Understanding the environment: Thinking styles and models
Understanding the environment: Thinking styles and models

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Understanding the environment: Thinking styles and models

Reading 1.3: Multiple intelligences

An individual's intelligence could be characterised by their ability to develop appropriate understanding for solving the problems that they perceive, or more generally, for surviving in their world in a way appropriate to their view of that world.

Since the Enlightenment, it has been important to acquire analytical proficiency, so society has especially favoured those individuals that had linguistic and/or logical-mathematical abilities. The ability to write well and to do accurate mental arithmetic was and still is a major obsession of most educational establishments. Yet many complex problems cannot be solved through analysis alone.

Resource Reading 1.2 explored another way of doing things through synthesis, which emphasises working through a problem by looking at the relationships amongst the issue of interest and its environment.

But there is more to the development and implementation of understanding than just analysis and synthesis. A large number of psychologists have attempted to investigate and classify people's construction of understanding and the way people put it into practice. Gardner (1983) proposed at least eight intelligences:

  1. Linguistic intelligence. The ability to use a coherent narrative to communicate and organise thoughts. Lawyers are probably the most renowned practitioners of this intelligence.
  2. Logical–mathematical intelligence. The ability to investigate issues deductively and recognise/work with numerical patterns. The profession that is probably the most obsessive in this regard is computer programming, where coding has to be carried out in a precise logical order and often requires advanced mathematical algorithms.
  3. Musical intelligence. The ability to recognise pitches, tones, rhythms and compose these into recognisable patterns. In many indigenous societies I have worked with (which rely on cooperation rather than coercion in order to do things), music is a significant motivational force. Thus, the best leaders are those who have highly developed musical intelligences.
  4. Kinaesthetic intelligence. The ability to coordinate one's movements. A vast array of professions require high levels of this intelligence, including athletes, craftspeople, musicians, dancers, surgeons and painters.
  5. Spatial intelligence. The ability to recognise visual patterns and relationships. It might come as a surprise to realise how many professions rely on this intelligence, including artists; taxi drivers; designers; sailors; architects; and gardeners.
  6. Interpersonal intelligence. The ability to empathise with others by recognising their intentions, motivations and desires. Educators, psychologists and politicians are professions which need to have high levels of interpersonal intelligence in order to do their work.
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence. The ability to recognise one's own intentions, motivations and desires. Individuals with high intrapersonal intelligence are able to clearly articulate their feelings. Novelists and poets spring to mind as being highly developed in this regard.
  8. Naturalist intelligence. The ability to detect changes in one's own environment. Many rural societies have highly developed naturalist intelligences through their ability to detect changes in, for example, weather patterns and the relative health of crops and domestic animals.

So there are at least eight different ways in which understanding can be developed, communicated and put into practice. When systems thinking was evolving in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the emphasis was very much on using linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences. Complex computer models were developed to convey a systemic understanding of problems, and the most incredibly convoluted texts that I have ever come across were written in this field. Recently, a significant shift has taken place in systems thinking and practice, which now promotes the use of other intelligences. The resource reading on 'Visual communication' (Resource Reading 2.5) is an example of the use of spatial and kinaesthetic intelligences.


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