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Multiple Intelligences

The lay understanding of the term intelligence is typically in terms relating to an individual’s capacity for rational and analytical thought.  Thus, most people would consider Albert Einstein to be intelligent.  But would Vincent van Gogh or Mahatma Gandhi be viewed as intelligent?  Certainly, they were remarkable individuals who made lasting contributions to human society, at least as much as Einstein, albeit in very different ways.

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Perhaps there is a need to broader understanding and definition of the concept of intelligence.  Howard Gardner, of Harvard University, initiated Project Zero whose purpose was to investigate the nature of intelligence.  The result of Gardner’s research resulted in a Theory of Multiple Intelligences which identified eight different categories of intelligence, viz.:

The conventional, widely accepted forms, typically recognized and nurtured in school:
  • Logical-Mathematical ('number/reasoning smart')
  • Linguistic ('word smart')
Intelligences associated with the arts and sports 
  • Musical ('music smart')
  • Visual-Spatial ('picture smart')
  • Bodily Kinethetic ('body smart')
And two 'personal' forms of intelligence:
  • Interpersonal ('people smart')
  • Intrapersonal ('self smart')
And finally, and eight intelligence added much later:
  • Naturalistic ('nature smart')
Two other candidate forms, spiritual and existential have not made the cut so far.   
The following descriptions of the intelligences are taken from here:

Logical-mathematical intelligence consists of the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, and investigate issues scientifically. In Howard Gardner's words, in entails the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.

Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages, and the capacity to use language to accomplish certain goals. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively use language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically; and language as a means to remember information. Writers, poets, lawyers and speakers are among those that Howard Gardner sees as having high linguistic intelligence.

Musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. According to Howard Gardner musical intelligence runs in an almost structural parallel to linguistic intelligence.

Spatial intelligence involves the potential to recognize and use the patterns of wide space and more confined areas. 

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one's whole body or parts of the body to solve problems. It is the ability to use mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Howard Gardner sees mental and physical activity as related.

Interpersonal intelligence is concerned with the capacity to understand the intentions, motivations and desires of other people. It allows people to work effectively with others. Educators, salespeople, religious and political leaders and counsellors all need a well-developed interpersonal intelligence.

Intrapersonal intelligence entails the capacity to understand oneself, to appreciate one's feelings, fears and motivations. In Howard Gardner's view it involves having an effective working model of ourselves, and to be able to use such information to regulate our lives.

The conventional connotation of intelligence in modern societies almost completely coincides with the Logical-Mathematical dimension.  While being lower down on the scale, musical intelligence also carries prestige in our societies, as does spatial intelligence which the best artists and architects possess.  Talented athletes and dancers possess very high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.  We probably know people who are not intellectual giants but can converse in several languages with ease.  The best of salespersons excel in interpersonal intelligence.

Modern society accords high prestige to Logical-Mathematical and linguistic intelligence.  This is reflected in our systems of education which are concerned primarily with developing those two dimensions: the Three R’s – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. The other intelligences are appreciated, but are not considered the main course in academia.  Consequently, it is only the most gifted in the other 6 dimensions whose talents are noticed and thereby nurtured and developed.  Entrance into most institutions of higher learning tends to rely heavily on performance on tests of Logical-Mathematical Intelligence.  

It is a fairly commonplace observation that most children are very creative.As easy to observe is the fact that most adults don’t seem to be.What happened?Rigorous studies (involving tests of creative ability) have determined that the processes of formal education and socialization into organizations over many years (where the focus is predominantly on logical-mathematial intelligence) steadily robs us of the creative flame that burned in us when we were children.The tragedy is that this terrible loss is not lamented because the creative ability of children is treated as a childlike quality that is best discarded as we advance in years.

Developing our creative faculties requires exploiting the full potential of all our intelligences and talents—not just the ones accorded the most prestige by society.This requires a constant awareness and utilization of all aspects of our beings, by being open to all forms of knowledge, learning and expression.

Multiple Talents or Intelligences, when developed, tend to reinforce the performance of each other.The greater the number of outlets one can find for expression, the more likely is one to find creative approaches to problem situations.Albert Einstein’s primary interest was in physics, but he was also a violinist.Alan Kay, Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. who is credited with significant advances in the field of personal computing while he was a scientist Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (of which he was a co-founder), is also a saxophonist.Many gifted physicists have also made notable commentaries on spiritual matters.It is also not uncommon to find scientists who dabble in poetry or painting, if for nothing else than for relaxation.Turning from one activity to another that demands a different intelligence also helps utilize the power of incubation.


Gardner, Howard.Frames of Mind:The Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Gardner, Howard.Multiple Intelligences:The Theory in Practice
Armstrong, Thomas.7 Kinds of Smart:Identifying and Developing Your Many Intelligences.
Armstrong, Thomas.Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom,a book for classroom teachers.