The intelligences at play!

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April 9, 2018
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August 15, 2018
12/09/2017


What is intelligence?

It is is difficult to give a definition of intelligence. Philosophers, psycologists, anthropologists, and many other students/scholars of the mind have all made an attempt to do so. Needless to say, the interpretations are not at all unanimous! It suffices to think that, while logical, persipicacious or wise individuals are considered intelligent in the western world, in other cultures instead obedient and even-tempered persons – or those endowed with magical powers – are the ones who are considered to be such. The different interpretations of the human mind, moreover, could converge in considering intelligence to be the ability to accumulate those competences that guarantee to the individual a strong capacity for adapting him or herself, i.e. for being able to resolve problems or difficulties in order to give a meaning to one’s own life within a context which, in turn, gives significance to it.

This way of considering the brain emerges very clearly in the American psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. In his book Formae Mentis. Saggio sulla pluralità dell’intelligenza (Feltrinelli, most recent edition 2013), Gardner maintains that no single intelligence exists, but that each person has at his or her disposal, from the moment of birth on, several ways of thinking, several formae mentis that are relatively independent of each other. Present biologically in each individual, even if in different ways, in reality these types of intelligence take on form in a favourable cultural context, that is, in an anthropological context that is capable of making them emerge and be appreciated.

Multiple intelligences? Multiple educations!

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is full of consequences. For example, it is not possible to measure a single mental capacity as the old intelligence tests used to do, but it is more useful to intercept the natural inclinations of each individual.

If the nuclei of all the intelligences exist in the individual at birth, the tasks of making them emerge, be evaluated, be compensated for, and stimulated are then up to society or to the educators. Each individual is then educated on the basis of his or her own inclinations: a song can be an appropriate instrument for learning the alphabet in someone who is accustomed to musical thought, while a good narrative can introduce a mathematical concept in a child who has a good linguistic intelligence.

Children and formae mentis

Gardner identifies seven types of intelligence: intrapersonal, interpersonal, linguistic, musical, kinaesthetic, logical-matematical, and spatial. Subsequently, the same Gardner added two more types: naturalistic and existential.

Intrapersonal and interpersonal types of intelligence are like two sides of the same medal: personal or emotional intelligence. Intrapersonal intelligence is distinguished in individuals who have a good knowledge of themselves and is expressed in types of behaviour dictated by a desire for independence, an awareness of their own choices and own points of strength and weakness. Leanings to personal intelligence can be observed in children who have a good operative independence.

Interpersonal intelligence can be observed in persons who are capable of understanding the sentiments, emotions and requisites of others: sociable children have this aptitude, ones who interact naturally with adults and with people of their own age, and who spontaneously take parte in group activities.

Linguistic intelligence is typical of persons who creatively utilise a rich and varied vocabulary and express themselves clearly and in pertinent manner. Some children already demonstrate this capability at the age of only a few months, and soon achieve a certin recognition with adults.

Musical intelligence manifests itself by means of a marked sensitivity to knowing how to recognise the pitch of sounds, harmonic constructions, and variations in tone and timbre. Children who are so gifted manifest from a very early age a natural talent for playing one or more musical instruments and for singing.

Corporeal-kinaesthetic intelligence belongs to both gymnasts and ballerinas and to football players and actors, but also to goldsmiths and craftsmen: in short, to those who are capable of controlling and coordinating their own movements, have available a vast talent for mimicry and a rich gestuality, and are capable of skilfully manipulating objects. We can observe these talents in children who have a gift for manual activities, for the use of non-verbal languages, and for practicing sports.

Spatial intelligence is typical of those who have an aptitude/flair for perceiving and an ease in memorising simple and complex forms, can recall the exterior characteristics of objects, and possess a good sense of orientation in space. This type of intelligence is recognised in children who have a good memory for details, who create figurative compositions, and who orient themselves easily in new environments.

Logical-mathematical intelligence is the prerogative of persons who can make rapid calculations and who resolve problems by means of logical reasoning. We can observe it in children who have a talent for mental arithmetic, who are capable of classifying objects and of gathering relations between things and succeed in expressing themselves in synthetic manner.

Naturalistic intelligence is manifested in a particular sensitivity as regards nature, the environment, and living beings. Scientists are obviously equipped with it, but so are several members of that primitive tribe who have the ability to distinguish numerous aspects and clues offered by the nature that surrounds them. Children who are endowed with this type of intelligence demonstrate a particular interest in natural phenomena, in animals and in plants.

Existential intelligence is typical of philosophers as well as of a vast category of men of science, namely persons who reflect on the important thems of existence and of man in order to arrive at universally valid explanations. This forma mentis is very widespread in children who often ask questions concerning subjects such as life and death, on what is just and unjust, on what is beautiful or ugly, and so forth.

Ludendo docere

If the usefulness of early learning is a certain fact, the efficacy of play at the service of learning has likewise been proven. For children, play is therefore the most appropriate instrument for training the intelligence, or – better still! – the types of intelligence! If, in fact, intelligence is the ability to adapt oneself to change, the formation is being always more oriented – from a very early age – at developing the ability to face unusual situations and to resolve problems that emerge. On the one hand, play activates in children numerous ways of thinking, numerous formae mentis; on the other, it permits them to work out an exercise in an unforced, spontaneous manner.

Play as a «central» factor

Many sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists have gone so far as to consider play as a «central factor» in human operations. Johan Huizinga, who is an authoritative Dutch historian, affirms that every human action appears to be a «mere game». By pointing out the fact that even animals play games and that, therefore, play represents a pre-cultural factor, Huizinga maintains precisely that «playing» is the true propulsion centre of all human activities, the motor from which all culture develops in its various forms. On the one hand, therefore, play is viewed as an instinctive element, on a level with hunger or thirst; on the other, it surpasses the limits of a mere biological function and ranks within a spiritual sphere that represents the other large dimension «necessary» to man.

Franco Lisciani

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