Lionel Messi Player of the Year 2011Over the summer I went to a couple of conferences and in one I enjoyed a talk by a Barcelona-based British scientist called Ben Lehner. It featured an interesting idea, and Lionel Messi. I guess if you work in Barcelona, Lionel Messi is your go to guy if you want to illustrate an idea; in this case, an idea about clones.

For the last century there has been much arguing over ‘nature vs. nurture‘. Very simply speaking: What determines what we are, our genes or our upbringing? In practice we now appreciate that most of the stuff about us that we care about is determined by a mixture of both. I am an OK computational physicist with some maths skills but really no coordination, while Messi is probably less good at the maths but a supremely gifted footballer. These differences are partly due to our different upbringings and partly due to our different genes.

But there is now evidence that perhaps some significant differences between us are not due to genes and not due to our unbringing, but may be just random, just due to chance. This would imply that even if you cloned Messi and gave the Messi clone exactly the same education and football training as Messi, the clone might be a very average footballer, just due to chance. I think it is quite an interesting idea that chance could have such a fundamental role in who we are.

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