Guest post from Brian Bahnisch

The discussion of The Flynn Effect and the Bell Curve had at least one positive effect on me. I finally took my copy of Howard Gardner’s “Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences” down from the shelf and looked inside. In a former life I worked in the area of policy development and service provision to schools, and hence tried to keep up with the main themes and issues in education. While psychometrics, IQ and such was not my field, Gardner became big news. Shortly after buying the book, however, I left education and was quite allergic to reading about it for a number of years.

What stunned me about the discussion here on Quiggin’s blog and elsewhere was the ready acceptance of a single “g” factor, a generalised universal characteristic representing intellectual capability or “intelligence”. When I did Ed Psych 101 about 30 years ago at the University of Queensland the concept was even then very much on the nose. IQ tests are not content-free, they told us. As a measure of ability, the notion of IQ is contaminated by schooling, and schooling is culturally biased towards the middle and upper classes, they said. IQ is in fact whatever the particular test measured, no more and no less. Better, they said, to concentrate on more specific measures of more specific abilities, depending on your purpose.

It is interesting, therefore, that Binet’s (d.1911) original purpose was academic administration, according to Gardner. He wanted to separate out the retarded children and “to place other children at their appropriate grade level”, grade levels at that time being determined by the work to be undertaken rather than by age cohort. So the initial cultural bias was towards what was considered important in schooling in France circa 1900.

Gardner doesn’t know why he invented multiple intelligences. A Harvard psychologist who had been a serious pianist it was partly about giving the arts a better go in academic psychology. But when he got started on Project Zero (about human potential) Gardner and his colleagues “combed the literature from brain study, genetics, anthropology, and psychology in an effort to ascertain the optimal taxonomy of human capacities.”

He looked at vocational and avocational “end states” that have been prized by various cultures. He reckons most IQ tests are aimed at the intellectual strengths of a law professor, whereas he wanted to include others such as hunters, fishers, athletes, poets shamans, musicians, scientists etc.

He then defined an intelligence as “the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings.” The problems should not be mechanical or trivial, but open up new areas of understanding and productivity.

He then identifies some prerequisites for an intelligence, and identifies some things that are not intelligences – forms of knowledge, for example.

He then identifies eight criteria of an intelligence. These include a connection with a part of the brain, as identified through a loss of capacity from brain damage. He is looking here for a biological connection at one end to complement the cultural connection at the other.

He also specifies the existence of idiots, savants and prodigies with exceptional abilities in that area. He is looking here for a degree of separation of that characteristic from all others.

He came up with seven:

1. Linguistic
2. Logico-mathematical
3. Musical
4. Spatial
5. Bodily-kinesthetic
6. The personal intelligences, subdivided into interpersonal and intrapersonal (know thyself!)

He says you can have 300 if you want or any number in between. Seven seems a manageable number, and were the only ones admissible under his particular criteria.

To what purpose? Well, to understand human capacities and to facilitate useful conversations between professionals.

When he published Frames of Mind in 1983 it seemed to get him into lots of arguments with psychologists, but the schoolies took him up with considerable enthusiasm. This was a surprise to him.

He’s cool about extending the list, but so far has only accepted a naturalistic intelligence and half accepted existential intelligence (concerns the “big questions”). He doesn’t yet accept emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence, sexual intelligence or (thank God) digital intelligence.

He desperately doesn’t want to see his taxonomy reified the way IQ has been and is quite willing to recast the whole taxonomy. In fact given another lifetime he would look at it anew in the light of new biological knowledge and new understanding of the whole terrain of knowledge and societal practice.

Meanwhile he reckons he’s kept up pretty well with brain research etc and there is nothing new that actually conflicts with his theory.

I think IQ is a not very well conceptualised mental construct. It reflects the privileging of abstract over other kinds of knowledge. The linguistic and the logico-mathematical intelligences, which I imagine correspond roughly to traditional IQ, do hold the key to a number of fairly well paid professions, such as lawyers, doctors, economists and such.

If you are after real money, however, go for the bodily-kinesthetic with a dash of personality thrown in. A few years ago Michael Jordan was paid by Nike more than its workforce of 25,000, just for making a few TV ads!

Note: There are about 40,000 expositions of Gardner’s theory on the net, but none surely as neat as the above. Of particular interest, however, is his April 2003 paper Multiple Intelligences after Twenty years (PDF file).

9 thoughts on “Guest post from Brian Bahnisch

  1. Thanks for this interesting post, Brian. I agree with your criticism of a reified ‘g’, but I can’t say I get much from Gardner.

    Common sense and personal experience tell us that some people are ‘naturally’ good at some things, and other people at others (By ‘naturally’, I mean by virtue of the genetic and environmental endowment they bring to the task). For example, I’m better at economics than karate. (For those who don’t like my economics, you should see my karate!)

    Partly for this reason, IQ tests are conventionally divided into a number of components – usually verbal, spatial and mathematical – on the assumption that different people will do well on different bits.

    The ‘g hypothesis’ is a claim, based on analysis of IQ test data, that there is, in reality, a single factor that accounts for most of the performance differences on the components. In my view, this hypothesis is largely based a misunderstanding of how principal components analysis works (Gould has something on this) , but it is at least based on evidence.

    By contrast, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences seems to be just a reassertion of common sense, along with a set of categories that Gardner made up on the spot, which mix abilities with interests. How do we know these are the right ones?

    Does it make sense, for example, to lump together fine and gross motor skills into Bodily/Kinesthetic and to separate them from Visual/Spatial? I’ve always thought of myself as clumsy, but I’m increasingly coming to realise that, in large measure, my problem is short-sightedness. Presumably, there’s evidence we could use to analyze this, but Gardner doesn’t provide it.

  2. How do you account for the capacity of some people to pick things out of the air as they are going by? At the risk of being accused of thread degeneration, Keith Richards has always maintained that he doesn’t create songs, he just picks ’em up as they are going by. Might sound self-deprecating, or even silly, but it actually rings true to me. I often think the same thing about other forms of writing, even op eds. It doesn’t come from within at all; rather, it’s just sitting out there, waiting for you to pick it up … before someone like John Quiggin does, that is. Another category? Political and/or artistic intuition? Sure made Keith a lot of money!

  3. cs

    The process of solving creative problems may appear mystical, but that is because the mind cannot “rise above itself” to observe itself in action. This would appear to step into a hall of infinitely regressing mirrors.

    The facility of composing creative values is often compared to being an unconcscious conduit, rather than a conscious constructor.

    This proves that intelligence, ie problem solving ability, is unconscious. It is learning ie question probing activity, that is conscious.

    Practice & memorising is the process of internalising problem solving abilities/skills into the unconscious mind.

    Thus a creative person can solve artistic or scientific problems “without trying”, plucking the answer out of thin air, because the makings of a solution were already floating around in the back of his mind.

    Thus Keith Richard’s channeling his songs, Betrand Russell sleeping on his maths problems and Greg Chappell getting his feet in position to cover drive ages before the ball pitches are examples of the unconscious mind solving creative problems.

    The more conscious you are of a problem, the less you know about it.

  4. Pr Q indulges in a characteristic bit of self-deprecation:

    I’ve always thought of myself as clumsy, but I’m increasingly coming to realise that, in large measure, my problem is short-sightedness.

    Intelligent data bases are only as good as the scale and detail of their data input. The larger the channel bandwidth size, the faster & more comprehensive the real time intell, the more intelligent the solution.

    Cyber-intefaces that increase the channel bandwidth size, data storage capacity, working memory and processor speed will all increase the intelligence of the system.

    It is an open question whether this will increase the system’s overall creativity, since GIGO rules.

    In order to increase the increase creativity of humand and artifical intelligence system, we will probably need to substantially reconfigure the system and recode the program.

  5. John, thanks for posting my stuff. I’ll comment on your comments soonish. First, though, in the post it was Michael Jordon, not Michael Jackson, who was paid on my recall $18 million to advertise Nike. The workforce of 25,000 who made the goods were paid in toto $15 million, while the company CEO got $30 million. No doubt that’s changed now, but the ratios are probably even worse!

    Any chance of changing Jackson to Jordon?

  6. Chris, the point you raise about creativity and artistic intuition does strike a chord. This morning I saw my post had been posted and read John’s comments. Then I went out and made some old people happy by mowing their lawns before Christmas. Every now and then a witty and/or insightful comment would pop into my head. 21,000 steps later, according to my pedometer, plus a swim, a beer and a feed and life is good. But it’s all gone and I’m in danger of falling off this chair!

    But that’s probably just problem solving with a dash of inspiration maybe. There is something about a good tune that once it’s there, it seems to have been always there. That is probably an illusion and I’m sceptical about parallel universes and similar stuff some people are going on about. Sporting people do speak of being in the zone. I’m sure something similar happens to artists, when they may well feel they are channelling.

    At the same time I feel there is a lot to be discovered about the human mind. For example I believe they’ve established in the fright/flight situation that the reaction occurs before there is any mental processing.

    Concerning ESP, I heard David Suzuki tell of his mother waking up in the middle of the night, certain her relatives in Hiroshima had died. I’ve had a couple of reports of similar experiences from people I know are not mad.

    Back to music. The ABC TV program “Love is in the Air”, now on DVD, had a lot of discussion about how tunes/songs came to be and how the title tune in particular emerged and was developed and refined. In a true artistic collaboration there is a synergy that seems to arise out of the intersubjectivity. I doubt whether science can usefully analyse or explain such a phenomenon.

  7. All creation is unconscious. The conscious picks up the end result and spins a pretty story to convince itself that it created it.

    re Jack Strocchi’s comment about intelligent databases. You can increase all those things all you want and all you will get is a faster, bigger database. There are no intelligent machines and currently no real prospect of such. They may not even be possible.

  8. John, it depends what people want out of Gardner. Schoolies like him, I think, because he better represents their concern for the whole child, rather than just the intellect.

    There are some hegemonies or hierarchies in education. One is the privileging of abstract knowledge over practical knowledge. Also the traditional subject disciplines exercise considerable, perhaps overwhelming influence. Teachers are pretty eclectic at times in what they grab onto to shore up their preferred position and Gardner serves some well.

    That doesn’t mean he’s right, of course, but he’s probably not as arbitrary as you suggest. He did an initial draft in 1976, worked seriously with a team from 1979, wrote “Frames of Mind” in 1981 and revised it for two years. Now 20 years later he’s sticking to his guns although he has admitted one and a half new intelligences.

    We know they are the right ones, because he has set out his criteria and no others meet the criteria. Furthermore, the categories are framed, because they relate to identifiable areas of the brain and a person can be strong in any one or more of them while being weak in others. He is saying, I think, that you need to change the criteria if you want to change his categories.

    Gardner was positing a theory, working from achieved excellence in many cultures and trying to anchor it in biology via the brain. I don’t really know, but I fancy he may be disappointed that his theory has not given rise to more scientific research based on it, more test development etc. In other words it has been accepted and reified by fairly uncritical advocates. He says he’s happy to reconsider the whole thing, but at the same time his theory can be taken as an astonishing truth claim, however tentatively proffered by him.

    So far I’ve defended him, but I do have some difficulties. “Intelligence” is inevitably bound up, by common meaning, with the intellect. I have some resistance to considering “bodily-kinesthetic” as of the intellect, especially as he sees the body as the instrument of the brain. Maybe he needs a different word.

    Also you are right, I think, about differentiating between gross and fine motor skills. My young son at age 10 was quite brilliant at the fine motor and quite ordinary at the gross motor. Six years later he is into downhill mountain biking and rock climbing, which scare the bejesus out of me.

    I could go on but mostly I was concerned that intelligence and IQ are overplayed and misused to some extent. My impression is that general IQ tests are not used much in diagnosis these days. Psychologists seem to go for specific purpose tests, which miss much but still enable useful discourse about problems and possibilities.

  9. Andrew makes an incorrect statement.

    There are no intelligent machines and currently no real prospect of such.

    AI systems are capable of receiving real time information, autonomous decision making and learning through trial and error. This satisfies the minimal definition of an intelligent system, which is an autonomous, goal-directed information-aquisitive agent.

    The fact is that the level of intelligence displayed by AI systems is pretty basic, being not much more than a fast filing clerk attached to an ant-clever brain.

    Machine intelligence has not yet evolved to the level of machine consciousness, since humans are easier and cheaper to engineer for high-level learning functions.

    At some stage of technological development it will be profitable to engineer machines with higher level functions. I see no intrinsic reason, Dreyfus and Searle notwithstanding, why this will not be done.

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