Here are some quotes from Rand on talent:The Objectivist
—January 1966—"Altruism As Appeasement"
Not all of the intellectual appeasers reach the public arena. A great many of them perish on the way, torn by their inner conflicts, paralyzed by an insufficient capacity to evade, petering out in hopeless lethargy after a brilliantly promising start. A great many others drag themselves on, by an excruciating psychological effort, functioning at a small fraction of their potential. The cost of this type of appeasement—in frustrated, hampered, crippled or stillborn talent—can never be computed.
Here biological capacity is called "brilliantly promising start" and "potential."The Objectivist
Among the many values that art can offer, the subtlest one—and, perhaps, the most inspiring—is the sight of talent, talent as such, the spectacle of human ability actualizing its best potential. In the presence of a great achievement, you feel as if you were seeing two art works: one is the object before you, the other is the artist who made himself capable of creating it.
Here biological capacity is called "best potential."The Objectivist
—August 1970—"The Comprachicos"
If, in any two years of adult life, men could learn as much as an infant learns in his first two years, they would have the capacity of genius. To focus his eyes (which is not an innate, but an acquired skill), to perceive the things around him by integrating his sensations into percepts (which is not an innate, but an acquired skill), to coordinate his muscles for the task of crawling, then standing upright, then walking—and, ultimately, to grasp the process of concept-formation and learn to speak- these are some of an infant's tasks and achievements whose magnitude is not equaled by most men in the rest of their lives.
This is not about talent proper, but it shows a blind spot in Rand's thinking when she excludes growth and development from her observations. For example, Rand sets up a dichotomy that learning how to focus eyes is either innate or acquired, which is incomplete. Focusing eyes is not just learned, it develops automatically during growth, but it is necessary to interact with the environment, too, so it is both innate and acquired. But I don't like to use this kind of terminology on this issue. It is misleading. I would say that it is partially automatic and partially learned, but there is a point at which volition starts gradually entering the picture. Before that time, the development of focusing eyes is completely automatic, just like what happens with any lower animal.The Objectivist
—October 1970—"The Comprachicos"
As an illustration of the consequences of delaying nature's timetable, consider the following. In our infancy, all of us had to learn and automatize the skill of integrating into percepts the material provided by our various sense organs. It was a natural, painless process which—as we can infer by observing infants—we were eager to learn. But medical science has recorded cases of children who were born blind and later, in their youth or adulthood, underwent an operation that restored their sight. Such persons are not able to see, i.e., they experience sensations of sight, but cannot perceive objects. For example, they recognize a triangle by touch, but cannot connect it to the sight of a triangle; the sight conveys nothing to them. The ability to see is not innate—it is a skill that has to be acquired. But the material provided by these persons' other senses is so thoroughly integrated and automatized that they are unable instantly to break it up to add a new element, vision. This integration now requires such a long, difficult process of retraining that few of them choose to undertake it. These few succeed, after a heroically persevering struggle. The rest give up, preferring to stay in their familiar world of touch and sound- to remain sightless for life.
Rand is correct in saying that seeing is a skill that has to be acquired, but also in the case of these people, the physical development has already occurred so the learning does not occur together with the developing capacity. You could also say that seeing is a skill that needs perception of light in order to develop naturally. One premise I would seriously check is her premise that few who receive the benefit of the surgery she mentions "choose to undertake" the task of learning how to distinguish figures and the rest "give up." I would be interested in looking at her source for this, but she gives none.The Virtue of Selfishness
—"The Objectivist Ethics"
But while the standard of value operating the physical pleasure-pain mechanism of man's body is automatic and innate, determined by the nature of his body—the standard of value operating his emotional mechanism, is not. Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas, he can have no innate value judgments.
Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are "tabula rasa." It is man's cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both. Man's emotional mechanism is like an electronic computer, which his mind has to program—and the programming consists of the values his mind chooses.
This remains to be seen. I find the fact of saying that the baby's "emotional mechanism is "tabula rasa" at birth and needs to wait to be programmed by the mind to be very strange, to say the least. Here on OL, I wrote a small essay called "The Wonderful Way Shmurak Faces Emotion
." By using the work of Silvan Tomkins, empirical evidence is provided to show that there are nine automatic valuing affects that develop, then merge with each other and volition as the baby develops.
I think these quotes already show that talent, and the whole area of the role of the innate elements in man, were underdeveloped areas in Objectivism when Rand was alive.