Nature Vs Nurture In Beethoven’s Genome

When it comes to famous musicians, Beethoven is likely to hit most top ten charts. Researchers recently peered into his genome to see if they could predict his talent by DNA alone.

Using a previously-identified polygenetic index (PGI) for musical talent, which finds the propensity of certain genes to influence a given trait after a genome-wide association study (GWAS), the researchers were able to compare samples of Beethoven’s DNA to that of two separate population studies with known musical achievement data.

Much to the relief of those who saw Gattaca as a cautionary tale, the scientists found that Beethoven scored only around the tenth percentile for the ability to keep a beat according to his genetic markers. According to the researchers, using genetic markers to predict abilities of an individual can lead to incorrect conclusions, despite their usefulness for group level analyses.

Curious about more musical science? How about reconstructing “Another Brick in The Wall (Part I)” from brainwaves or building a Square Laser Harp?

19 thoughts on “Nature Vs Nurture In Beethoven’s Genome

    1. Eggheads believing that musical talent equals a genetic predisposition towards being a perfect metronome is a perfect example of “not even wrong.” Reminds me of Arrested Development. I suppose George Michael Bluth was destined to be the Bach of the wood block.

      1. Certain genes are more likely in individuals with known musical ability, compared to the average population.

        There is a correlation, we can calculate both the strength of the correlation and the size of the effect using standard mathematical means.

        Certain genes are associated with musical ability.

        What’s “not even wrong” about that? I’d like to hear your informed analysis of the situation.

        1. My main contention here is that “keeping a beat” and playing/singing/composing music are not inherently related. Drummers aren’t inherently good musicians, and good musicians don’t always stay on rhythm without the percussion section.
          I can’t tell if the phrase was used colloquially, or if that was actually the trait being tracked.

  1. I think his musicality was due to his heavy drinking. I am underaking a major study to prove my theory.

    “PGI for liver cirrhosis at the 96th percentile, and suggested that genetic factors may have contributed to his well-known severe liver disease, over and above effects of heavy drinking and hepatitis.

  2. I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

    1. This myth—this completely unfalsifiable article of faith—serves to soothe an egalitarian’s conscience and cognitive dissonance. A belief that talent is randomly distributed as opposed to being the product of work and generations of breeding, that success and talent aren’t much correlated, that extreme brilliance would just go overlooked. That since there are more potato peelers than physicists, then surely a huge portion of the potato peelers are secret geniuses via mere statistical probability.

      Helps to keep your brain quiet when you spend all your compassion on the low, and give none to the great and beautiful things in life. Which is a terrible way to tend a garden, and a way to ensure that there are no further Einsteins, recognized or not.

      1. Some would argue that the smarter thing to do in life is just to peel potatoes – especially if you’re not interested in mathematics and physics. You don’t HAVE to become the next Einstein. Those who complain about the waste of talent are only looking at it from the point of exploiting it.

        1. Oh I’d say I agree that it should be exploited. Maybe it would be more peaceful if all of the brilliance in history was left fallow and these people peeled potatoes instead, but that’s not what humanity is for. To throw the spear of humanity beyond the mere life of a domestic primate.

          1. Easy to say from the perspective of an exploiter, but as an intelligent person, I would rather have my mind remain unused by businesses or governments.

  3. It has been said that the only difference between skill and talent is practice.

    It should be noted that Beethoven’s father abused him heavily and boxed his ears when he played poorly. Not sure if “nurture” is the right word here.

  4. This type of “study” is almost universally garbage, and was likely done from the start to push a talking point. “Polygenetic index for musical talent” equals we took the genomes of a few musicians and p-hacked some giant swathes of completely irrelevant garbage DNA until a phantom of a correlation appeared, then called that the “musical talent gene” for purposes of gaining clicks and citations.

    To think that they (or anyone) understand genetics well enough to pinpoint extremely specific polygenetic behavioral traits is laughable. To then use this ignorance to run tests and make dubious conclusions about historical figures is not science, it’s tabloid fluff and academic fraud.

    1. +1

      Considering how overly complex the brain and the mind are, somsone can’t pin down things to a few “switches”.

      In addition, new neuronal connection do form whenever people have a strong interest in something.

      To give an example, if they love someone with another culture and language, they’re capable of learning it, even in high age.
      Joy and love can do wonders to the brain/mind, really.

      So the real story might have been other way round, too.
      As a layman, I’d dare to imagine that maybe gifted people got an interest into something first, consciously or unconsciously, which then did trigger certain events in the brain.

      Maybe it all started when in the mother’s womb, still.
      Music can do wonders. It still reaches people with dementia, for example.

      Last but not least, body and mind do work in tandem. They’re completing each others, so to say.

      Separating these into separate things all time isn’t wise.
      Because, all things in a given environment are connected in some way.

      We can’t pull them apart, put them into a petri dish and then watch them under a microscope.
      That’s not how nature works.

      Psychological problems (stress, fear depressions) will eventually turn into physical problems and vice versa.

      Healing also works in a similar fashion. A happy brain is capable of healing itself or to produce pain killers.
      This isn’t magic, but has a rational explanation. On other hand, the brain and mind are so full of wonders that “magical” might be an adequate description, despite all odds. ❤️

  5. I once looked up what the historical and ‘official’ length of a full note is and where it comes from.
    It turns out that is actually not easy to find but in the end I could conclude from various sources it seems it comes from the heartbeat as timekeeper.

    It’s interesting since it also brings questions like ‘if there are alien lifeforms what would their heartrate be?’ (I assume a cirulary system could be expected). Would it be near 60BPM? And if not would that affect their concept of music? If they have music.

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