Intelligence is a fraught subject of discussion, and only becoming more so. Among the frameworks developed safely to approach it, one has gained special prominence: the theory championed by developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, author of the book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. And how many such intelligences are there? In the Big Think video above — posted in 2016, 33 years after Frames of Mind — he names ten: language, logic and mathematics, musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, teaching, and existential.
Some of these may strike you as only tangentially related to intelligence, traditionally defined. Gardner has considered this: “People say, ‘Well, music’s 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, in his telling, has ever come up with a convincing response. Hence his mission to expand the definition of intelligence beyond the aggregate measure of brainpower long known as the general intelligence factor — or more commonly, “g factor” — to encompass the sort of skills whose usefulness we can see in the real world, away from the constructed rigors of psychometric tests.
“Whether there’s eight intelligences or ten or twelve is less important to me than having broken the monopoly of a single intelligence, which sort of labels you for all time,” says Gardner. You can see eight of his intelligences broken down in more detail — and perhaps even identify your own strongest suit — in the Practical Psychology video just above. Gardner also expresses optimism about our ability to develop different intelligences: you can choose to concentrate on a specific one, but “if you want to be a jack of all trades and be very well-rounded, then you’re probably going to want to nurture the intelligences which aren’t that strong.” Whatever your own view on multiple intelligences, don’t forget how the old saying originally went in full: “Jack of all trades, master of none, though often better than a master of one.”
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.