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Types of Intelligence: Transcript


Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast.  This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.

I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.



I wonder, if I was to ask you the question, “are you intelligent?” what would your answer be? And where, I wonder, would you be getting the evidence for that answer? And, perhaps more importantly, I wonder what difference your answer makes to your sense of self. To your sense of your ability to contribute to the world and to society. I think it’s this last question that is the kicker, and the reason why I think it’s worth spending just a little bit of time in this slightly shorter episode to think about it.


So we live in a culture, in a society where ‘intelligence’ in inverted commas, is highly valued and has been highly valued for quite a long time. Even though nobody quite knows what that word intelligence means. It has tended to be equated with doing well in education, so with academic success. We spend quite a lot of our lives being part of an education system that sees it’s job as being about ranking people, putting people through a whole series of assessments that enable them, in the end, to be ranked as academically successful or not, and that becomes short-handed into as intelligent or not. And as we go about testing people younger and younger, I think this potentially makes more and more of a difference to people and to their lives. The reason this is so impactful is that we end up spending more than a decade in education at a point in our lives where we are developing our understanding of ourselves and of the world, and the things that we learn at this time in our lives can stick around in our psyches and our subconscious, unquestioned, for a very very long time. So you can end up meeting adults who will see themselves as ‘not intelligent’ and see that as something which puts them below other people because we have been so much part of this society, part of this culture, where intelligence has been so highly valued.


In actual fact there is not a clear definition of what intelligence is. There are IQ tests, which are designed to look at a particular type of problem-solving and reasoning tasks, and those are always paper-based problem-solving and reasoning tasks. You never if you’re having an IQ test get confronted with a car engine or a washing machine that’s leaking and you’re not told to sort that out, it’s very much more about these very abstract problem-solving skills. Those tests were originally developed in France by a couple of people called Binet(sp?) and Simone, who wanted to be able to identify which children might need a bit of extra academic support. So the kind of paper-based problem-solving and reasoning skills that they use were, I suspect, quite relevant for the task that they were using them for. However, those tests became much much more widely used, often used in cultural contexts that weren’t relevant, they’ve been used to support eugenics, all sorts of horrendous things. At one point, I think it was in West Virginia, there was a law passed that meant that people who scored lowly on IQ tests could be sterilised, which is just horrendous. Educationally, these days, the idea is that your intelligence can be measured by the number of GCSEs that you get, and what grades they are, so whether you get a grade 9 or what used to be a grade A or A*.


As Ken Robinson points out in one of his TED talks – I have to say, Ken Robinson’s TED talks are absolutely brilliant and a really good listen and give a really good insight into education and how that system isn’t really suited to the modern day. Anyway, that’s a bit of an aside, but as Ken Robinson points out, within education there is very much a hierarchy of topics. So we prize most regularly English and then Maths and next comes Science, but we prefer Sciences that require numbers, so Biology and Psychology don’t quite come quite as high up. Then humanities, and then the more practical things like sport of dance or woodwork maybe. If you do well in the things that are higher up the hierarchy, you can come out of education feeling really good about yourself. Whereas if you struggle with those sorts of things but maybe you’re better at more practical stuff, sometimes that more practical stuff doesn’t get a look-in in your education, so you come out feeling, once you’ve been ranked by the system, as if you’re not really very good, as if you don’t have as much to contribute as some other people.


And really, that is a really really warped way of looking at things. But if you have struggled because of that way of looking at things and ranking intelligence, then I really think it’s worth taking a moment to examine what we think about intelligence and criticising it a bit really, because I don't think it makes an awful lot of sense.


One of the lenses to look at this through is this idea of multiple intelligences. So there was a guy called Howard Gardner, and he was in the States, a Harvard professor and educational psychologist and he really said “actually there is not just one way to be intelligent”. So the question is not, “are you intelligent?”, the question is “in what way are you intelligent?” You could just say, “what are the talents and the skills you’ve got?” But framing it in terms of intelligence I think can be quite helpful if you have come out of a situation thinking that intelligence is something to be valued but it’s something that you do not have because you haven’t had the narrow band of skills that education has been good at assessing. So Howard Gardner came up with a number of different sorts of intelligence, and what I’m going to do is just talk very briefly about each of the different kinds of intelligences that he identified, and I wonder how many of these you would identify with?


So the first kind of intelligence he referred to was what he called bodily, kinesthetic intelligence. I have to say, this is something that I do not have a great deal of. It’s that thing where you are able to engage in skilled body movement and control and balance and hand-eye coordination. The sort of thing that enables you to hit a ball when it’s coming at you and you’ve got a racquet, so people who are good at sports and athletics, people who are naturally very good at thing like driving, rather than needing to take their test multiple times or spend 4 years learning, which was my experience. Pilots; craftsmen; artists; musicians, often; people who build; a surgeon needs this kind of bodily kinesthetic intelligence, the ability to make their body do what they want. People who engage in dance, all sorts of things. If you’re doing stuff which requires a practical ability to get your body to do what you want it to, then that is a bodily, kinesthetic sort of intelligence.


The next sort of intelligence that Gardiner talked about is musical intelligence. That could be skill in performing music, it might be that you’re good at writing your own songs and music, it may be that you’ve got an innate appreciation of music and musical patterns and understanding of pitch and tone and rhythm, knowing how to use music to create particular emotions in the person who is listening, and that can be used for all sorts of things. Playing music is the most obvious one. Being able to use music as a music therapist, perhaps. DJs, sound engineers, voice coaches, instrument makers, there are lots of people who have a musical ability. Quite often that musical ability is combined with that bodily kinesthetic ability, so not only have you got that sense of musicality but you can also get your body to do the thing that you’d like it to do to make the beautiful music.


Then the next kind of intelligence that Gardiner speaks about is spatial intelligence. This spatial intelligence is that ability to create, see, envision and manipulate images and maps and diagrams in your mind’s eye, and then potentially to reproduce them in physical or digital form. But things like understanding maps and how do you find your way in the world? People who are really good at finding their way around are people with a really good spatial intelligence. Or if you’re one of those people who are really good at following a map and keep North pointing upwards on your map and not have to turn it around as you’re going round corners. If you’re one of those people then you’ve probably got good spatial intelligence. If you can judge spaces and gaps and distances. So if you are really good at getting your car in and out of tight spaces, then you will have a level of spatial intelligence and ability. One of my sons is really really good at this; his party trick is that we go to a Christmas tree farm every year and he is able to walk into a field of Christmas trees, that have not yet been cut down, and pick one that will fit perfectly into our living room. And when I say “perfectly”, I mean that it will fit within an inch, literally within an inch of the ceiling. That just boggles my mind, but that is his spatial intelligence. I cannot fathom how you can look at a tree in a field and estimate how well that is going to fit into a room that is 4 miles away and that you’re not actually standing in. I would have difficulty making that judgement even if I was stood in the room with the tree. Whereas my son can do it in a way that is almost magical to me. So painters, sculptors animators, photographers, anybody who’s doing architecture, I guess, it’s that kind of ability to envisage things spatially in the world. As I say, it’s not something that I’ve got very much of at all. But there are people for whom that is something they are really really good at.


Then there’s linguistic intelligence, and I like this one because I’m quite good at it. But that is the ability to clearly communicate and explain ideas and facts verbally and in writing. So using words to explain the world and to express yourself. I quite enjoy doing that and I’m quite good at it, so that would be something that I would say is an intelligence that I do have. So people who do writing; very often people who are good at communicating, good at giving speeches. You will know people who are just very very good at expressing themselves in words. And it’s not always in writing. You don’t necessarily need to be able to write things down but some people are very very expressive. But often linguistic intelligence does come with that ability to put things in written form.


Then there’s logical, mathematical ability. So that ability to understand and speak in the language of numbers and formulae and understanding how to manipulate those. Again that for me is just a foreign language. Like I can do adding up and dividing and subtracting, but actually that maths sense, that ability to think in terms of maths and to understand the world in that way, that’s not something I can do, but there are people who are very very good at it.


Then there is interpersonal intelligence, and you will know people who are good at that. Those people who are just really good at reading body language and emotions, who can have empathy for people, who can understand in an innate way people’s feelings and the situations that they’re in. There are people who are just very very good at getting along with others and creating relationships, who know what people need, who know what they’re feeling, who know how to create rapport with somebody. So often people who are really good sales people often have very good interpersonal skills. Then there are intrapersonal skills. That ability to be introspective, to understand your own thoughts and feelings, beliefs and values in relation to yourself and the world. That ability to understand what’s going on inside of yourself. Often that intrapersonal ability can help you to describe those inner experiences in a way that can help people to make sense of their own inner experiences. Although they might not have been able to navigate their own inner world, if you can describe how you navigate yours, and you can understand how you navigate yours, then that almost hands a map to somebody else who can then say “ohh, no, no, no, I get that now!” It’s that understanding what’s going on. Because we are a bit of a mystery. So that would be intrapersonal intelligence.


Then Gardiner talks about naturalistic intelligence. Which is about just being able to connect with nature and the natural world and understanding the relationship between different living things, getting an understanding of the environment, being able to…being able to make things grow, just having the innate ability to take information and knowledge that enables you to get things to grow and to get animals to thrive and to connect with animals, and again that’s not something that I have.


Then there’s what is sometimes referred to as existential intelligence. So the ability to think philosophically, the ability to ponder deep questions. That ability to think about the important questions about life and the universe. So thinking way, way beyond the material realm, really.


So those are the kinds of intelligence that Gardiner came up with, and I think that there are lots of others, and there are ways of looking at these things differently. So I think there is actually as many different kinds of intelligence, if we want to use that word, as there are different people on the planet.


So I hope that’s given you a bit of a glimpse of some of the different ways of looking at ability and intelligence. As I say it is absolutely not an exhaustive list, there are lots and lots of different ways of intelligently interacting with the world around us. Lots and lots of them. So if your self-worth has been plagued by this idea of academic intelligence, and the estimation of your ability to contribute according to a very narrow number of those different kinds of intelligence, if your linguistic and logical mathematical intelligence is lower than some of your other kinds of intelligence, and you have ended up being judged by that, then I think it’s time to begin to drop some of those hang ups, and really take seriously the question, not of “am I intelligent?”, but “how am I intelligent?” What is the kind of intelligence that I bring to the world?


So as I say, that’s a bit of a brief overview of some of these ideas because my observation and my experience is that if you come out of our very biased academic system into a culture which puts a particular type of intelligence on an absolute pedestal, then it can be so easy for that to have a real rotting effect on your sense of self-worth, your sense of societal worth, and you can end up kind of ranking yourself below other people, unconsciously. My challenge really is to say “well actually, it’s time to question that”. And by contrast, if you came out of education with a really good sense of “I am of deep worth because I came out with all of these exams and with this proof that I have these particular types of intelligence”, then I think it is also possibly time to look around at all the types of intelligence that you don’t carry with you, and the ways in which other people contribute, in ways that it can be possible to underestimate. So that’s my thought for the day, really, and I hope you’ve found it useful. And remember that you have something very unique that you contribute. And your worth is  absolutely not decided by some very narrow ideas of what society needs. So I hope that has been helpful.



Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email You can find a transcript of this podcast at and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.

Thank you for listening.


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