Perseverance is greater than talent

Recently, I finished a fascinating book called, The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature
by Geoffrey Miller. In it, Miller makes the case that many of the things that make us human are the result of sexual selection, not natural selection. Our capacity for language, music, art, kindness, intelligence and charity are all traits or abilities that made us more attractive to the opposite sex. They did not evolve because they helped us survive better, instead they evolved because they are ways for us to display how fit our genes are. Our minds evolved to be an entertainment center for potential mates. The better we could sing, or tell stories, or make other people laugh, the more attractive we were. This meant we could attract fitter mates and especially in the case of men, have more offspring, ensuring that the next generation would be even better at singing, telling stories and making other people laugh.

It’s an interesting idea. If you are like me and interested in evolution, but haven’t read much about Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, you should take a look. But I’ll leave it Miller to actually lay out the argument. He does a much better job than I could.

Near the end of the book came the following passage. As an artist, this passage jumped off the page.

Among competent professionals in any field, there appears to be a fairly constant probability of success in any given endeavor. (Psychologist Dean Keith) Simonton’s data show that excellent composers do not produce a higher proportion of excellent music than good composers—they simply produce a higher total number of works. People who achieve extreme success in any creative field are almost always extremely prolific. Hans Eysenck became a famous psychologist not because all of his papers were excellent, but because he wrote over a hundred books and a thousand papers, and some of them happened to be excellent. Those who write only ten papers are much less likely to strike gold with any of them. Likewise with Picasso: if you paint 14,000 paintings in your lifetime, some of them are likely to be pretty good, even if most are mediocre. Simonton’s results are surprising. The constant probability of success idea sounds counterintuitive and of course there are exceptions to this generalization. Yet Simonton’s data on creative achievement are the most comprehensive ever collected and in every domain that he studied, creative achievement was a good indicator of the energy, time, and motivation invested in creative activity.

Let that sink in a little bit. No really. Let that sink in. Ponder it for a little bit before you read on.

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Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

Book Club IconIt’s been a while since I have talked about my book club. For those who might not know, I’ve been running a book club for almost a year and a half. I think we have done 15 books so far. On Monday night we discussed Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee. It may have been our best discussion yet.

The book is a short one, telling the story of a professor from a South African technical college, David Lurie, who falls into disgrace. The story begins with the dissolution of his relationship to a prostitute, then leads into a rather tactless and boorish attempt of his to start an affair with a young student. When the affair is revealed, he deals with the inquiry badly, leading to his dismissal. From here the professor goes to the South African countryside to live with his daughter on what remains of a communal farm.

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Monday Night is Book Club

Book Club IconTomorrow night is book club night for me. It’s probably the night each month I most look forward to these days. I’m a little shocked how much I enjoy it to be honest.

In college I was an English major, but I never loved literature back then. I had a great class my Freshman year called Introduction to Poetry. This was mainly because the instructor, a grad student at the time, was so jazzed to teach the class. He also held office hours at the local bar. He would make you play pinball with him while you discussed your paper. It was that first semester that I decided to couple an English and Rhetoric major with a Cinema Studies minor. Despite many tedious English classes to follow, I plowed ahead with that plan.

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Theory of Poker on the Kindle

I just saw this announced on the forums of Two Plus Two Publishing by Mason Malmuth:

We have just given Amazon permission to create kindle-books from Hold ’em Poker for Advanced Players and The Theory of Poker. We’ll see how these do and then decide if we should do any more.

Finally some decent quality books on poker will be available for the Kindle. These two books by David Sklansky are must reads for any student of poker.

I Started a Book Club

Book Club IconI started a book club through meetup.com. If anyone has some recommendations for good contemporary fiction, please let me know. I’d like to work out my list for the first few months.

What are the requirements for inclusion on my list? Books must be in paperback and ubiquitous enough to be found in a local library. A big bonus if they are available for the Kindle (I may only use Kindle-available books for purely selfish reasons). Oh and they must be good books, hopefully with a bit of an edge.

I’m also considering doing some kind of virtual version of the book club. Perhaps I would do it in SecondLife, or via a group in Facebook or on my message board. Sounds like fun and not that much more work since we would read the same book in the different locations.

Good Calories, Bad Calories in a nutshell

I’m surprised how long it has taken me to get through Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. After 2 and half weeks, I’m still not done. I’m on the last chapter though. Maybe I’m just a slow reader.

The book is dense, bringing together a huge number of scientific studies that date back to the beginning of the the 20th century. His goal seems to be to overwhelm the reader with evidence that many of the assumptions about diet, obesity and disease are wrong. He isn’t content to give you one or two examples of studies that suggest that carbohydrates are the primary factor behind obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and a range of other modern illnesses that were rare before the 20th century. He piles it on, determined to make sure that someone can’t read his book and dismiss it as “some fad diet book.” If you say he is wrong, you better bring your citations with you.

I’ve enjoyed the ride, but I wonder how many readers get bogged down and don’t finish it, or don’t care so much about the reams of evidence that Taubes has compiled and want to skip to his conclusions. One passage near the end that jumped out at me as something that people need to know:

By the mid-1960s, four facts had been established beyond reasonable doubt: (1) carbohydrates are singularly responsible for prompting insulin secretion; (2) insulin is singularly responsible for inducing fat accumulation; (3) dietary carbohydrates are required for excess fat accumulation; and (4) both Type 2 diabetics and the obese have abnormally elevated levels of circulating insulin and a “greatly exaggerated” insulin response to carbohydrates in the diet

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Poker Books and the Kindle

Like every good geek who plays poker, I have read books on poker, lots of books. So when I got my Kindle, I started thinking about how wonderful it would be to carry around my poker library with me. Poker books tend to be heavy and thick. And if you like to travel light like me, a few less poker books in your carry on bag would make a big difference.

Many of my favorite poker books are from Two Plus Two Publishing and none of them are available yet. Judging from this thread on their forums, they have no plans to release Kindle versions of their books. That’s a shame.

So what is available for the Kindle now? Well there are several books by Phil Helmuth. They all look like crap honestly. I don’t particularly like him anyway, but more importantly, I did once buy his book, “Play Poker Like the Pros” and returned it within a few hours. I just couldn’t read it and from what I did read, it was very light on useful advice.

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