Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences explains that each of us possesses at least eight or nine intelligences. How do these intelligences come into being in the first place? The question of where ”intelligence” as a singular phenomenon comes from has been hotly debated by psychometricians and other experts for decades. Generally speaking, the debate has thus far been limited to two alternatives: nature versus nurture. In this brief video, I actually talk about three factors that are important in the arising of these intelligences: nature (genetics etc.), nurture (parenting, education etc.), and culture (the broader cultural context in which we find ourselves). To illustrate this, I use the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who in my opinion, was the greatest musician who ever lived (yes, Beethoven, Bach, Haydn, and Schubert were great too!).
Where did his musical intelligence come from? I think we’re safe in saying that he was born with a brain that had pretty healthy temporal lobe (the auditory cortex) due to good genes (and who knows, maybe some other important in utero influences). That’s the nature part. Then, he was born to a musician father who gave up a good part of his own career to school his son in musical literacy. That’s the nurture part (although, in talking about Mozart’s natural gift, father Leopold tells the story of coming home one day and seeing his three-year-old son making marks on music paper, and his smile turned into tears of joy when he discovered they were correctedly placed notations! – cited in Herman Abert, W.A. Mozart, p. 21).
But there’s also a cultural component that many people generally miss when thinking about how an intelligence develops: the cultural influence. Mozart was born at just the right time in Europe (and Austria in particular), when the arts were flourishing. Kings, and dukes, and bishops, and emperors all seemed to have their own musical groups and were avidly looking for those who could compose and perform. Moreover, Leopold took his son across the European continent on tours at a young age, and he was exposed scores of other composers and to a myriad of musical influences from Germany, France, Italy, and elsewhere. So timing was a big part of it as well. Imagine if Wolfgang had been born in Puritan England in the 17th century, when music was largely frowned upon, or in certain Islamic countries today where music is considered haram (forbidden or unlawful). Likely his genius would never have developed.
So, it may be useful for you to think of your own life and what the major influences were that caused you to develop (or fail to develop) a given intelligence. Given what you know about your family lines, how important was heredity? How about the schooling, parenting, or encouragement you received? And what about the cultural influences? I suggest that you pick one or more of the eight intelligences and do a personal timeline of the major events that helped to develop an intelligence (or that suppressed one). Gardner also talks about ”crystallizing experiences” in life, when something happens that sparks an intelligence into life. I write about these elsewhere in this blog
There are also what I call ”paralyzing experiences,” those that repress an intelligence. The important point here is that no one is just born smart. Rather, they come to be smart as a result of all three of these important influences.
For more information about Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, get my practical guides to multiple intelligences for:
- Adult learners (7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences)
- Educators who teach children and adolescents — kindergarten through high school (Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 4th edition) and/or
- Parents (In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences).
This blog post was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and www.institute4learning.com.
Follow me on Twitter: @Dr_Armstrong.