on multiple intelligencesramble

November 20, 2004

It's a kind of self-evident idea: most people know that you can be smart at one thing (like taking standardized tests ;-) and dumb at other things, but we still tend to measure smarts on one scale and call that "intelligence". The theory of multiple intelligences just says that there are different ways of being smart, emotional and what not...

Actually I just realized I've been using the term loosely... A google search came up with http://www.thomasarmstrong.com/multiple_intelligences.htm which lists 8 specific ones:
Linguistic intelligence ("word smart"):
Logical-mathematical intelligence ("number/reasoning smart")
Spatial intelligence ("picture smart")
Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("body smart")
Musical intelligence ("music smart")
Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
Naturalist intelligence ("nature smart")

At one point back in school, when I was still using the term loosely, I thought there should be a similar concept for art and literature. It was in an early black literature class, and I was noticing the circles some of the academics were running in to justify studying some of these novels that really weren't "very good"; schlocky and corny, knockoffs of the white novels written at the same time. But they were worth reading, because of who wrote them and when they were written. I realized a "theory of multiple intelligences" would do well to analyze what makes a given work worthwhile.

And what I thought is it doesn't have to preclude pointing to some things as "great works", it doesn't have to be some egalitarian equality of all books; even a dimestore trashy romance is "good" at provoking a certain response in its audience, via titillation and/or something emotional; it just is more likely to be bad on the other fronts. Something like Shakespeare, on the other hand, is much more likely to be effective on a bunch of these hypothetical levels, and that's why we consider it great.

--I wrote this to someone last January, not sure who, but grabbed it for future use here. I think people forget that there is hardly ever a single axis of "good" for anything, there are almost always tradeoffs between different alternatives.