Friday, July 27, 2007

Is It A Myth That Some People Are In All Ways Smarter?

If Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is substantially true, then it is a myth that some people are in all possible ways smarter than most people.

Instead, someone might be more intelligent than most people in, say, one, two, or three kinds of intelligence, and average or even less intelligent than most people in the remaining kinds. And that would be about the best humans might do when it comes to being smarter than most of their fellows.

Yet, the simple notion that no one is smart in all the possible ways of being smart is far from simple to incorporate into how we see the world. That's because our culture is absolutely steeped in the competing notion that human intelligence is unitary (i.e. there is only one kind of human intelligence). For instance: The most popular measure of intelligence -- the IQ test -- is based on the assumption that intelligence is unitary. But so are many other ideas.

Indeed, when someone says to us, "Fricklethorp is smart", we do not typically ask, "In what way is Fricklethorp smart?" Rather, we assume that intelligence is unitary, that Fricklethorp is smart in the way anyone who is smart is smart. If we are to understand the theory of multiple intelligences, though, we must consider the possibility that Fricklethorp -- like everyone else -- is smarter in some ways than in other ways.

On a forum I frequent, one of the members has a post signature that states, "You have a moral duty to be intelligent". That statement makes little or no sense in light of the theory of multiple intelligences. It is, according to Gardner, quite unlikely that anyone is -- or even can be -- smart in all eight ways it is possible to be smart. To assert that people should be smart in all eight intelligences is therefore to hold people to an impossible standard. The signature is yet another example of how we simply assume in our culture that human intelligence is unitary.

One could list a thousand such examples. The point is, it is difficult to incorporate the theory of multiple intelligences into how we see people because we live in a world that almost universally assumes human intelligence is unitary. That assumption is made in everything from casual conversations to research papers. Yet, if the theory of multiple intelligences is true, that assumption is one of the most pervasive myths of our time.

4 comments:

BONGO MIRROR said...

All but the opening couple of paragraphs of this post is lovely.

I think you are terrifically correct about the way that people assume that simply because a person is deemed smart in one way, that smartness is supposed to transfer to other things. Not only do I think that you're totally right about that from the view point of other people but I think it applies to selves. That is, I think many people notice that they're good at thinking some kinds of thoughts and then generalize and think they're good at everything -- they think they're experts outside their field. Hmm. Maybe I'm wrong about 'many'. I'm pretty sure I've seen that happen with some people (including myself).

I qualified the opening of this comment because I think that it is quite possible that there are people that are smarter than most people in all ways. That doesn't mean that there are any but I think the issue is one to be answered by observation rather than logic.

Criticism aside, your last paragraph yields a tasty morsel of wisdom.

Guitar's Cry said...

I've always found Gardner's theory agreeable.

I think everyone has something to offer in terms of insight of the Human Experience. We should listen to even who we perceive is the most "unintelligent," "brain-dead" person imaginable.

They may have an intelligent insight in an area that we are "unintelligent" and "brain-dead" in.

Mahendra said...

Like Voltaire said, let us define our terms before we discuss.

"Intelligence" is defined as "The capacity to acquire and apply knowledge" and "The faculty of thought and reason".

The "Eight kinds" of human intelligence you write about simply describe the application of intelligence in these eight different fields.

When you use the term "unitary", please define it. Intelligence is an umbrella concept, under which the eight kinds of intelligence described lie.

Abstraction of lower level concepts into umbrella concepts is one of the greatest achievements of man's mind. A crow or a cat cannot understand or comprehend what is meant by "100 miles", but we as humans, can. That is because of the abstraction of the concept of "mile".

Coming back to your post, the so-called theory of "multiple intelligences" is true in the sense that intelligence can be and is applied to various facets of human existence - including the eight described and beyond!

There is no "myth" or "assumption" involved in this.

Gary said...

The notion of intelligence being measurable through an IQ test is reflective of our educational system and the need to identify/classify children. I see this as a narrow minded approach to education which is broadening. Colleges are beginning to put less emphasis on scores and looking at the 'whole' child when determining acceptance. This is a good thing in my opinion. There are many factors to success and being school smart in the traditional way is just one aspect. However, all of us in America certainly need to know how to play the game. This is a skill that can be taught and is currently being sadly drilled into children's heads with the teaching to the test mentality brought on by the misguided No Child Left Behind legislation.
So, yes, I do think it is a myth. We all have our strenghts and that diversity should be celebrated.