The Matter of Intelligence

This is something of a "hot topic," especially in that there has been a fair amount of attention paid to it, mostly in terms of the lack of it, or what many have called "stupidity."  And, as it happens, most folks consider intellect to be an important part of reasoning and our grasp of reality.  So...we thought it worth some discussion in relationship to our articles about "Using Your Head."

Controversy: Well, yes, there is some controversy about this topic, mainly in terms of what constitutes intelligence, and the possibility that there are more than one type of intelligence (see below).  Also, some question the degree to which intelligence is important in navigating the modern world.  Some say "common sense" and "street smarts" are equally or possibly more important. 

We don't propose to sort all this out right now, but we do recognize its relevance.  For now, we just want to say that using our ability to reason can help recognize and manage reality, and to the extent reasoning correlates with intelligence, we think that can be important.

Areas of agreement: Most agree that people vary in terms of what they can handle conceptually.  Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning.  At one end of the spectrum are people who  have limited vocabularies and cannot read (we now call them "developmentally disabled") and at the other end are people who have extensive vocabularies and can grasp very complex ideas (what we often call "geniuses").  People vary in cognitive ability, just as they vary in physical ability (e.g., some have more manual dexterity than others).

Definition: Let's start, as we often do, with a dictionary definition and move on from there.

 (1) : the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : reason; also : the skilled use of reason (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)

NOTE: We are not concerned with the term as it is applied to information gathering by the CIA.

An Ability:  As the definition above indicates, intelligence is an ability, similar to the ability to run fast.  It is pretty stable over a person's life time.  Repeated assessments come up with the same scores on intelligence tests (plus or minus around 3 points).  Like all mental phenomena, it is presumed to have a neurological base, one that may well be genetically determined (intelligent parents tend to have intelligent children).

In general then, intelligence is seen as the ability to overcome obstacles by taking thought, and we differ from each other in this ability. Although these individual differences can be substantial, they are never entirely consistent: a given person's intellectual performance will vary on different occasions, in different domains, as judged by different criteria. Concepts of "intelligence" are attempts to clarify and organize this complex set of phenomena. Although considerable clarity has been achieved in some areas, no such conceptualization has yet answered all the important questions, and none commands universal assent.  definitions

Different Types of Intelligence: Over the years, researches into intelligence viewed it in terms of such things as logical reasoning, math skills, spatial skills, understanding analogies, and verbal skills.  Then, some have added bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence (the capacity to manipulate objects and use a variety of physical skill) social intelligence (handling interpersonal relationships), and emotional intelligence (which we discuss fully elsewhere on our website).

Howard Gardner, in his1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  Rather than seeing intelligence as a single, general ability, Gardner divided it into multiple intelligence:

Linguistic Intelligence (Word Smart)

Linguistic intelligence is the ability to think in words and to use language to express and appreciate complex meanings. Linguistic intelligence allows us to understand the order and meaning of words and to apply meta-linguistic skills to reflect on our use of language. Linguistic intelligence is the most widely shared human competence and is evident in poets, novelists, journalists, and effective public speakers. Young adults with this kind of intelligence enjoy writing, reading, telling stories or doing crossword puzzles.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (Number/Reasoning Smart)

Logical-mathematical intelligence is the ability to calculate, quantify, consider propositions and hypotheses, and carry out complete mathematical operations. It enables us to perceive relationships and connections and to use abstract, symbolic thought; sequential reasoning skills; and inductive and deductive thinking patterns. Logical intelligence is usually well developed in mathematicians, scientists, and detectives. Young adults with lots of logical intelligence are interested in patterns, categories, and relationships. They are drawn to arithmetic problems, strategy games and experiments.

Spatial Intelligence (“Picture Smart”)

Spatial intelligence is the ability to think in three dimensions. Core capacities include mental imagery, spatial reasoning, image manipulation, graphic and artistic skills, and an active imagination. Sailors, pilots, sculptors, painters, and architects all exhibit spatial intelligence. Young adults with this kind of intelligence may be fascinated with mazes or jigsaw puzzles, or spend free time drawing or daydreaming.

Musical Intelligence (“Musical Smart”)

Musical intelligence is the capacity to discern pitch, rhythm, timbre, and tone. This intelligence enables us to recognize, create, reproduce, and reflect on music, as demonstrated by composers, conductors, musicians, vocalist, and sensitive listeners. Interestingly, there is often an affective connection between music and the emotions; and mathematical and musical intelligences may share common thinking processes. Young adults with this kind of intelligence are usually singing or drumming to themselves. They are usually quite aware of sounds others may miss.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (“Body Smart”)

Bodily kinesthetic intelligence is the capacity to manipulate objects and use a variety of physical skills. This intelligence also involves a sense of timing and the perfection of skills through mind–body union. Athletes, dancers, surgeons, and craftspeople exhibit well-developed bodily kinesthetic intelligence.

 Intra-personal Intelligence (Self Smart”)

Intra-personal intelligence is the capacity to understand oneself and one’s thoughts and feelings, and to use such knowledge in planning and directioning one’s life. Intra-personal intelligence involves not only an appreciation of the self, but also of the human condition. It is evident in psychologist, spiritual leaders, and philosophers. These young adults may be shy. They are very aware of their own feelings and are self-motivated.

Interpersonal Intelligence (People Smart”)

Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand and interact effectively with others. It involves effective verbal and nonverbal communication, the ability to note distinctions among others, sensitivity to the moods and temperaments of others, and the ability to entertain multiple perspectives. Teachers, social workers, actors, and politicians all exhibit interpersonal intelligence. Young adults with this kind of intelligence are leaders among their peers, are good at communicating, and seem to understand others’ feelings and motives.

Naturalist Intelligence (“Nature Smart”)

Designates the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). This ability was clearly of value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers, and farmers; it continues to be central in such roles as botanist or chef. It is also speculated that much of our consumer society exploits the naturalist intelligences, which can be mobilized in the discrimination among cars, sneakers, kinds of makeup, and the like

Existential Intelligence

Sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here.

Controversy: There are those who disagree with Gardmer's model and site research suggesting it is better to see intelligence as a single phenomenon.  They argue that these additional "intelligences" are simply additional abilities, separate from intelligence, but there are those who say that intelligence itself is an ability. 


We have no opinion about this particular controversy, BUT we do have the opinion that it is valuable to think of different aspects of what we call "intelligence," so we're in favor of keeping Gardner's work as something that broadens our conceptual understanding of what it means to be "intelligent."

Emotional Intelligence: This is an additional type of intelligence that has been discussed.  It is a sufficiently large topic that we've devoted a separate web page to it amongst our articles about emotionality.

 To read about Emotional Intelligence

 To return to the Articles Page

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