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.