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Multi-Modal Intelligence and Multiple Intelligences

People know their worlds in many ways. All of us have many cognitive capacities, but most of us are particularly strong in some and weak in others. Our cognitive patterns are part of who we are, part of our diverse uniqueness. Most importantly, those patterns are gifts we can contribute to each other and to the groups and communities of which we are a part, so that those human collectives can know themselves, their world, and the universe more fully than any of us can individually. And for that reason, it behooves groups and communities to support us at being the most whole, competent people we can be, and to support synergy among us so that we can be even more whole and competent together.

In this effort, it helps to have a sense of our diverse cognitive capabilities, our multi-modal intelligence. In the last fifteen years an increasing number of people are reaching far beyond IQ to research and comment on the multi-dimensional quality of human intelligence -- or, as some see it, multiple intelligences. Here is a composite (and sometimes overlapping) list of human intelligences drawn from a half-dozen such explorations. As you read it, think about your own capacities in each area, and about people you know who are especially gifted or incapable in these various intelligences.

  • PRACTICAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to think in concrete examples and solve daily problems directly without necessarily being able to explain how; the tendency to survive or succeed through taking straightforward, responsive, concrete action. (Also called marketing, strategic or political intelligence -- since it focuses on "the art of the possible" -- or just common sense or simple effectiveness.)
  • VERBAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to think and communicate effectively and creatively with words; and to recognize, use and appreciate linguistic patterns.
  • LOGICAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to think in terms of (and to appreciate) abstract parts, symbols and sequential relationships, conceptual regularities or numerical patterns, and to reach conclusions or construct things in an orderly way. (Also called rational, analytic or mathematical intelligence.)
  • ASSOCIATIVE INTELLIGENCE is the ability to think in non-sequential associations -- similarities, differences, resonances, meanings, relationships, etc. -- and to create (and appreciate) totally new patterns and meanings out of old ones.
  • SPATIAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to visualize, appreciate and think in terms of pictures and images; to graphically imagine possibilities; and to observe, understand, transform and orient oneself in visual reality. (Also called pictorial or imaginative intelligence.)
  • INTUITIVE INTELLIGENCE is the ability to know directly, to perceive and appreciate whole or hidden patterns beyond (or faster than) logic.
  • MUSICAL INTELLIGENCE is the capacity to perceive, appreciate, resonate with, produce and productively use rhythms, melodies, and other sounds.
  • AESTHETIC INTELLIGENCE is the ability to produce, express, communicate and appreciate in a compelling way inner, spiritual, natural and cultural realities and meanings. (This can include aspects of verbal, musical and spatial intelligences.)
  • BODY INTELLIGENCE is the ability to sense, appreciate, and utilize one's own body -- movement, manual dexterity, tactile sensitivity, physical responsiveness and constraints; to create and think in terms of physiological patterns; to maintain physical health; and to relate to or meet the needs of others' bodies. (Also called kinesthetic or somatic intelligence.)
  • INTERPERSONAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to perceive, understand, think about, relate to and utilize other people's subjective states, and to estimate their likely behavior. This includes, especially, empathy.
  • SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to work with others and find identity and meaning in social engagement; to perceive, think, and deal in terms of multi-person patterns, group dynamics and needs, and human communities; it includes a tendency towards cooperation and service. (Also called team intelligence.)
  • AFFECTIONAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to be affected by, connected to or resonant with people, ideas, experiences, aesthetics, or any other aspect of life; to experience one's liking or disliking of these things; and to use one's affinities in decision-making and life.
  • MOOD INTELLIGENCE is the ability to fully experience any mood as it happens (without having to judge it or do anything about it), to learn from it, and to move out of it at will -- especially to generate resilience.
  • MOTIVATIONAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to know and to work with what moves you; to sense, think and initiate in terms of needs, wants, will, courage, responsibility and action -- one's own and others. (This can include that aspect of mood intelligence that can marshal emotions in the service of a goal.)
  • INTRAPERSONAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to recognize, access and deal with one's own subjective (or inner) world. (This can include aspects of affectional, mood, motivational and body intelligences.)
  • EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to experience, think and deal with emotional patterns in oneself and others. (This can include aspects of interpersonal, intrapersonal, affectional, mood and motivational intelligences.)
  • BASIC INTELLIGENCE is the ability to move toward what is healthy and desirable and away from what is unhealthy or undesirable. (This can use affectional and practical intelligences, or be almost automatic and instinctual.)
  • BEHAVIORAL PATTERN INTELLIGENCE is the ability to recognize, form and change one's own behavioral patterns, including compulsions, inhibitions and habits.
  • PARAMETER INTELLIGENCE is the ability to create and sustain order and predictability -- to recognize, establish, sustain, and change rhythms, routines/rituals, boundaries, guiding principles/values/beliefs, etc., in one's own life.
  • HABIT INTELLIGENCE is the ability to recognize, form and change one's habits (which naturally embraces many aspects of behavioral and parameter intelligence).
  • ORGANIZING INTELLIGENCE is the ability to create order in one's own life and in other lives/groups/systems. (This can include aspects of parameter, team/social, and logical intelligences)
  • SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE is the ability to sense, appreciate and think with spiritual and moral realities and patterns -- to operate from an awareness of ultimate common ground (consciousness, spirit, nature, or some other sacred dimension). (This is usually dependent on intrapersonal intelligence.) (Also called moral or transcendental intelligence.)
  • NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE is the ability to perceive, know, think, feel, explain one's experience and influence reality through the use of stories and narrative forms (characters, history, myth, dreams, scenarios, etc.).
  • ECO-INTELLIGENCE is the ability to recognize, appreciate, think and feel with, and utilize natural patterns and one's place in nature, and to empathize with and sustain healthy relationships with animals, plants and natural systems.

All of these are needed by each of us, at least to some degree, in order to have a successful life. Some people are blessed with great endowments of one or more of these. Some have very little of one or more of these. Some situations require one particular kind of intelligence or combination of intelligences not needed in other situations. This is a very powerful aspect of our diversity.

Among the many authors who have dealt with the subject of multiple intelligences (and from whose work most of the above list is derived) are Howard Gardner (Frames of Mind , 1983), Daniel Goleman(Emotional Intelligence, 1995), Jennifer James (Thinking in the Future Tense, 1996), Thomas Armstrong (Seven Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Many Intelligences, 1993), Elaine De Beauport (The Three Faces of Mind: Developing Your Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Intelligences, 1996) and Peter Koestenbaum (The Heart of Business, 1987).

I'd like to quickly note two other approaches to multi-modal intelligence that differ from the multiple-intelligences approach.

A system called Human Dynamics suggests that there are physical, emotional and mental sorts of information (data about real things, feelings and ideas), and physical, emotional and mental ways of processing information (doing, feeling, and thinking). Each of us can work in all three modes, but we tend to specialize in one form of information and one form of processing. This produces nine modes of engagement with the world, nine human dynamics, nine styles of cognition and communication. The most widespread of these modes, called emotional-physical, is the habit of 60% of Western populations: they are centered on their feelings about physical things and conditions. If you want to explore this further, you can make a little chart of the nine modes and reflect on it or visit the Human Dynamics International website .

Another way of approaching how we organize our experience is through analysis of learning styles. David A. Kolb suggests that different people prefer abstraction or concreteness on the one hand, and active experimentation or reflection on the other. Putting these together, we come up with four learning styles. Concrete-active people naturally learn best by doing things. Concrete-reflective people learn by creatively integrating information from many sources. Abstract-active people learn by figuring things out and solving problems. Abstract-reflective people learn best by absorbing and working with theories and forming new theories of their own to explain the facts they gather.

Despite the debates among these and other approaches, I believe all of them provide insights into the diverse ways we know and engage with the world. By clarifying what I call multi-modal intelligence, they help us understand what makes us tick, and provide clues about why we have problems with each other and how we might improve our relationships and groups.

In realms like education and communication, these insights can help us tailor our communications to different audiences. If there are many diverse students, we need to provide a wide variety of learning experiences to engage their logical, verbal, emotional, aesthetic, physical, musical, spatial, intuitive, narrative, imaginative, sensory, spiritual and other cognitive inclinations. An increasing number of classrooms are set up so that each student learns at least some of the time in ways that are comfortable for them, while at other times they have to stretch to exercise less familiar modes of intelligence.

Multi-modal intelligence theories can also help us understand that each mode, itself, serves especially well for particular tasks. Analytical reason, for example, reigns supreme in logical problem-solving, while interpersonal intelligence (or "heart") does best in sustaining relationships, and intuition excels in helping us leap beyond conventional perspectives. Together they can be used synergistically to generate greater wisdom to deal with complex challenges that demand all these capacities.

Within our families, groups and organizations, diverse modes of intelligence can work together to enhance our collective intelligence -- or they can become a problem, making collective intelligence all but impossible. It all depends on how well we deal with our diversity. If those of us who are intuitive protest that the analysts are being reductionist -- and those of us who are analytical label the intuitives' hunches, feelings and gut responses as "irrational" -- then we can be assured that together we'll stamp out whatever wisdom is trying to emerge in our midst.

On the other hand, if we work with each other, we can together generate a broader, richer collective knowing than we could on our own. We can then use that powerful collective intelligence to succeed at shared enterprises.

One of my favorite examples of integrating multi-modal intelligence involves a small philanthropic organization, the Turtle Island Fund. When they consider funding requests, they start with extensive research and analysis. After discussing all the pros and cons of various proposals, they ask: What are we feeling about these proposals? They share their fear, anger, sadness or excitement until they feel clear on the emotional level. Then they do a short "attunement" meditation together, after which they jointly interpret any pictures, body sensations or verbal messages that came to them. If this process of collective intuition results in a reversal of what their analysis first led them to, they go with their intuition. They communicate to applicants not just their decisions, but what occurred during their decision-making. They find that good things happen not only for those whose applications they approve, but also for those who are rejected -- a sign of high-quality, co-intelligent decisions. (ref: Carolyn Shaffer and Kristin Anundsen, Creating Community Anywhere (Tarcher, 1993), p. 277)

As research in multi-modal intelligence progresses, perhaps we will gain more understanding about which cognitive modes are best for which sorts of situations and how we can use each one to clarify, support or constrain the others in ways that enhance our overall co-intelligence capabilities.

The collective intelligence we build should nurture these and other differences among us as resources, as gifts that grow in power as we support and share them. The creative use of diversity is a hallmark of co-intelligence, and nowhere is it clearer than in how we synergize the diverse modes of intelligence available to address our shared situations.

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