Fjordman’s latest essay has been posted at Dispatch International. Some excerpts are below:
Nature or nurture: The Cases of Magnus Carlsen and Anders Behring Breivik
No single factor, genetic or otherwise, can explain why one young Norwegian becomes world master in chess, whereas another becomes a mass murderer. But perhaps a combination of factors can.
Why are human beings geniuses, while others end up as sadistic murderers? Were they born that way, or were they shaped that way through their social environment and upbringing?
This is the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture. My personal view on this is that biology matters a great deal. People can be born with a specific genetic profile and brain that will make them predisposed towards a certain type of mentality and behavior. However, while you can be born with a certain potential, to what extent that potential is realized depends upon your social environment. There are plenty of people throughout history whose talent was either never recognized or in some ways wasted.
It is instructive to look at this debate of nature vs. nurture through the cases of two young Norwegian men who have both made international headlines in recent years. One is Magnus Carlsen, currently the reigning World Chess Champion. The other is the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik.
Magnus Carlsen became a chess grandmaster at the age of 13, one of the youngest players ever to do so. In November 2013, he beat Viswanathan Anand in India in the World Chess Championship. At the time of writing, Carlsen is the number one ranked chess player in the world, having achieved the highest peak rating in history and beaten the previous record set by the great Russian chess player Garry Kasparov.
His parents are both engineers by profession. At the age of two, Carlsen had already shown an aptitude for jigsaw puzzles and other intellectual challenges. He further displayed a phenomenal memory as a child. His father figured that Magnus might be good at chess and introduced the game to his son, but he never set out to carefully groom him for this.
Magnus Carlsen has been dubbed the “Mozart of chess.” This is partly referring to the fact that he is a genius and a child prodigy, as was the famous composer. However, there are differences between them. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may well have been born with a unique talent, but his father Leopold Mozart also carefully cultivated Wolfgang and his sister Nannerl in various musical disciplines from a very tender age.
Henrik Carlsen warns that “people get this wrong. They think we asked him to play. But we never asked him. It came from inside.” When he was around five, he was trying to teach Magnus chess. He did not seem too interested. His father therefore made no attempt to push his son further in this regard, until Magnus returned to the game on his own a little later. “When he came back to it again, he was around seven and I could see he had a deep passion for it. It had to be that way for him to stay motivated and enjoy it. The chess is his. It is not mine,” says Henrik Carlsen.
Perhaps Magnus Carlsen was literally born with a special talent. Yet at least his supportive parents recognized this talent and helped him cultivate it further. The boy was also fortunate enough to receive competent aid and training between the age of 10 and 19 from people such as grandmaster Simen Agdestein, who was for years Norway’s best chess player. However, Agdestein stresses that although Carlsen received support and encouragement, he eventually managed to move beyond his teachers due to his unique talent.
Magnus Carlsen probably had a positive genetic profile that was cultivated further through a positive upbringing. It is quite possible that Anders Behring Breivik is the exact opposite of this. He had a negative genetic profile that was further cultivated in a negative and in some ways damaging upbringing.
In 2005, the American neuroscientist James Fallon was looking at brain scans of serial killers. As part of a research project, he was sifting through thousands of PET scans to find anatomical patterns in the brain that might correlate with psychopathic tendencies in the real world. By chance, he also had scans from himself and his family lying on his desk. He happened to see this scan of a brain that looked pathological. It showed low activity in certain areas of the frontal and temporal lobes linked to empathy, morality and self-control. When he looked it up, he discovered that this psychopathic brain was his own.
Fallon has gone public with this information and seeks to reconcile how he — a happily married family man — could display the same anatomical patterns that characterize the brains of serial killers. “I’ve never killed anybody, or raped anyone,” he says. Yet when he underwent a series of genetic tests, he got more bad news. His genetic profile showed a high risk of aggression, violence and low empathy.
Eventually, he decided that he is indeed a psychopath — just a non-violent one, someone who has difficulty feeling true empathy for others but still keeps his behavior roughly within socially acceptable bounds. He’d always been aware that he was someone especially motivated by power and manipulating others, he says. Additionally, his family line included several murderers. Nevertheless, the fact that a person with the genes and brain of a psychopath could end up a stable and successful scientist made Fallon reconsider his ideas.
Read the rest at Dispatch International.
For a complete archive of Fjordman’s writings, see the multi-index listing in the Fjordman Files.