s, Stanford’s Lewis Terman sought to prove the existence of the general, hereditary superiority called “genius” by testing 168,000 children and placing them on a scale “from idiocy on the one hand to genius on the other.” He identified 1,500 “geniuses,” then tracked their accomplishments for the rest of their lives. Some did creative work, like making movies, but many did not. And what of the “non-geniuses” Terman rejected? Two, William Shockley and Luis Alvarez, won Nobel Prizes. Terman’s results are typical: all other attempts to predict future accomplishments by measuring “genius” have also failed.

“Incubation,” or solving problems by not thinking about them, has been widely studied. Berkeley’s Robert Olton spent the 1970s looking for it. In one experiment, he asked 160 people to solve a brainteaser, giving some breaks, while making others work continuously. The breaks made no difference. Olton was forced to conclude that,
“No evidence of incubation was apparent,” and added, “No study reporting evidence of incubation has survived replication by an independent investigator.”

And “insight” — the fully formed solution in a flash? German Gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker was one of the first to study that. In his most famous experiment, he gave people a box of tacks and a book of matches, and asked them to fix a candle to a wall so that it could be used as a reading light. The solution is to tack the tack-box to the wall — to see it as a thing for holding the candle, not a thing for holding the tacks. The shift from “tack-box” to “candle-holder” is the supposed “insight.” By having people think aloud, Duncker showed that the solution came incrementally, not instantly: everyone who discovered it thought of making a platform out of tacks, then realized the tack-box would be a better platform.

These experiments, although a few of hundreds, are representative. There is probably no such thing as creativity. But Duncker’s work laid the foundation for an alternative hypothesis: that extraordinary solutions come from ordinary people doing ordinary thinking. Robert Weisberg, a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, put it this way:
“Although the impact of creative ideas and products can sometimes be profound, the mechanisms through which an innovation comes about can be very ordinary.”




"This idea that extraordinary creations come from ordinary people and ordinary thinking has become more popular recently. Jon Gertner wrestled with the problem of “the great men versus the yeomen,” in The Idea Factory, his history of Bell Labs, and concluded that innovation needs both; Walter Isaacson found he had to tell the story of many lives, not one, to describe the invention of computing in his latest bestseller The Innovators; and Steven Johnson refutes the “non-explanation of genius” and argues that “innovation comes out of collaborative networks” in his new book and PBS television series, How We Got to Now.

It is an important change. We are rejecting the myths of “creativity” and developing a better understanding of how we create at a time when, because of the growing problems of our growing population, we need creation more than ever. We are not all equally creative, just as we are not all equally good at anything. But each of us is more like Mozart than not. We can all create, we can all contribute, and we all should."
via:anne  2015  creativity  incubation  ideas  ordinariness  kevinashton  jongertner  walterisaacson  stevenjohnson  innovation  robertburton  georgeherbert  diegodeestrella  johnofsalisbury  bernardofchartres  alberteinstein  ernstmach  carlfriedrichgauss  bernhardriemann  marcelgrossman  gregorioricci-curbastro  mozart  karldunker  ottojahn  alfrednorthwhitehead  lewisterman  genius  williamshockley  luisalvarez  psychology  robertolton  history  insight  ordinary 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Mozart's music does not make you smarter, study finds
"For over 15 years, scientists have been discussing alleged performance-enhancing effects of hearing classical music. Now, University of Vienna researchers Jakob Pietschnig, Martin Voracek and Anton K. Formann present quite definite results on this so-called "Mozart effect" in the US journal Intelligence. These new findings suggest no evidence for specific cognitive enhancements by mere listening to Mozart's music."
brain  classicalmusic  music  mozart  mozareffect  intelligence 
may 2010 by robertogreco

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