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If you have not done so already you can determine your Multiple Intelligences by taking the Multiple Intelligences Self-Assessment.

The Multiple Intelligences (MI) System

What are Multiple Intelligences?

The theory of multiple intelligences was developed by Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychologist, researcher and professor of education at Harvard University. In 1983 he wrote a book entitled, "Frames of Mind" in which he proposed that there are many different ways to be intelligent. For years many people have believed that there is something called "intelligence" that could be objectively measured by an "IQ" test and reduced to a single number or "IQ" score. Dr. Gardner challenges this commonly held belief about intelligence and suggests there are (at least) 8 comprehensive categories of "intelligences" to account for a broad range of abilities that humans possess. These 8 intelligences are:

  1. Verbal-Linguistic intelligence ("word and language smart")
  2. Logical-Mathematical intelligence ("number and reasoning smart")
  3. Visual-Spatial intelligence ("mental picture and direction smart")
  4. Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence ("movement and dexterity smart")
  5. Musical-Rhythmic intelligence ("music and rhythm smart")
  6. Interpersonal intelligence ("people smart")
  7. Intrapersonal intelligence ("self smart")
  8. Naturalist intelligence ("nature and animal smart")

Dr. Gardner discussed the possibility of a ninth intelligence, existential intelligence, in a later book, "Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences in the Twenty-first Century," published in 1999.

So, briefly, multiple intelligences describe the many different ways that people are intelligent. It is important to understand that everyone possesses all eight intelligences to one degree or another and has the ability to develop each one to a reasonable level of proficiency. However, it is also true that people do vary greatly in their natural proclivity for and innate ability in each intelligence. Dr. Howard Gardner says, "it is of the utmost importance that we recognize and nurture all of the varied human intelligences, and all of the combinations of intelligences. We are all so different largely because we all have different combinations of intelligences. If we recognize this, I think we will have at least a better chance of dealing appropriately with the many problems that we face in the world." For more information read on.....

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What is the practical use of the Multiple Intelligences (MI) system?

There are plentiful practical applications of the MI system since it is one of many ways in which we can identify how our particular mind naturally works, how we prefer to learn, and what we naturally like to do. Perhaps an example will best illustrate just how useful this system can be. You've decided to go grocery shopping because you've become aware that you are starting to get a little hungry (self-awareness is intrapersonal intelligence). You make a shopping list of items you want to buy (writing uses the verbal-linguistic intelligence) then walk to your car and get in (physical movement uses the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence). As you are driving to the grocery store you put on one of your favorite music CDs (music appreciation comes from the musical-rhythmic intelligence). Because you are listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony you start to contemplate the meaning of life (concern with ultimate life issues involves the existential intelligence, not a full-fledged intelligence yet. See the potential existence of other intelligences below). You love to take the scenic route to the grocery store so that you can watch the birds fly in and out of the trees and the bees pollinate the flowers (love of nature comes from the naturalist intelligence). Once you get to the grocery store you buy all of the items on your shopping list and get in line to pay. While you are standing in line you notice that the person behind you seems as if she is in a hurry so you ask her if she would like to go ahead of you (understanding of others' needs and empathy for others show interpersonal intelligence). She says "thank you very much. I am in a hurry!" When it's time to pay the cashier he tells you that your groceries cost $20.09. You give the cashier $30 and he asks you if you have $.09. You ask him "why?" He says because he can give you a $10 bill back instead of $9.91 (mathematical calculations involve the logical-mathematical intelligence). You were never very good at math in school so you just give the cashier an extra $.09 and he gives you back a $10 bill. As you are driving home you are really getting hungry and start to visualize yourself eating the chicken, brown rice, and broccoli you just bought (visualization draws upon the visual-spatial intelligence). As you can see from the previous example, there is scarcely anything you can do or think that doesn't involve the multiple intelligences. This is why this system has so many practical applications.

The MI system can be especially useful for increasing fulfillment and satisfaction in many important areas of life, such as relationships, career, education, self-understanding, self-esteem, and parenting. Its main use at the moment is in childhood education (preschool), primary education (K-8th grade) and secondary education (9th - 12th grade), especially with focus on developing all of a child's intelligences, not just verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical, which are the two most emphasized in most North American schools now. MI theory is also becoming much more popular among career counselors for helping students and/or clients with vocational guidance (see my Vocational Guidance section also).

In relationships, the Multiple Intelligences System can be used for improving communication, understanding, synergy and connectedness by valuing differences between people. For more information on how you can improve your relationships using the Multiple Intelligences system, as well as all the other systems I use, visit my section on Relationship Compatibility. As interdependent beings, it is my belief that our happiness, in large part, depends on the quality of our relationships. And the quality of our relationships depends on our self- esteem and willingness to cherish other people's uniqueness. And our self-esteem comes from making moment-to-moment choices in alignment with our deepest values. And making moment-to-moment choices in alignment with our deepest values comes from knowing ourselves deeply and honoring the still, small voice inside (our inner wisdom). For more information on the use of Multiple Intelligences in relationships see chapter 12 ("When Intelligences Collide: Harmonizing Thinking Styles in Relationships") of Thomas Armstrong's book, "7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing your Multiple Intelligences."

Vocational Guidance is another great use of the MI system, as well as all the other systems I use. Each of us has innate talents that come so naturally to us that we don't even see them as gifts. Unfortunately, many people don't know what their inner gifts are. In his book, "The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success" Nicholas Lore surveyed 1,500 people and found that only 10% of them actually felt their work fit their personality and was a vehicle for full self- expression. 20% of people enjoyed their work most of the time, 30% accepted their work without a struggle, 30% go to work because they are forced to by circumstances, and 10% feel as though their job is hell! So, perhaps as many as 70% of people don't enjoy their work. Do you think that affects their relationships? Health? Self-esteem? Enjoyment of life? Inner peace? World peace!? For more information on the use of the Multiple Intelligences system for vocational guidance see my Vocational Guidance section.

In education, the Multiple Intelligences system is already being implemented because of the different ways that children (and adults) prefer to learn. It helps teachers to understand the different needs of their students and tailor their teaching to reflect their awareness of all different learning styles. The MI system can also build self-esteem by helping kids better understand their unique gifts and talents as well as those of others. It can also helps kids plan their lives to make full use of their innate gifts. For more information on the use of the MI system in education see my Multiple Intelligences References.

In parenting, the Multiple Intelligences system can help parents truly understand and nurture the individuality of their children. With knowledge of their child's intelligences (and the other systems on this website) parents can increase their children's self-esteem by encouraging them to use their natural gifts and talents. The parents can also raise their own self-esteem by knowing and using their multiple intelligences. This will naturally raise their children's self-esteem too by their own happy example!

By gaining a better understanding of our Multiple Intelligences we can develop healthier relationships, choose more satisfying careers, learn more holistically, become better parents, and basically lead more productive, fulfilling lives. We can live more gracefully and peacefully from our essential nature, feeling connected with one another rather than separate, working with one another synergistically rather than struggling and competing against one another.

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Brief Descriptions of the 8 Intelligences + the Existential Intelligence

Clicking on any of the active links below will give you a more full description of the intelligence, which will open in a new window. My personal interest lies in using the multiple intelligences for vocational guidance and relationship compatibility so that is my emphasis in the full descriptions.

Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence: This is the ability to use words and language effectively, whether orally (such as a teacher, newscaster, politician, or story-teller) or written (such as a novelist, playwright, poet or journalist). This is perhaps the most universal of the 8 intelligences because virtually everyone learns how to speak and most people learn how to read and write as well. People who have a proclivity for this intelligence can persuade, inform, entertain, educate, enlighten, and/or negotiate well through the spoken or written word. Verbal-linguistic intelligence consists of several components: (1) syntax (or structure of language), (2) phonology (or sounds of language), (3) semantics (or meanings of language), and (4) pragmatics (or practical uses of language). Here are some of the uses of the verbal-linguistic intelligence:

  • Rhetoric - using language to convince someone to take a specific course of action
  • Mnemonics - using language as a device to help remember information
  • Explanation - using language to explain something to someone
  • Metalanguage - using language to talk about itself

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: This is the ability to perform numerical calculations well (such as an accountant, mathematician, statistician, or financial planner) and the capacity to reason logically and problem-solve (such as a computer programmer, logician, scientist, or engineer). This intelligence includes an awareness of logical patterns and relationships between actions, objects or ideas. It also includes statements and propositions (if-then, cause-effect), functions, and other related abstractions. Typical processes used in this intelligence include:

  • Calculation - the result or product of calculating
  • Categorization - the basic cognitive process of arranging into categories
  • Classification - the basic cognitive process of arranging into classes
  • Generalization (aka inductive reasoning) - reasoning from detailed facts to general principles
  • Hypothesis testing - a method of making an assumption or tentative explanation from and about experimental data
  • Inference (aka deductive reasoning) - the process of reasoning from a premise to a conclusion

Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence: This is the ability to appreciate/differentiate (like a music aficionado), discriminate/distinguish (like a music critic), create/originate (like a composer), and express/communicate (like a virtuoso performer) musical forms. This intelligence also includes sensitivity to such things as rhythm, timbre or tone color, pitch or melody, and harmony of a musical piece. Skill in playing a musical instrument and vocal ability are common with this intelligence but not a requirement to have this intelligence; a strong emotional connection to music is a big part of this intelligence.

Visual-Spatial Intelligence: This is the ability to conceive and visualize images in the mind's eye and to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately (such as a hunter, scout, or guide). It is also the ability to think in three-dimensions and to perform transformations on those perceptions (such as an architect, artist, interior decorator, or inventor). This intelligence involves sensitivity to line, color, shape, form, space, angle, and the relationships that exist between these elements. It includes the ability to graphically represent visual or spatial ideas as well as the ability to perceive harmony, flow, and balance among objects. People with good spatial intelligence have the ability to orient themselves quickly in new environments.

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: This is the ability to use one's body with skill (such as an athlete or dancer), or to express ideas and feelings (such as an actor or mime), or to use one's hands with dexterity to produce or transform things (such as a craftsperson, carpenter, sculptor, mechanic, or surgeon). This intelligence also includes being in synch with one's body for optimum health. The bodily-kinesthetic intelligence includes specific physical skills such as coordination, endurance, balance, agility, strength, flexibility, and speed, as well as proprioceptive, tactile, and haptic (relating to the sense of touch) capacities.

Interpersonal Intelligence: This is the ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations, feelings and points of view of other people. It is the ability to understand and empathize with others. This intelligence includes sensitivity to appropriate social behavior, interpersonal cues (such facial expressions, voice tone, gestures, etc.) and a capacity to respond effectively to those cues in some pragmatic way (e.g., to influence people to behave in a certain way or to manage group interactions).

Intrapersonal Intelligence: This is the ability to understand oneself and to act adaptively on the basis of that knowledge. This intelligence includes having an accurate picture of oneself (i.e., one's strengths and weaknesses); awareness of one's inner moods, values, intentions, feelings, motivations, and desires; and the capacity for self-discipline, goal setting, self-monitoring, self-esteem and emotional self-management.

Naturalist Intelligence: This is the ability to understand and relate well to the natural world. It includes the ability to recognize and classify flora (plant life) and fauna (animal life) in the individual's environment. It also includes sensitivity to other natural phenomena, such as cloud formations, mountains, rocks, and changes in weather such as the coming of rain. This is the type of person that likes being outdoors in nature and enjoys camping, hiking and backpacking. Interestingly, if a naturalist child grows up in an urban environment and has no exposure to the natural world of living things, then he or she will develop a capacity to discriminate among nonliving cultural artifacts such as cars and shoes.

Existential Intelligence: This is not considered a full-fledged intelligence yet but it is relevant and applicable for vocational guidance and relationship compatibility so I'm including a brief description of it here as well as a full description by clicking on the existential link at the beginning of this description. Existential intelligence is a concern with ultimate life issues. This is the type of person that is constantly seeking answers to the ultimate questions of life, such as: "Does God exist?" "Who am I?" "What is the purpose of life?" "Why is there evil?" "Why do bad things happen to good people?" "What happens after physical death?" "Where is humanity heading?" For more information on this candidate intelligence go to the section the potential existence of other intelligences below.

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How the Multiple Intelligences System Works

Now that you've had a chance to learn what the multiple intelligences are and some of their practical uses you might like to understand how they came about (especially if you are a Deep Green) and some other key points to the system. So, I will discuss in turn: (1) the theory behind the MI system, (2) key points in MI theory, and (3) the potential existence of other intelligences.

The Theory Behind the MI System

As mentioned in the section What Are Multiple Intelligences?, Dr. Howard Gardner is the man credited with introducing the theory of multiple intelligences in 1983 in his book, "Frames of Mind." Many people have wondered why Dr. Gardner used the word "intelligences" instead of talents or aptitudes. Dr. Gardner was very conscious of his choice of the word "intelligences." He wanted people to rethink the way society views intelligence. Dr. Gardner defines intelligence as, "....a bio-psychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or to create products that are valued in a culture."

Other people have wondered why Dr. Gardner added an eighth intelligence (Naturalist) recently and is considering a ninth. To understand why he did that we need to look at the theory behind the multiple intelligences.

In "Frames of Mind" Dr. Gardner describes a set of eight criteria that he used to come up with the first seven intelligences. This provides a sound theoretical foundation for his claims and assertions. Each potential intelligence has to pass the test of these eight criteria to be considered a full-fledged intelligence. The criteria he used include the following factors.

(1) Potential Isolation by Brain Damage: Dr. Gardner worked with individuals in the Boston VA who had suffered accidents or illnesses that affected specific areas of their brain. In numerous cases, brain lesions seemed to have selectively impaired one intelligence while leaving all the other intelligences intact. For example, Dr. Gardner found that damage to the left temporal or frontal lobe (e.g., Broca's/Wernicke's areas) can severely affect a person's linguistic intelligence (causing difficulty speaking, reading and writing) yet still allow the person to dance, sing, do math, reflect on moods/feelings and relate well with others. Gardner asserts that, as far as his research concludes so far, there exist eight relatively autonomous brain systems that each can function even when severe damage has occurred to other areas of the brain. Below is a table that summarizes the most important structures of the brain that seem to be related to each intelligence:

IntelligenceNeurological Systems
Verbal-LinguisticLeft temporal and frontal lobes
Logical-MathematicalLeft frontal and right parietal lobes
Visual-SpatialPosterior regions of the right hemisphere
Bodily-KinestheticCerebellum, basal ganglia, motor cortex
Musical-RhythmicRight temporal lobe
InterpersonalFrontal lobes, temporal lobe (especially right hemisphere), limbic system
IntrapersonalFrontal lobes, parietal lobes, limbic system
NaturalistAreas of left parietal lobe


(2) The Existence of Savants, Prodigies, and Other Exceptional Individuals: Savants are individuals who exhibit superior abilities in one intelligence while their other intelligences function at a relatively low level. For example, in the movie Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman plays the role of Raymond, a logical-mathematical savant (this movie was based on a true story!). Savants exist for each of the eight intelligences that have been identified by Dr. Howard Gardner.

(3) A Distinct Developmental History and a Definable Set of Skilled End-State Performances: Dr. Gardner suggests that each intelligence will have its own pattern of development in people, ranging from novice to expert. That is to say that each intelligence-based activity has its own time of arising and its own time of peaking during one's lifetime (which is not always in old age!) as well as its own pattern of either rapidly or gradually declining as one gets older.

Musical composition seems to be among the earliest of culturally valued activities to develop to a high level of proficiency, as indicated by the numerous young musical prodigies, such as Mozart, who began composing music when he was five years-old! Musical composition also seems to remain relatively robust into old age.

Mathematical expertise, on the other hand, doesn't emerge quite as early as music composition but it does seem to peak relatively early in life. History shows that very few original insights in higher mathematics come to people past the age of forty. Fortunately, this rapid decline in higher mathematical ability doesn't seem to affect the more pragmatic, day-to-day uses of math, such as balancing a checkbook or paying bills!

Below is a table showing the developmental patterns for each intelligence.

IntelligenceDevelopmental Pattern
Verbal-LinguisticRapid development in early childhood and remains robust until old age
Logical-MathematicalPeaks in adolescence and early adulthood; higher math insights decline after age 40
Visual-SpatialTopological thinking in early childhood gives way to Euclidean paradigm around age 9-10; artistic eye stays robust into old age
Bodily-KinestheticVaries depending upon component (i.e., strength, flexibility) or domain (gymnastics, basketball, mime, acting)
Musical-RhythmicEarliest intelligence to develop; prodigies often go through a developmental crisis
InterpersonalAttachment and bonding to mother during first 3 years are critical
IntrapersonalFormation of boundary between "self" and "other" during first 3 years is critical
NaturalistShows up dramatically in some young children; schooling or experience increases formal or informal expertise


Dr. Gardner points out that we can best see each intelligence at its highest level of development (its "end-state") by studying the lives of truly exceptional people in a given intelligence. For example, Beethoven's 9th Symphony (Musical-Rhythmic), Darwin's theory of evolution (Naturalist), Toni Morrison's novel, "Beloved" (Verbal-Linguistic), Einstein's theory of relativity (Logical-Mathematical), Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings (Visual-Spatial), Carl Jung's development of analytical psychology (Intrapersonal), and Nelson Mandela's political leadership (Interpersonal).

(4) An Evolutionary History and Evolutionary Plausibility: Dr. Gardner says that in order for an intelligence to even be considered, there must be evidence for it in the prehistoric life of humanity, and even in earlier stages of evolution, that is, in other species. Dr. Gardner believes that the intelligences extend back even before civilization, and have their roots in the very core of living systems.

Multiple Intelligences also have a historical context. Some intelligences were more important in earlier times and some are more important today. Some intelligences, such as spatial and naturalist, may become more important in the future as society receives more information via visual technology (television, DVDs, videos, etc.) and the need to protect endangered ecosystems becomes more urgent.

Below is a table showing the evolutionary origins and historical factors of each intelligence.

Verbal-LinguisticWritten notations found dating to 30,000 years agoOral transmission more important before printing press
Logical-MathematicalEarly number systems and calendars foundMore important with influence of computers
Visual-SpatialCave drawings of LascauxMore important with advent of video and other visual technologies
Bodily-KinestheticEvidence of early tool useWas more important in agrarian period
Musical-RhythmicEvidence of musical instruments back to Stone AgeWas more important when communication was more musical in nature
InterpersonalCommunal living groups required for hunting and gatheringMore important with increase in service economy
IntrapersonalEarly evidence of religious lifeContinues to be important with increasingly complex choices to make
NaturalistEarly hunting tools reveal understanding of other speciesWas important during agrarian period; then fell declined during industrial expansion; now more important than ever to preserve earth


(5) Support from Psychometric Findings: This is the tried-and-true standardized testing method to prove the reliability and validity of a model or system. Although Dr. Gardner has been a severe critic of intelligence (IQ) testing he ironically suggests that we look at existing standardized tests as a criterion for proving the existence of his multiple intelligences. One of the criticisms of this criterion is that there isn't a standardized test made exclusively for each of Gardner's multiple intelligences. There are existing standardized tests that measure all eight of the intelligences, just in a decontextualized fashion, especially for the bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, and personal intelligences.

(6) Support from Experimental Psychological Tasks: Dr. Gardner suggests that the intelligences can be distinguished from one another through specific psychological experiments that demonstrate the intelligences working in isolation from one another. An individual can be seen to have different levels of proficiency across the eight intelligences. In psychological experiments where subjects master a specific skill, such as reading, but fail to transfer that skill to another area, such as mathematics, we can see the failure of the linguistic intelligence (reading) to transfer to the logical-mathematical intelligence (mathematics). In studies of cognitive abilities such as memory, perception, or attention, there is clear evidence that individuals possess selective abilities. For example, an experiment might indicate that someone has a great memory for faces (spatial intelligence) but not for numbers (mathematical intelligence) or words (linguistic intelligence). As another example, some people have acute perception of musical sounds but not verbal sounds. This shows that each of these cognitive faculties is intelligence-specific.

(7) An Identifiable Core Operation or Set of Operations: Dr. Gardner is a leading cognitive psychologist so he stipulated in his theory that each of the intelligences should have specific mechanisms (core operations) for taking in information from the outer world and processing it or operating upon it, just as a computer operates on an incoming set of data.

Below is a table that identifies some of the critical core operations for each intelligence.

IntelligenceCore Operations
Verbal-LinguisticSensitivity to the sounds, structure, meanings, and functions of words & language
Logical-MathematicalSensitivity to, and capacity to discern, logical or numerical patterns; ability to handle long chains of reasoning
Visual-SpatialCapacity to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately and to perform transformations on one's initial perceptions (i.e., the ability to manipulate the inner and outer visual-spatial worlds through art, visualization, and/or visual thinking)
Bodily-KinestheticAbility to control one's body movements and to handle objects skillfully
Musical-RhythmicAbility to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch, and timbre; appreciation of the forms of musical expressiveness
InterpersonalCapacity to discern and respond appropriately to the moods, temperaments, motivations, and desires of other people
IntrapersonalAccess to one's emotional life and the ability to discriminate among emotions; knowledge of one's own strengths and weaknesses
NaturalistAbility to recognize instances as members of a group (or species), to distinguish among members of species, to recognize the existence of other neighboring species, and to chart the relations, formally or informally, among the several species


(8) Susceptibility to Encoding in a Symbol System: Dr. Gardner asserts that one of the best indicators of intelligent behavior is the capacity of human beings to use symbols. The ability to symbolize is the key faculty that separates human beings from most other animals. For example, the word "dog" is just a collection of symbols we call letters - d, o, and g. Yet the word probably brought to mind a range of associations, images, and memories. To be able to express a thought about something that is not immediately present to the senses through letters on a piece of paper, a sound, or a gesture is truly remarkable when you think about it. Dr. Gardner says that in order for an intelligence to qualify for his theory, it must be capable of being symbolized.

Below is a table of the symbol systems for each of the multiple intelligences.

IntelligenceSymbol Systems
Verbal-LinguisticPhonetic languages (e.g., English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, etc.)
Logical-MathematicalNumber systems, computer languages (e.g., Basic, Pascal, C++)
Visual-SpatialIdeographic languages (e.g., picture aspects of Chinese and Japanese hieroglyphics); line, form, shape and color in art
Bodily-KinestheticSign languages, Braille, hand signals in baseball
Musical-RhythmicMusical notational systems, Morse Code
InterpersonalSocial cues (e.g., gestures and facial expressions)
IntrapersonalSymbols of the self (e.g., in dreams and artwork)
NaturalistSpecies classification systems (e.g., Linnaeus); habitat maps


Key Points in the MI Theory

(1) Each person possesses all eight intelligences to one degree or another.
Unlike some of the other systems on this website, the multiple intelligences theory is not a "type theory" where you are determining your one intelligence. It is a theory of cognitive functioning, and it proposes that each person has capacities in all eight intelligences. Of course, each person has varying capacities for each intelligence and some rare people seem to possess extremely high levels of functioning in many of the eight intelligences (such as the German poet, statesman, scientist, naturalist, philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the Italian scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, sculptor, architect, botanist, musician, writer, poet, geologist, physiologist, astronomer, philosopher Leonardo da Vinci). Other people, such as those in institutions for the developmentally disabled, appear to lack all but the most rudimentary aspects of the intelligences. Most people fall somewhere between these two poles.

(2) Most people can develop each intelligence to a reasonably high level of competency.
Dr. Gardner maintains that most people have the capacity to develop all eight intelligences to a reasonably high level of performance if they have the desire and if given the appropriate encouragement, enrichment, and instruction. The Suzuki Talent Education Program is one example of an educational model that can raise people's proficiency in playing the violin or piano to a fairly sophisticated level when they had relatively modest biological musical endowment to begin with. There are education models for other intelligences too.

(3) Intelligences usually work together in complex, synergistic ways.
In real life the intelligences almost always work together and not in isolation (except in very rare instances in savants or brain-injured individuals). They are always interacting. For example, consider a man sitting down at the kitchen table eating breakfast (bodily-kinesthetic) while reading the newspaper (verbal-linguistic), solving a Sudoku puzzle (logical-mathematical), and listening to Bach's 9th Symphony (musical) as he gets ready to go to work. He senses that the plants in the kitchen probably need watering (naturalist) and so he gets up to water them (bodily-kinesthetic). Just as he gets up his son comes downstairs and throws a football at him. He anticipates the trajectory of the football (visual-spatial) and catches the ball (bodily-kinesthetic). Sensing his son is in a great mood (interpersonal) he says to him, "Nice throw Mike! I couldn't have done better myself" (verbal-linguistic). Knowing his own tendency to be late for work (intrapersonal) he quickly waters the plants and walks out the door (bodily-kinesthetic).

(4) There are many ways to be intelligent within each intelligence.
There are a variety of attributes in each intelligence. There is no standard set of attributes that one must have to be considered intelligent in a specific intelligence. For example, someone might be a great soccer player (bodily-kinesthetic) but be clumsy with his/her hands (also bodily-kinesthetic). This person still has the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence but perhaps not the dexterous attribute of it. Thus, MI theory emphasizes the rich diversity of ways in which people can show their gifts within intelligences as well as between intelligences.

The Potential Existence of Other Intelligences

If you read the section above on The Theory Behind the MI System then you already know that other intelligences could potentially be added to the current list of eight if they meet the 8 criteria established by Dr. Gardner for being an intelligence. In "Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences in the Twenty-first Century" (published in 1999) Dr. Gardner talks about the possibility of a ninth intelligence, the existential intelligence, being added to the list. Since the existential intelligence seems to be a strong candidate, I would like to discuss it further here.

Dr. Gardner defines existential intelligence as "a concern with ultimate life issues." In "Intelligence Reframed" he describes the core ability of this intelligence as:

"the capacity to locate oneself with respect to the furthest reaches of the cosmos - the infinite and the infinitesimal - and the related capacity to locate oneself with respect to such existential features of the human condition as the significance of life, the meaning of death, the ultimate fate of the physical and psychological worlds, and such profound experiences as love of another person or total immersion in a work of art" (p. 60).

Gardner is not proposing a spiritual, religious or moral intelligence based on "truths" espoused by any individual, group or institution. In other words, he doesn't think some people have more existential intelligence because they say they've found an "ultimate truth" while others are less existentially intelligent because they don't say they have. Rather, Dr. Gardner sees that people vary in their concern for and ability to grapple with the ultimate questions of life such as: "Does God exist?" "Who am I?" "What is the purpose of life?" "Why is there evil?" "Why do bad things happen to good people?" "What happens after physical death?" "Where is humanity heading?" Gardner makes no assumptions about an ultimate answer to these questions. People often do have very different conceptions of what the nature of absolute truth might be.

Although the existential intelligence meets most of Gardner's 8 criteria for being an intelligence, it is not a perfect fit. Take the criteria of "Support from Psychometric Findings" for example. How do you obtain quantitative measures from standardized tests of experiences that are by definition non-quantitative? Also, how do you subject existential concerns to bioreductionism in the criteria for brain research?

Are you existentially intelligent? Take the following Existential Intelligence Self-Assessment to find out:

Existential Intelligence Self-Assessment

  • I think more about the meaning of life than most people I know.
  • I particularly like movies, plays, and other performances that involve existential themes.
  • I have been interested in the cosmic dimensions of life ever since I was a child.
  • I've had a special psychic, mystical, spiritual or other extraordinary experience that I can't explain rationally which has caused me to think about life in a much deeper way.
  • I like to spend time regularly meditating upon or thinking about the meaning of life, existence, God, death, or other existential themes.
  • I feel as though I am different than other people because of my preoccupation with getting answers to my existential questions.
  • I enjoyed getting into deep discussions about mystical, religious, spiritual, and/or philosophical issues with wise adults as a child.
  • I am, or have seriously thought about being, involved in a career that allows me to focus on existential issues with other people.
  • I like to read material, such as sacred texts and wisdom literature on spirituality or philosophy, that helps me think about existence in a more profound way.
  • I am involved in some type of inward discipline (such as meditation, prayer, self-inquiry, etc.) that creates a space for existential themes to be explored more deeply.

Below is a list of several vocations and avocations that especially draw upon the existential intelligence:

  • Bishop
  • Healer
  • Imam
  • Lama
  • Martial artist
  • Medicine man/woman
  • Minister
  • Pastor
  • Philosopher
  • Priest
  • Rabbi
  • Religious studies professor
  • Shaman
  • Sheik
  • Spiritual guru
  • Tai Chi Chuan practitioner
  • Theologian
  • Yogi


Below are some of the skills associated with the existential intelligence:

  • Being present
  • Channeling
  • Contemplating
  • Divining
  • Hypothesizing
  • Inquiring within
  • Intuiting
  • Meditating
  • Philosophizing
  • Praying
  • Questioning
  • Reflecting
  • Seeking answers
  • Self-observation
  • Speculating
  • Understanding sacred texts


MI Workshops and Classes

  • Check Classes Offered (under the Products & Services main menu button) for a description of the Multiple Intelligences workshops and classes I offer.
  • Check my Teaching Schedule (under the Products & Services main menu button) to find out when and where I am going to be offering upcoming workshops and classes on the Multiple Intelligences.

MI Consultations

  • As well as teach, I also give individual consultations on the Multiple Intelligences, as well as the other systems I use. If you would like more personalized attention I would love to assist you in any way that I can. That is why I do the work that I do! Go to Consultations for more information (under the Products & Services main menu button).

MI References and Links

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