Food for Thought

Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

I do not endorse this hypothesis, nor do I criticize it. I merely offer it as “grist for the mill”.

Actually, this is a specific example of a more general tendency: when I think something is worth looking at, it doesn’t follow that I agree with it, or that I even think it has obvious value. Sometimes I think it’s worth looking at because it’s obviously wrong, or wrong in a way that is illuminating.

I suspect this is one of the many reasons why people on the Internet sometimes don’t understand what I say.

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9 Responses to “Food for Thought”

  1. I read a book that I think was a popularization of Gardner’s ideas when I was a kid. I think it’s intended to be well-received by lots of people who want to imagine that everybody is special in their own way, but there’s not much evidence for it or reason to call certain things “intelligence”.

    • ‘Intelligence’ is already used as a catch-all. It is not unreasonable to extend its meaning to include various skill areas that are heavily founded in neurological adaptations.

  2. ‘Intelligence’ catches many things. But when asked to narrow it down, people do agree on ‘mental agility’ and ‘learning ability’.

    I think individual differences in neural plasticity underlies what we perceive to be differences in g. With that, the amount of g-loading of a particular mental task can be explained as the degree to which there is less environmental variance in it. Musical ability for example has high environmental variance, with people getting differing amounts of practice on it, so low g-loading. Working memory however, loads highly on g because working memory is involved in all cognitive activities. High g-loading tasks are indicative of intelligence because there is less ‘noise’ from environmental variance in practice. ‘Mental agility’ is working memory, which loads highly on g. ‘Learning ability’ is g itself.

    So intelligence is an ability to acquire skills. Or other ‘multiple intelligences’ if you prefer…

    See: http://www.psych.umn.edu/courses/fall05/mcguem/psy8935/readings/garlick2002.pdf.

  3. But there do seem to be certain domains that people can have a knack or talent for learning within that don’t transfer to the others.

    Autistics and asperger-types are often very intelligent, but have a gross inability to learn certain kinds of social skills. There’s a specific type of mental retardation in which its sufferers have generally impaired skills, but are extremely talkative and extremely socially oriented.

    Insisting that ‘intelligence’ must refer to some global property seems unnecessarily limiting and likely to obscure the complexities of what’s going on.

  4. We still cling to the idea that people are better teachers than machines. You will see that disproved solidly within the next decade. Imagine a virtual textbook that asks you questions as you read and by evaluating your responses, learns how you learn best and caters the future content both to your learning style and your current level of understanding. It isn’t Sci-Fi, it is already beginning to happen. Two people taking the same class may end up having one learning through video on a conceptual level, while the other learns via step by step text instructions.

    Multiple intelligences should be renamed multiple fallibilities.

    “In expanding the field of knowledge we but increase the horizon of ignorance.” -Henry Miller

  5. Definitions should fit the context of their usage i agree.

    g seems to be an intelligence different in kind from Gardner’s types. It may seem domain-specific (‘book-learning’ or ‘logical reasoning ability’) only because there is less environmental variance in the mental skills those domains require. But other than that you can say it is as much an ‘intelligence’ as other multiple intelligences.

    Domain-specific talents are interesting. And g certainly does not explain their existence.

  6. We need something to refer to those domain-specific talents. The phrase is awfully unwieldy.

    If not ‘intelligences’, then what?

  7. I think ‘talent’ already presupposes domain-specificity.

  8. I think you can have a talent that crosses multiple domains.

    Anyway, it’s clear that this is a vastly more complicated subject than is often recognized.

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