We often think of intelligence in a very straightforward manner: IQ. That’s what determines if you are smart or not and yet that seems a bit too simplistic.
It’s not so black and white. Enter Howard Gardner and his Theory of Multiple Intelligences. The theory takes the view that intelligence is made up of different modalities rather than a single general identity. These identities are broken down into 9 areas: spatial, naturalist, musical, logical, existential, interpersonal, kinesthetic, linguistic, and intra-personal.
In Gardner’s theory, every individual has a blend of these various intelligences that makes up who they are and how they think. Let’s look at each of these a bit closer.
Spatial: The ability to visualize the world in your mind. To think in three dimensions. This is typically found in artistic individuals or those who have an active imagination.
Naturalist: The ability to understand living things. To be at home in nature with plants and animals. This is found in individual who love the outdoors and values all life.
Musical: The ability to discern sounds. To understand rhythms, tones, and music. This is found in many musicians and singers who have a natural ear for music.
Logical: The ability to quantify. To measure results and test assumptions. This is found in many scientists and mathematicians as they experiment and calculate answers to questions.
Existential: The ability to understand life. To be comfortable with human existence and its purpose. This is often an attribute of those that are spiritual or mindful of the world.
Interpersonal: The ability to sense people’s feelings. To be aware of others emotions and motives. This is usually conveyed as emotional intelligence and is common in teachers, parents, and social workers.
Kinesthetic: The ability to coordinate your body. To be in control of your bodily motions. This is common for athletes, dancers, and craftsmen that require meticulous control for their craft.
Linguistic: The ability to think in words. To use language to convey ideas, emotions, and meaning. This is one of the more common traits and is most prevalent in writers, speakers, and poets.
Intra-personal: The ability to understand yourself. To be mindful and aware of your own feelings and situations. This comes with time, but is more common in philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual leaders.
These 9 intelligences are comprehensive, but they certainly have their critics. Many researchers have critiqued Gardner’s theory by saying that there is not enough evidence to truly support his claims. Others argue that Gardner is not necessarily adding to what intelligence is, rather than completely changing the idea at its core.
While these critics have valid points, it is hard to discount the idea of multiple intelligences at the most basic level. In fact the very prominence of EQ (emotional intelligence) and CQ (creative intelligence) only further the idea that intelligence comes in many forms.
Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.Albert Einstein
This is why it matters. Whether it’s absolutely true or not, the main point is that on some level, intelligence comes in many flavors. IQ is not the be all end all of what being ‘smart’ is. There are many ways to be smart, to be a genius, and just because someone doesn’t fall into the more traditional bucket, does not mean they are lacking.
We only need to look to history at some of the greatest minds who didn’t stick in school or tread the most nontraditional paths, yet turned into major contributors to society. There are many ways to be intelligent.
So perhaps The Theory of Multiple Intelligence has some flaws, but it has a lot of value in the core idea it is promoting. Intelligence manifests in a variety of ways. Try to keep that in mind and if you’d like to learn more about the idea of Multiple Intelligences, check out Gardner’s book, Frames of Mind.
Image via flickr