Mark Zuckerberg achieved financial success far beyond the majority of people twice his age. His $100 million donation to the Newark education system demonstrates this. Zuckerberg also received the honor of being named Time Magazine’s person of the year. Zuckerberg’s accomplishments are worthy of praise, but he’s not a self-made man. He’s the son of a psychiatrist and a dentist. Considering that a fairly small percentage of Americans go on to get a professional degree, he’s the product of two people with high intelligence. There’s evidence from studying identical twins that intelligence and conscientiousness have large genetic components.
An interview with Dr. Arthur De Vany describes the psychological damage incurred from comparing yourself to celebrities or business superstars. In human history, people lived in small tribes and had limited social reference points. Now people have the opportunity to compare themselves to thousands of people who each appear perfect in some way.
Genes don’t totally determine the outcome of a person’s life, but they have a major influence. For years physics professor Steve Hsu has been documenting the impact of genetics and IQ on a person’s life. His most relevant blog posts to this discussion are in these categories:
• Information Processing: genetics
• Information Processing: iq
Some people get nervous when talking about genetics and intelligence, because they worry – and rightly so – that it could be used as justification for eugenics or selective human breeding. However, eugenics is an unethical blunt instrument, especially when there’s the possibility that medications and therapies for cognitive enhancement could be available in the next couple of decades. Would you really want to deny existence to the hypothetical person who could save the world if they received the right medication?
I think the right answer to this dilemma is focusing on improving human intelligence in easy ways that could bring about major benefits to a society. Are people really responsible for their actions if they have low impulsiveness due to nutrient deficiencies, abuse, and lead poisoning from when they were children? Improving childhood nutrition and environmental safety could greatly enhance the competitiveness and well-being of a community or nation. Even if an individual is predisposed to problems due to genetics, early intervention can set his or her life on a positive track. Neuroscientist James Fallon is a great example:
• A Neuroscientist Uncovers a Dark Secret
Zuckerberg admirably donated $100 million to the school district of Newark New Jersey. I’m going to explain where he should have donated his money, and why he probably had no real choice in the matter. Education is important to the future of the country, but there’s a growing belief that the current public education system is deeply flawed. Professor Peter Gray writes excellent criticism of schools and how to improve them in his Psychology Today blog Freedom to Learn. Schools are artificial environments that magnify status games among adolescents and often create or accelerate the development of mental illness. Some of his findings:
• Schools are like prisons.
• Schools are ineffective in dealing with bullying.
• Schooling may be behind the dramatic rise in anxiety and depression.
Also, graduate students in education have the second-lowest GRE scores among American graduate students. Schools are run by some of the dumbest “educated” people in the nation. Many students would be better off just staying at home and watching videos posted by physicists and mathematicians on YouTube. Schools would be better served by hiring fewer administrators and using the cost savings to raise teacher salaries to attract more qualified employees.
Zuckerberg would have been better off donating his money to virtual schools or starting a chain of for-profit education centers that utilize evidence-based research on how the brain learns. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen wrote an excellent book titled Disrupting Class about how schools are ripe for competition, disruption, and creative destruction. Even better, the Facebook CEO could have followed Bill Gates’ lead and saved millions of lives by investing in global health.
Many people claim Mark Zuckerberg donated money to education to distract from the negative publicity surrounding the movie The Social Network, as well as from some embarrassing emails and stories that leaked out about the early years of Facebook. That may have played a part in his decision, but I’m not convinced it’s the total story. The real motivation comes from the uneasy relationship between Facebook and schools. Many schools have started to block Facebook to cut down on wasted time and bullying. This donation is a form of protection money to improve Facebook’s image in the minds of the education cartel.
I’m mildly obsessed with Mark Zuckerberg since he’s almost the exact same age as me (he’s about a month younger than I am) yet he’s accomplished so much more in business and in life. He leads one of the most successful companies in the world, lives in one of the best cities in the United States, has a multi-million dollar home, and is a major philanthropist. Some people are even more obsessed with details about Zuckerberg’s life than I am, namely Pradeep Manukonda.
When I talk about famous people, it’s a way to explore aspects of trends and scientific findings by using their life as an example rather than an obsession with the person themselves or with gossip about them. One of the latest stories to amuse people in the business press is Mark Zuckerberg’s latest goal of eating only meat from animals that he personally kills:
• Mark Zuckerberg’s New Challenge
Opinions vary regarding Zuckerberg’s commitment to local food and personal involvement in preparing what he eats. Some people are confused, others are supportive, and still others are horrified and angry. I definitely respect Zuckerberg’s idea of a yearly challenge. In January, I blogged about my own yearly challenge of reducing inflammation. The idea for the challenge came about after reading thousands of pages of medical information and discovering that chronic inflammation is connected to many forms of illness and mental stress.
There are two major points I want to discuss about Mark Zuckerberg’s goal:
• The impact of offbeat personal preferences on company PR
• The impact of vegetarian diets vs. omnivorous diets on cognition and brain health
A highly visible CEO can either add to or detract from a company’s performance. Companies like Apple and Facebook can have thousands of employees, yet many people still only think of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg when they think of those companies. In some cases, it can be important for a public relations team to hide a CEO’s personal preferences and idiosyncrasies. Executives who publicly talk about their political beliefs and innermost thoughts risk alienating the millions of customers who don’t agree with them. Executives who say seemingly creepy things, as former Google CEO Eric Schmidt did when talking about privacy, are often best elevated to the level of chairman. That opens up the opportunity to install a new CEO who only tells investors and customers what they want to hear.
The news about Mark Zuckerberg’s dietary preferences also got me thinking about how vegetarianism compares to a more varied diet when it comes to cognitive performance. The articles about his new diet said that he eats a mostly vegetarian diet, since he’s busy running a $100 billion company and can’t spend too much time getting involved in killing animals every day.
After reading about the diverse set of nutrients in meat and their contributions to heart and brain health, I’m somewhat skeptical of vegetarian diets. People still may be able to make a vegetarian diet work for them and be as healthy or even healthier than omnivores, but they’re missing out on the benefits from important nutrients in meat like carnosine and carnitine. My hunch is that a vegetarian who eats lots of green vegetables, omega 3 eggs, and coconut products will be much healthier than a vegetarian who eats mainly grains, sugar, and soy. This is based on new scientific evidence that shows the health importance of saturated fat (which makes up most of coconut oil and has been unfairly demonized in the past) and the antinutrient properties of grains and soy (which have been embraced due to faulty scientific evidence). Coconut oil is the best vegetarian/vegan form of fat that I can think of.
I haven’t studied the impact of vegetarian diets on mental health in great depth, but here are a couple of interesting case reports that give me pause:
• Schizophrenia-like psychotic episode precipitated by cobalamin deficiency
• Psychiatric manifestations of vitamin B12 deficiency
Dr. Emily Deans is a psychiatrist who frequently blogs about the importance of meat, fat, and cholesterol and their role in brain health. She links to scientific studies that disprove commonly held beliefs about cholesterol levels. Dr. Deans also describes the benefits of eating more fat and fewer grain products and the benefits that dietary changes can have in relation to mental health. Time will tell whether Mark Zuckerberg’s passion for preparing meat and his mostly vegetarian diet will have any impact on Facebook’s future and his ability to lead the company.
Update: FB has lost 60% of its value as measured in market capitalization since the IPO. This was probably due to Facebook being overvalued in the first place rather than the CEO’s diet. It would still be interesting to have a company where the executives and workers identify and implement an evidence-based diet and lifestyle that maximizes mental performance