Note: In the “Ask Charlie” posts, I answer the questions I get from people via email or Twitter. I’m here to please! ;p
This one comes from Hope Flanagan:
Question/Suggestion: Write on how intelligence is just a construct and everyone is intelligent in various ways even if they don’t fit the technical definition.
This is a great topic to write about, even if I’m not sure about intelligence being a pure construct.
Here’s what I am pretty sure about, though: there are many types of intelligence and our culture is biased towards a few of them. I’m going to follow Garner’s model here and list the 8 domains of intelligence:
- Bodily-kinesthetic – knowing how to use your body
- Interpersonal – knowing how to relate to other people
- Verbal-linguistic – knowing how to use words, either spoken or written
- Logical-mathematical – knowing how to use numbers and mathematical reasoning
- Intrapersonal – having introspective and self-reflective capacities
- Visual-spatial – “seeing” space and knowing how to use it
- Musical – having a great feel for music
- Naturalistic – being in tune with nature and your environment
For ease of discussion, I’ve taken some liberty with describing the areas; obviously, there’s much more to say, but check out Wikipedia entry on multiple intelligences or Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century if you really want to dig more into it.
What I want to be clear about is that you may want to think of clustering the domains. For instance, you’d be a much better writer if you increased your verbal-linguistic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal capacities. You might be a better graphic designer if you combined your visual-spatial capacities with a naturalistic capacity.
Historically, our culture has been biased towards verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence – a “standard” understanding of intelligence is probably just a fusion of those two. Most of our academic tests measure three, and only three, things: 1) logical-mathematical intelligence, 2) verbal-linguistic intelligence, and 3) memory. The secondary components of our tests simply combine these in different ways, so components of the exams that test science are really testing our ability to correctly remember words and mathematical symbols. These are the components that are the easiest to test, but limiting intelligence to only the things that we can test in a controlled environment is entirely too narrow.
While I believe that intellectual affinities are largely socialized, it’s important to remember that our society is patriarchal, and the bias towards those two major domains of intelligence has favored male roles. Given the division in our society between those who “worked” and those who stayed at home and the capacities required to perform those roles, women were largely left out of the equation. Ideas about women’s intuition and a woman’s superior ability to relate to people popped up to fill the void and recognize that there’s more to life than what was understood as (cognitive) intelligence.
This gender essentialism only makes our perception of intelligence more clouded. The sooner we drop it – or at least recognize that it’s there – the sooner we’ll see that we each have the ability to augment our capacities in every domain and see the capabilities that people are bringing to the table rather than the roles we’re projecting on them. And maybe we’d break the cycle with our kids, so they wouldn’t have to fight the model we’ve been given.
I’m a beneficiary of the standard definition of intelligence. I’ve always done quite well on the tests that measure cognitive intelligence, but over the past few years, I’ve been actively expanding my capabilities in the other areas. I can tell you firsthand that there’s so much more to intelligence than numbers and words.
And when I look back at all the people I’ve met, I can clearly identify those people who had beautiful gifts in the areas that fall outside of standard definition of intelligence. And I can also see those that have invested everything in being cognate but who could stand to work on relating to themselves and others.
So, whereas I won’t say that everyone is intelligent in different ways, I will say that everyone has something that they can bring to the table. Whether they do bring something to the table is up to them, and whether we see it is up to us.
I read a really great book a few weeks ago called The Element, and it talked all about people being creative (sort of synonymous with the way you’re using intelligent) in a bunch of different ways, and how we can all tap into those different creativities to be happy and fulfilled in our work. (The tag line is “How finding your passion changes everything.”)
The book also talked about how we need to update our educational systems to better reflect the different type of intelligences/creativities out there, otherwise we’re going to (continue to) seriously handicap our children and jeopardize the future of this country. (Education reform is one of my passions. ^_^)
Very interesting read, I highly recommend it.
Hey Charlie, nice post. I agree with you that intelligence is measured through tests in a controlled environment. It’s what is assumed to be the most unbiased way of testing intelligence. But I do think there is something more out there, in terms of unique intellectual ability, that each human being possesses which cannot be tested in a controlled environment. I like how you concluded your article – not everyone is intelligent in different ways, but everyone can always have something to bring to the table.
Carolyn | A Beautiful Ripple Effect says
This is such a great question – and a discussion that is so important. I have a unique perspective from a research standpoint because I examined a slice of a construct of intelligence qualitatively utilizing a measure I was creating. Then, I moved into a more experimental lab and began utilizing a pragmatic approach (clinical pragmatics) to examine intelligence by integrating research from different fields to create an assessment that is still “experimental,” but allows for much more variability. So hopefully in terms of research we are moving in the right direction – utilizing a holistic approach within the clinical field (impacting the assessments used for measuring intelligence). But I won’t get into the construct debate re: intelligence – you would definitely win that one. Really really interesting post – look forward to seeing the perspectives of others. (I totally went into research mode, sorry about that!)
Another juicy philosophical discussion! I love it. I’d like to throw into the pot here the notion that historically discussions of intelligence, its measurement have tended to have some kind of social/political agenda behind them. In order to rationalize and defend the unequal distribution of society’s goodies (wealth, income, status, etc.) various theories and tests of intelligence were developed which (surprise!) showed that those most likely to enjoy the perks of the social ladder (men, whites, the upper classes) had the highest intelligence. (See Stephen Jay Gould- The Mismeasure of Man http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mismeasure_of_Man).
My point is… when we’re talking about intelligence or intelligences, it’s important to ask ourselves WHY it matters.
Archan Mehta says
Great post. I am familiar with the theory of multiple intelligences.
Although I feel there is light at the end of the tunnel, we still have a long way to go.
Our society is naturally biased toward the IQ model of intelligence, which is sad. We need to reform our system of education and be more inclusive of other types of intelligences.
There are many gifted individuals out there who were real duds in school and performed poorly on standardized tests.
We have had too many examples of high school drop-outs who went on to establish flourishing careers in the music industry, sports, the arts, and as teachers of yoga.
Thanks for sharing your idea on this score.
The points you have raised are valid, true.
Hans Hageman says
This topic also has important implications in the areas of teaching and motivation.
Interesting question and post!
The recently published report-Innovators’ DNA-researched over 6 years the skills that set visionary innovators apart (e.g. Apple’s Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezoz, eBay’s Pierre Omidyar) Collectively, these skills (Associating, Questioning, Observing, Experimenting, Networking) amount to creative intelligence (and this is distinct to the other types of intelligence outlined in Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence).
Steven | The Emotion Machine says
Really great post! When I first read books like “The Emotion Machine” by Marvin Minsky and “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman I realized that there was much more to intelligence then cold-calculating and formula-building. We all have an “intuitive” sense of intelligence too – along with the other facets you mentioned – talent with music/art, knowing how to relate to others, etc.
Great post – something that should be discussed more often.
Aaron Taylor says
I enjoyed this post, but I must admit…I had to ‘chew it’ a few times to be at the point where I could fully appreciate it. I’ll be discussing some of these points around a table at work tommorow.
Most interesting – thanks.