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Politics & Current Affairs

Diff’rent Folks, Diff’rent Intelligences

If you’ve ever been comforted by the fact that, though calculus is Greek to you, you’ve always been “good with words,” or that, though you can’t spell to save your life, you’ve always had a “strong aesthetic sense,” you have Howard Gardner to thank. Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Dr. Gardner pioneered the theory of multiple intelligences in 1983 with Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. The book essentially challenged the notion that there exists a single, quantifiable human intelligence and argued that, in fact, there may be eight or more different “intelligences.”

Aside from its role in shifting education away from the linguistic/mathematical paradigm, Gardner’s theory has done much to change our cultural conception of “smart” and “stupid”—bringing people with “naturalistic,” “visual-spatial” and even “existential” intelligence back into the fold. Undercutting the notion that each of us has a single “computer” that falls somewhere on the smart-stupid spectrum, Gardner asserts that it’s possible to be strong in certain intelligences and weak in others. President Obama, for instance, is clearly strong in interpersonally, intrapersonally and linguistically—but is it possible that he may fall short on existential intelligence?

Lately, Gardner has geared his work towards reevaluating what it means to be successful, and the importance of good work. His GoodWork Project, developed in the mid-90s, has become newly relevant in the wake of the financial crisis and what he sees as Americans’ obvious over-emphasis on “money,” “markets” and “me.” As Paul Krugman points out in last week’s NYT Magazine cover story, blind faith in the market has led us seriously astray. Gardner agrees, warning that Americans need to wise up, or risk losing their moral authority as a nation.

Like most of the psychologists we’ve interviewed, Gardner was curious about our “interrotron”, wondering which interviewees came across well (lots) and which took issue with the set up (Oliver Sacks, among other psychologists). We think he wound up coming across pretty well.


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