BOOK: The Nurture Assumption

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Sat, 23 Jan 1999 18:25:50 -0600

I'd like to unreservedly recommend a book called "The Nurture Assumption", and stick through the first few chapters debunking ideas you've never believed, because Judith Rich Harris goes on to do much more. I'm not even done with the book, but already it's done something no book has ever done before. It's given me my childhood back. *Now* my understanding of evolutionary psychology extends to children. Now I understand my first years.

The thesis of the book is that parenting doesn't matter. Only peer groups matter. (You should still be a good parent, but it won't make much of a difference to your child's future. Although IMHO kids can still benefit from tutoring, and for some nerds peers are also irrelevant and it's the books that count.) Now, when I first read this, I thought: "She's got a few points, but I'm sure she's exaggerating, in love with her thesis. Parents do matter, they just aren't as all-important as people think." A few chapters later, she'd convinced me. Parenting doesn't matter.

Oh, most of the rules she's articulating don't apply to me, of course, but I can see how they not-apply in a very clear manner that explains a lot I never understood, and I can see how some of the not-applying has lasted even into my adult life.

I can even see why I didn't have a childhood as stereotypically miserable as most geniuses are supposed to. Good studiers are brown-nosers, picked on for being minions of Them? Hah! Not me. I wasn't the class brain, I was the class genius and everyone knew it. I never felt any obligation to "fit in" with the other kids, but I never felt any obligation to do my homework either. I lost all respect for teachers when the second-grade math teacher didn't know what a logarithm was. I was the terror of the adults, and the other kids respected that.

--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.