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Qualifying Criteria for an Intelligence
based on the research of Dr. Howard Gardner, Harvard University
1. An intelligence must possess an identifiable core operation of set of operations. There are a specific set of learnable/ teachable capacities involved for each intelligence. For example, if I asked you to identify the core skills in involved in language (WordSmart or verbal-linguistic intelligence) you would likely mention such things as knowing the ABCs, knowing how to use the ABCs to make words, making words into sentences, sentences in paragraphs, and paragraphs into whole essays. You would probably mention such things as the importance of knowing how to properly use words (grammar), or understanding the order and meaning of words in a sentence (syntax and semantics). You might discuss aspects of the spoken word as well, such things as the sound of words and proper pronunciation (phonetics), or understanding the sociocultural context of words where certain words have totally different meanings in different cultures and even different subcultures within a culture (praxis). Each of the eight intelligences has its own unique set of clearly observable operations or capacities.

2. An intelligence must have a distinct biological-neurological base. Each of the intelligences activates certain processes in the brain-mind-body system These processes, in principle, are more or less localized with the brain-mind-body system. In other words, when you are visualizing something in your mind, painting a picture, or sculpting something in clay, I can observe activity in distinct parts of your brain-mind-body system. Likewise if you are dancing, participating in a physical game, or acting something out different areas of your brain-mind-body system will be activated. This can be observed by any number of brain-imaging technologies available today by which one can actually observe various areas of the brain “lighting up” went different tasks are performed.

An additional piece of the research underlying this criterion was Howard Gardner’s study of brain-damaged individuals at Boston Medial University. He was fascinated by the fact that through damage to certain regions of our brain we can loose whole areas of our human intellectual capacities and yet other areas remain unaffected and remain very much in tact. Probably the most common example of this is people who have lost their language capacities due to a stroke but who, nonetheless, are functioning very effectively in all other areas of their lives. Gardner also did extensive studies of idiots savants, prodigies, and other exceptional individuals and found powerful manifestations for each of the eight intelligences.

3. An intelligence must possess a clear evolutionary history. As humanity has matured over the years, it is possible to document the development an increasing complexity of our human intelligence capacities. The most obvious and well-known example of this is the development of our language. At one time in our evolution as a species, our language consisted of nothing more than a series of grunts, groans, and other sounds we could make with our vocal chords and series of crude etchings on the wall of caves. When you consider such things as the writings of Shakespeare, the novels of Stephen King, or the poetry of Maya Angelo you can get a sense of how far we have come!

This evolutionary history can also be seen and traced in our human development from infancy to adulthood where, generally, in early childhood we acquire a set of basic skills in each of the intelligence areas, almost by osmosis. Our experience in elementary school tends to build on these early childhood capacities to provide us with a more complex repertoire of intellectual capacities. As we move into the secondary years these capacities become part of our repertoire for successful living. Probably the highest level of an intelligence’s development can be seen in the various vocational and/or avocational pursuits (careers and hobbies) in which we become involved in our adult lives. Examples of this could include the designs of an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright, the physical skills of an accomplished athlete such as Michael Jordan, the performance of a concert musician such as Tina Turner, or actor like Tom Hanks, a computer wizard like Bill Gates who can make a computer do everything but walk the dog, the mediation skills of someone like former president Jimmy Carter, or the knowledge the natural world such as Jane Goodall or Jacques Cousteau. Each of these figures represents certain “end states” which exemplify a certain level of complexity and mastery of various sets of human intellectual capacities.

4. An intelligence must be universal to the human species. No matter where you go in the world, regardless of the culture you will find manifestations of the different intelligences. Not only will you find the intelligence present but you will find that every culture values, supports, and encourages the of the different intelligences, both through formal training and and experimental exploration. This being said, I must also point out that different cultures will have different biases regarding what they they feel is most important.

In the Western world we tend to think that the be all and end all of being smart is skill in the famous three Rs—reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic—as the song goes. However, many Asian cultures place at least equal value on the development one’s interpersonal capacities such as being a good member of team, being effective in collaboration with others, or the ability to build consensus in a group of people. There is also often a high premium placed on the development of one’s introspective capacities, namely, the ability to “go inside,” so to speak, and acquire knowledge about the self and of being able to act on such knowledge. When I lived and worked in Africa I found great importance given to such things as dance, music, art, and drama as ways to express the deep wisdom of the culture and to reinforce key personal and social values. All the intelligences were valued, but somehow capacity in these areas was seen as special and even more profound.

5. An intelligence must be susceptible to encoding in a distinct symbol system. This, for me, is one of the most interesting aspects of working with the eight intelligences. Another way to say this is that each intelligence has its own distinct language, its own jargon, vernacular, and its own special modus operandi. To really understand an intelligence you must learn to speak its language; for example, if you want to be a dancer, you must learn the the steps and body movements involved for such things as the tango, rumba, or cha cha. These precise steps and movements constitute a unique language associated with dance. This is not unlike learning to write a essay by carefully putting together precise words, phrases, and sentences to communicate an idea.

6. An intelligence must be able to muster support from traditional, experimental psychological tasks. Psychologist are able to examine our various intellectual capacities in operation and thus more fully understand relationships, not only between the different intelligences, but also relationships of the various core capacities of a given intelligence. They are also able to infer distinct brain and mental functioning related to the different ways of knowing.

Part of this criterion also involves support from psychometric findings. This is the realm of assessing the intelligences themselves. In principle one must be able to test a given intelligence and its related capacities and thus discover a persons relative strength or weakness in a given intelligence area. I say “in principle” because, while this sounds logical actually doing it is much more difficult. An assessment of an intelligence must be “intelligent fair.” That is to say the assessment must itself be couched in the language or symbol system of the intelligence it purports to test. No one would ever suggest that to find out what Michael Jordan knows about basketball, we should sit him down at a desk and given him a paper and pencil test! No, the test itself must involve a performance in which all of the capacities of the body are accessed.

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