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My dad always talks vaguely about how 'only 20% (or some other small figure) of the population has the kind of brain equipped with the machinery to process [insert high-level mathematical process, e.g. sophisticated engineering technique or something of the like].' This also applies to people's struggles with probability (e.g. neglecting base rates), et cetera. I was wondering how much of math's talent is just there or not there from birth, vs capable to be learned. Thanks.

In particular, is the majority of the population actually unequipped with the mental machinery (like, say, a frog) to process high-level (say, advanced high school and beyond) maths? Prediction: no.

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While most people can master basic math, your dad is probably correct that perhaps "20%" of the population is capable of understanding math at the advanced level you are talking about.

One study on education concluded the following about "A.P." level high school courses (not just in math): [These require students] "to think in abstractions, to synthesize ideas, to grasp complicated interrelationships, to absorb and apply a large amount of academic knowledge. In no country is this ability possessed by more than a minority of children."

Source: Admiral Hyman Rickover, "American Education: A National Failure."

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Intelignece is a combination of nature and nurture, like most human attributes. The exact percentage is not possible to measure, at least with todays knowledge.

Extract from the article by Neill, J.T. (2004). "Nature vs Nurture in Intelligence" :

In the overfocus on nature vs. nurture issues, the attempts to estimate the relative contribution rests on the somewhat naive notion that there is a constant, true value. In reality, "gene expression is environment dependent" and it impossible to obtain pure estimates of genetic vs. environmental contribution - one could not exist without the other.

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