Existential Intelligence & Other Human Intelligences

Howard Gardner seems to be famous in the West for identifying various human intelligences.

Extracts From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Gardner

Howard Gardner is an American developmental psychologist who is a professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero and author of over twenty books translated into thirty languages. Since 1995, he has been the co-director of the GoodWork Project. He is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences.

Gardner’s Theory of multiple intelligences states not only do human beings have several different ways of learning and processing information, but these methods are relatively independent of one another: leading to multiple “intelligences” as opposed to a general intelligence factor among correlated abilities. Since 1999, Gardner has identified eight intelligences: linguistic, logic-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Gardner is still considering a ninth, or existential intelligence (the intelligence of “big questions”), but has not, as yet, added it.

—end extract from Wiki —-

BTW Gardner is closely associated with Harvard University’s Project Zero. “Project Zero’s mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels.” Here is the web site: http://pzweb.harvard.edu/ with a link on the top related to Gardner winning some “social science” prize.

Here is an account of Gardner’s multiple intelligences: http://skyview.vansd.org/lschmidt/Projects/The%20Nine%20Types%20of%20Intelligence.htm [One possible error here is that Existential Intelligence is listed as one type of intelligence whereas the Wiki page states that Gardner is still considering it.]

I find the above account to be easy to relate to and will use its terms below.

Great Spiritual Masters & Holy Scripture say that the highest wisdom is “Atma Vidya” which may correspond to a blend of “Existential Intelligence” as well as “Intrapersonal Intelligence” (Self Intelligence) in Gardner’s terminology. But Gardner is not even sure about “Existential Intelligence” (“Big questions” – Who am I? perhaps) – I mean the wiki page states that he is still considering it.

Perhaps that’s because of lack of exposure to Great Spiritual Masters. In the Ancient and Holy land (Punyabhoomi) of India/Bhaarath Existential Intelligence & Intrapersonal Intelligence is not only accepted as a valid form of intelligence over millenia but also accepted as the highest form of wisdom/intelligence/Jnana by a large majority of the populace.

The scientific temperament has brought great material progress and comfort to mankind. Perhaps due to that, in today’s world logical-mathematical intelligence which is the key intelligence type for scientific temperament gets worshiped as the ultimate intelligence type by the vast majority of people! Some think that science alone can explain the mystery of life. Science gets worshiped and the other intelligences, especially the Existential Intelligence and the Intrapersonal Intelligence gets relegated to the background as relatively unimportant intelligences.

About the limits of human (logical-mathematical) intellect, J.B.S Haldane, the British Geneticist and Evolutionary Biologist has said, “My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” (Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/J._B._S._Haldane). IMHO, understanding life in all its bewildering variety, for example, at the biological level, from a ‘material/measurable by senses’ point of view and to the fullest extent is, in all probability, impossible. Further, it seems to me, that ‘measurable by senses/physical devices’ science will NEVER be able to uncover the ultimate existential truth(s) of the universe. As the universe is queerer than we can suppose. Our human logical-mathematical brains are quite limited, after all.

Great Spiritual Masters & Holy Scripture say that “Atma Vidya” (“Existential Intelligence” & “Intrapersonal Intelligence”, perhaps, to use Gardner’s terms) can reveal our existential mystery and fill us with Love, Joy & Peace. Some Great Masters are also able to “see”, what is perhaps, the Greatest Mystery of them all, the Law of Karma. I mean, they are able to “see” a life form’s (e.g. human or animal) past births, its past actions and the fruits/effects of those actions that it has to experience in this or future births. Hindu Scripture has a lot of accounts of Sages (Rishis) having had this capacity/intelligence/wisdom.

Perhaps the wise path is to use logical-mathematical intelligence as a tool, and science & technology as tools, to improve the quality of material life and to make a living as an industry engineer/scientist or an academic scientist. But to also realize that science & technology and logical-mathematical intelligence has its limitations, no matter how impressive it seems, how “essential” it has become to life, and how many masses of people it awes. To increase Love, Joy & Peace in one’s life and to eventually know and experience the existential reality of life it is “Atma Vidya”, the highest type of wisdom/knowledge/intelligence, that has to be studied/cultivated, assimilated and practised.


3 thoughts on “Existential Intelligence & Other Human Intelligences

  1. Rajendra Chittar commented via email:
    Wonderful. I am a great fan of Howard Gardner – have read all his books and have his best in my collection. There truly are multiple intelligences – not a single all-comprehensive one that can be measured by something called IQ. Yes, Gardner personally is convinced of the Existentialist intelligence but is looking for scientific evidence to back his claims – evidence of all kinds from neurology to archaeology to anthropology.

    Logical thinking too has its limitations and the limitations are revealed by logic itself – same applies to rational thinking. So, that leaves open the question about what particular quality(ies) make us aware of our self – the I – and though spiritual traditions have given their answer, the scientific traditions have yet to find theirs.

    Most biologists suspect that the I – in scientific terms – is an emergent property of individual qualities that interact with each others in given contexts – in an embodied brain.

    • Interesting that you write that Gardner is personally convinced of the Existential(ist) Intelligence but is looking for scientific evidence to back his claims.

      But scientific evidence needs physical device measurements or, at least, large number of human ‘samples’! So he probably will have to wait till physical devices which accurately measure the quality and quantity of Pure Love, Pure Joy (Paramananda) & Pure Peace are invented OR he has enough human ‘samples’ which exhibit Existential Intelligence in some form which can be independently confirmed by other observers :-). After all, science needs independent verification of results by other unbiased observers/experimenters, isn’t it?

      IMHO Existential Intelligence can be felt in the spiritual hearts (emotional centers/’feeling’ centers) of pure and committed seekers of Existential Truth & pure and committed Lovers of Existence as a form of the All-Pervasive Divine Power. That has been the experience of spiritual traditions of the East over millenia – and, I presume, the experience of spiritual traditions of the West over centuries, prior to Science & Technology running roughshod over those spiritual traditions in the West in the past few centuries.

      • Most existential intelligence is a personal experience – and if you have had that experience then you are more likely to accept that I have had it – when I explain my experience. Now, science also does the same – except that:
        1) It is not necessary for you to have experienced it (much like a doctor may not have cancer but he knows it exists when he sees its evidence).
        2) My words or expression will not be enough – it has to be backed by physical evidence.

        Now it is in this realm of physical evidence that no one can offer any. And science remains skeptical. However, there are quite a lot of scientists who – convinced by their own experience – suspect something like this exists.

        Perhaps this will remain that elusive bridge that needs to be built and crossed for humanity to truly realise itself – on its two pillars – conviction of faith and conviction of science. Truly, a symbolic bridge to connect the left brain (where ratiionality is supposed to originate) and the right brain (where intuitive experiences rule). And only then the I shall be realised in its full glory.

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