Intelligence has proved to be one of the most desirable qualities in an individual — second only, perhaps, to beauty. At the very least, intelligence earns respect, at the highest level it earns awe and fame — and money. And yet, intelligence has been pigeonholed into the narrowest of definitions, limited to a pre-determined set of attitudes and capabilities. In the sphere of learning, a child’s progress is greatly hindered by this pigeonholing; not recognising the potential in a multitude of other fields.

In 1983, American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner defined no less than nine types of intelligences that can be possessed by an individual. The intelligences defined by him are as follows: naturalist intelligence, which designates the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (clouds, rock configurations). This type of intelligence most obviously is of core value to scientists and environmentalists, but also plays a very significant role in technology and design — because it indicates an individual that pays attention to detail and to the universe around him. The second category defined is musical intelligence, which is the capacity to discern pitch, rhythm, timbre, and tone, enabling a person to recognise, create, reproduce, and reflect on music. The applications of that one, of course, are self-explanatory. The third kind of intelligence is logical-mathematical intelligence which indicates an inclination towards systematic problem solving, logic, reasoning, inductive and deductive thinking patterns.

The fourth is one of the less obvious ones — termed Existential intelligence. This is the kind that’s possessed by philosophers and great writers — a capacity to contemplate deep existential questions of who we are, where we originated, the meaning and purpose of life, and so forth. And then comes interpersonal intelligence, which denotes the ability to understand and interact effectively with others through verbal and nonverbal communication, sensitivity to the temperaments of others, and the ability to entertain multiple perspectives. Interestingly, these skills also mirror the qualities of a good leader.

The sixth kind is bodily-kinesthetic intelligence which involves the ability to co-ordinate the mind and body, to use the body’s skills to perfection — as displayed by athletes, dancers, surgeons and the like. The seventh category belongs to linguistic intelligence, which indicates expertise in expressing and articulating, and working with language in myriad ways. The eighth one is again intriguing in its description, for it is intra-personal intelligence — again a trait exhibited by philosophers and spiritualists, even writers and artists — which denotes an ability to deeply understand the self: one’s thoughts, emotions and ideas, which in a larger perspective denotes an ability to understand deeply the human condition.

The ninth and final kind of intelligence is again fascinating: Spatial intelligence — the ability to think in three dimensions. This denotes a capacity for mental imagery, spatial reasoning, image manipulation, graphic and artistic skills, and an active imagination. Instances of this kind of intelligence may be found in sailors, pilots, sculptors, painters, architects, graphic designers and the like.

At the time when Gardner proposed these categories, intelligence was considered only to be mathematical of linguistic. But the division of intelligence into such varying streams opens up a limitless universe of endless possibilities before the individual, every single one of them crucial to pushing the pinnacle of human achievement and endeavour. It brings colour and diversity to our universe which is but obviously dynamic in nature. To reduce human capacity and intelligence to just two categories is to paint the world in black and white. And that would be a sad world indeed without all its brilliant colours.

Zehra Naqvi