By now, everyone knows that Joe Biden has few if any skills in assimilating new information or in solving new problems. If only his “81” million voters knew this in advance. What type of intelligence does he have? Hmm… hard to say. Perhaps excerpts and key notes from the award-winning book Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, third edition, 2011, by Professor Howard Gardner, will shed some light on the matter.
Contemporary methods of assessing the intellect are not sufficiently well developed to allow assessment of an individual’s potentials or achievements in, say, navigating by the stars, mastering a new language, or composing music with a computer, among 100s of other tasks.
Previous efforts to establish independent intelligences have been unconvincing, chiefly because they rely on only one or, at the most, two lines of evidence. Separate “minds” or “faculties” have been posited solely on the basis of logical analysis, on the history of educational disciplines, on the results of intelligence testing, or on the insights obtained from brain study.
Psychology and Testing
Until recent decades, most psychologists would agree with the assessment that intelligence testing was psychology’s greatest achievement, its chief claim to social utility, and an important scientific discovery in its own right. Most scholars within psychology, and most outside the field, are now convinced that enthusiasm over intelligence tests has been excessive and that there are many limitations in the instruments themselves and in their uses.
Much of the information sought in intelligence tests reflects knowledge gained from living in a specific social and educational milieu. In contrast, intelligence tests rarely assess skill in assimilating new information or in solving new problems. This bias toward “crystallized” rather than “fluid” knowledge can have astounding consequences. No existing technology is explicitly designed to test an individual’s intellectual profile.
▪ The idea of a single “horizontal” problem-solving apparatus is attractive, in fact the carefully selected problems to which it is said to apply turn out to be disturbingly similar to one another. In common with Piagetian psychology, nearly all the problems examined by information-processing psychologists prove to be of the logical-mathematical sort.
▪ It is time that our understanding of human intellect be informed by the findings that have accrued in the biological sciences since the time of Franz Joseph Gall. Yet, because psychologists and biologists inhabit different environments, the task of marshaling biology to explain human intelligence has barely begun.
When it comes to the most complex of human capacities, such as language, the individual can withstand even massive damage, including the removal of an entire hemisphere, during the first few years of life and still acquire the ability to speak in a reasonably normal fashion: this recovery suggests that large portions of the cortex remain uncommitted (and thus available for diverse uses) during early childhood.
▪ Numerous studies with rats and other species have confirmed that an enriched environment produces more elaborate behavior as well as palpable changes in brain size. Effects can be surprisingly specific.
▪ Of all the gifts with which individuals might be endowed, none emerges earlier than musical talent. Though speculation on this matter has been rife, it remains uncertain just why musical talent emerges so early and what the nature of this gift might be.
▪ An emerging sense of self proves to be a key element in the realm of the personal intelligences, one of overriding importance to individuals the world over.
An Indispensable Component
Various forms of personal intelligence clearly arise from the bond between the infant and its caretaker — in almost all cases, the infant and its mother. Evolutionary and cultural history have combined to make this attachment link an indispensable component of normal growth.
Comparative psychologists are sympathetic to the possibility that even the most treasured facets of human nature may be found, if in simpler forms, in other animals.
For every goal currently being pursued, there is presumably a set of intelligences which could readily be mobilized for its realization, as well as a set of intelligences whose mobilization would pose a greater challenge.
Viewing Intelligence in a Different Light
We have become much more aware of the roles of history, politics, and culture in circumscribing or thwarting our ambitious plans and in guiding them down paths that could not have been anticipated.
Intelligence should not be assessed in the same ways at different ages. The methods used with an infant or a preschooler ought to be tailored to the particular ways of knowing that typify these individuals and may be different from those employed with older individuals.
Even as computers offer a useful way to think about the marshaling of intelligences to master educational goals, the potential use of computers in the process of matching individuals to modes of instruction is substantial.