Intelligence Isn't Black-and-White: There Are 8 Different Kinds

What does it mean when someone calls you smart or intelligent? According to developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, it could mean one of eight things.

Howard Gardner: Currently I think there are eight intelligences that I’m very confident about and a few more that I’ve been thinking about. I’ll share that with our audience. The first two intelligences are the ones which IQ tests and other kind of standardized tests valorize and as long as we know there are only two out of eight, it’s perfectly fine to look at them. Linguistic intelligence is how well you’re able to use language. It’s a kind of skill that poets have, other kinds of writers; journalists tend to have linguistic intelligence, orators. The second intelligence is logical mathematical intelligence. As the name implies logicians, mathematicians, scientists have that kind of intelligence. They’re able to do mathematical proofs. They’re able to do scientific reasoning and experimentation. And it’s great to have language and logical intelligence because most tests really focus on that. And if you do well in those tests as long as you stay in school, you think you’re smart. But if you ever walk out into Broadway or the highway or into the woods or into a farm, you then find out that other intelligences are at least this important.

So the third intelligence is musical intelligence and that’s the capacity to appreciate different kinds of musics, to produce the music by voice or by an instrument or to conduct music. And people say well music is a talent. It’s not an intelligence. And I say well why if you’re good with words is that an intelligence, but if you’re good with tones and rhythms and timbres nobody’s ever given me a good answer which is why it makes sense to talk about musical intelligence. And at certain cultures over history, musical intelligence has been very important.

The fourth intelligence is spatial intelligence. That’s the intelligence which allows us to handle and work in space that’s close by. A chess player would have spatial intelligence. A surgeon would have spatial intelligence. But there’s another variety of spatial intelligence which we use for a much broader navigation. That’s what an airplane pilot or a sea captain would have. How do you find your way around large territory and large space. Similarly with the fifth intelligence, bodily kinesthetic intelligence, it comes in two flavors. One flavor is the ability to use your whole body to solve problems or to make things. And athletes and dancers would have that kind of bodily kinesthetic intelligence. But another variety is being able to use your hands or other parts of your body to solve problems or make things. A craftperson would have bodily kinesthetic intelligence even if they weren’t particularly a good athlete or dancer. 

The sixth intelligence and seventh intelligence have to do with human beings. Interpersonal intelligence is how you understand other people, how you motivate them, how you lead them, how you work with them, how you cooperate with them. Anybody at any workplace with other people needs interpersonal intelligence. Leaders hopefully have a lot of interpersonal intelligence. But any intelligence can be used in a pernicious way so the salesman that sells you something you don’t want for a price you don’t want to pay, he or she has got interpersonal intelligence. It’s just not being used in a way that we might prefer. The seventh kind of intelligence is difficult to assess, but it’s very important. It’s intrapersonal intelligence. It’s understanding yourself. If we go back a way in history and prehistory, knowledge of yourself probably wasn’t that important because people did what their parents or grandparents did whether they were hunters or fisherman or craftspeople. But nowadays especially in developed society, people lead their own lives. We follow our own careers. We often switch careers. We don’t necessarily live at home as we get older. And if you don’t have a good understanding of yourself, you are in big trouble.

So that’s intrapersonal intelligence. The eighth intelligence which I added some years ago is the naturalist intelligence. And that’s the capacity to make important, relevant discriminations in the world of nature between one plant and another, between one animal and another. It’s the intelligence of the naturalist, the intelligence of Charles Darwin. I missed it the first go around when I wrote about it, but I tried to atone by adding it to my list. And, by the way, you might say well but nature isn’t so important anymore. But in fact everything we do in the commercial world uses our naturalist intelligence. Why do I buy this jacket rather than another one? This sweater rather than another one? One hair style rather than another? Those all make just the naturalist intelligence because the brain is very adaptive. And when an old use of a brain center no longer is relevant, it gets hijacked for something new. So we’re all using our naturalist intelligence even if we never walk out into the woods or into the savannah of East Asia. The two other intelligences which I’m interested in, one of them is called the teaching or pedagogical intelligence. The intelligence which allows us to be able to teach successfully to other people. Now you could have two people who have exactly the same expertise and knowledge in the field, but one is a very good teacher and the other isn’t. That probably doesn’t surprise individuals so much. But what got me fascinated was as young as two or three, kids already know how to teach. Now what does that mean? You show a child how to do something — let’s say a three- or four-year-old and then you ask the child to explain it to an older person or to a younger person. And even the three- or four-year-old will explain it very differently to a young person, will go through details, point things, and speak slowly. And with an older person it would be much more elliptical and say well you do this and that and then you can figure it out. So that shows as young as three, let’s say, we already have teaching intelligence. The other one is one which I think is going to be difficult to prove to a skeptic, but I call it existential intelligence. And existential intelligence is the intelligence of big questions. Philosophical questions, artistic questions. What does it mean to love? Why do we die? What’s going to be in the future? My pet bird might have more musical intelligence. The rats who are scurrying around the floor might have more spatial intelligence. But no other animals have existential intelligence. Part of the human condition is to think about questions of existence. And I like to say every five-year-old has existential intelligence because five-year-old are always asking why this, why that.

But the difference between a five-year-old and a philosopher is the five-year-old doesn’t pay too much attention to the answer whereas philosophers and other people who develop existential intelligence are really very interested in how we attack questions like that. So again whether there’s eight intelligences or 10 or 12 is less important to me than having broken the monopoly of a single intelligence which sort of labels you for all time. I think if we lived forever, we could probably develop each intelligence to a very high degree. But life is very short and if you devote too much attention to one intelligence, you’re not going to have much time to work on other kinds of intelligences. And so the big question is should you play to strength or should you bolster weakness? And that’s a value judgment. Scientists cannot give you an answer to that. If, for example, you want to be a jack of all trades and be very well-rounded then probably you’re going to want to nurture the intelligences which aren’t that strong. If, on the other hand, you’re dead set on really coming to the top of some particular heap, then you’re probably going to find the intelligences that you’re strongest at and really push those. And, you know, if a parent came to me and said well should we supplement or should we accentuate, I would say well tell me what you would like your child to do. Or better let the child tell you what he or she wants to do rather than say well science says you should do one or the other. I think it’s a question of values, not of science.

Some people think there’s such a thing as humor intelligence. But, in fact, I don’t. I think humor intelligence is simply the operation of a logical intelligence in some realm like human nature or physical nature or the workplace. And what happens is in humor, there’s a certain expectation and you flip that expectation so it’s logic but it’s logic that’s played out in different kinds of ways. People had mentioned there’s such a thing as a cooking intelligence, a humor intelligence, and a sexual intelligence. And I quipped well that can’t be intelligences because I don’t have any of them.

What does it mean when someone calls you smart or intelligent? According to developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, it could mean one of eight things. In this video interview, Dr. Gardner addresses his eight classifications for intelligence: writing, mathematics, music, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

Related Articles

Major study: Drug overdoses over a 38-year period reveal hidden trends

It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction

From the study: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6408/eaau1184
Surprising Science
  • It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
  • If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
  • The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Keep reading Show less

Why "nuclear pasta" is the strongest material in the universe

Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.

Accretion disk surrounding a neutron star. Credit: NASA
Surprising Science
  • The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
  • You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
  • This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.

Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.

Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.

The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.

Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.

While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.

One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.

"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"

Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.

The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.


How a huge, underwater wall could save melting Antarctic glaciers

Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.

Image: NASA
Surprising Science
  • Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
  • Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
  • The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.

The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.

To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.

In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.

An "unthinkable" engineering project

"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.

One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.

The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.

Source: Wolovick et al.

An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.

But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.

Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.

"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.

"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."

A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.

"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."