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Last night I described to a college freshman that at my stage of studenthood my main activity involves research, meaning in my case the writing of proofs. She replied with “Oh, I could never do that” and I don’t think she believed my assertion that she could, with just a few years of training.
Somehow, some tasks have developed a reputation for being “smarter” than others. “I’m not start enough to be a mathematician,” people say. And yet mathematics has a relatively small set of things you need to memorize and is a lot more tedious following steps than it is creative intelligence. Which requires a more acute mind: art or math? I would have a hard time defending either answer.
There are many reasons someone might not excel at a particular endeavor. They may lack the interest, the training, or the discipline. It might just not be a high enough priority for them to give it their all. But I don’t believe that there are career paths that are “too hard” for the average person. Too dull, too opaque, too steep a learning curve, too abstract, too rote, sure. But the idea of “too hard” and “not smart enough” is one of several ways that our culture has led us astray.
Why do I say so? Well, examples like Brian McGeever help. But being more theoretic than practical as a rule, I tend to cite the computational equivalence of brains and my personal experience that the possibly-non-computational creativity I exercise in poetry, illustration, music, writing, programming, teaching, and mathematics all feels like the same kind of thing. Sure, one person may be faster and thus better suited to a task than another, but I only have evidence of two things—a brain and creativity—needed for each and I have no evidence anyone fully lacks either.