Big Think Interview With Howard Gardner

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Big Think Interview With Howard Gardner

the theory claims we all had these eight intelligences and people differ from one another and their profile of intelligences and there’s no necessary link between one intelligence and the other it also is based on the assumption that we wouldn’t have these intelligences if they hadn’t been valuable in human evolution example I like to use is that the we developed a naturalist intelligence so we knew what to eat and what not to eat and to be able to pay attention to which animals to run away from and which animals to hunt and of course which plants to eat and which ones so that mean there’s a reason why we’re sensitive the world of nature now most of us particular people who would watch this or they go to supermarkets and they don’t have to know anything about the wild but I think that the the neural networks which evolved to help us get around in the savannas of East Africa 50,000 years ago they’re now being used for a consumer society and we decide which shoes to buy which car to buy and we’re looking at the same kinds of things that our ancestors did but we’re doing it in terms of walking through a mall rest rather than walking through the running through the the savanna and hoping we won’t get keeping bias abide by some kind of a some kind of a creature the history unfolds as cultures evolve of course the intelligences which they value change I would say until a hundred years ago if you wanted to have higher education linguistic intelligence what was important was important I teach in Harvard in 125 years ago 150 years ago the entrance exams were Latin Greek and Hebrew and if for example you had you were dyslexic that would be very difficult because we hard for you to learn those languages which are basically written languages people don’t speak Greek when they when they learn later in ancient Greek then over the last century clearly the logical mathematical intelligence is something would pay a lot of attention to and the linguistic intelligence is a little bit more of an option but once one looks at the world of occupations we have hundreds of occupations and I think the reason that Dan Goldman’s work on social and emotional intelligence has got so much attention is because while your your IQ which is sort of language logic will get you behind the desk if you don’t know how to deal with people you’ve known how to be yourself you know you’re going to end up just staying at that desk forever or eventually being asked to make room for somebody who does have social or emotional intelligence and when the singularity occurs and the machines are smarter than we are then it’s the artistic kinds of intelligence or intelligence use artistic artistically to be more precise which will come to the fore I think you can talk about reformism in two senses one is it’s clear that when I developed this theory in the late 1970s I was trying to reform the way psychologists and other people think about intelligence so certainly I had an iconoclastic or reformist inclination there and I was kind of surprised one that the psychologist didn’t all line up in a row and say you’re right we’ve been wrong for a hundred years that somewhat physicians but I was surprised at how much interest there was within the educational world and there I would say gradually I switched from simply saying this is how I think the mind is organized and how it has developed to I think maybe there are things we should do things differently in education because of the theory and then really in the last 15 years I think I’ve become much more reformist because I’ve been concerned about the ethical dimensions of our society that doesn’t grow in any natural way out of multiple intelligences theory if we if I look at it somewhat autobiographically as a young person I was very much involved with music I was a serious pianist and while I never thought about a career in music music was and has been very important to me and then when I got to college I became interested in the other art forms and then I spent a year in England as a fellow and I really immersed myself in drama that’s great to do in theatre in London and art galleries and sort of expanded my artistic horizons and then when I be went to graduate school in psychology I was stunned at how the arts were never mentioned to be a developed person cognitively meant to be a scientist and to think scientifically and we could speculate about why that so but the first serious book I wrote was called the arts and human development and what I said in that book this is in the early

70s as all developmental psychology has thought of science as the apotheosis of human development yet science is a modern Western invention and we might will never have invented science and you had no Galileo and Copernicus and Newton on the other hand arts exist in just about every society and they’re very important so can we conceptualize development in terms the arts as well as the as the sciences nowadays nobody takes extreme positions on that issue maybe someday the press will learn not to take extreme decisions on the issue and I certainly believe that every intelligence has a genetic component how else would it exist and every intelligence has a certain heritability that’s the technical term for how much of the variation the population has to do with who you I was it with who your biological grandparents were because that’s a better set of genes than your parents because you’ve got four sets rather than then – we don’t know what the heritability is of most intelligences but from a lot of research we know that on the average human traits are about 0.5 heritable so you know that means that you know genes make big contribution but so do parents culture the media peers and so on I guess I’ve never put it this way before but maybe what I would say is you know the intelligence is that you favor probably ones where you have a genetic predisposition but how you use those intelligences is going to be overwhelmingly determined by the culture in which you’re born and your parents and what they value and whether you get along with your parents and that kind of thing so the deployment of intelligences is probably largely a nurture factor but you know if say by the BOK family had loved genes going for it in the music area and probably you know that was pre pre pretty likely that they were going to end up being musicians even if they hadn’t even if they’ve been so to speak separated at birth and they’ve been raised in another kind of family the first thing I would say is that life isn’t fair and some people are going to be strong a lot of intelligences and some people aren’t I think of the intelligence as a set of computers and if you wanted to summarize my theory in a sentence we used to think there was just one general computer in here if you were good at one thing you’d be good at everything if you’re lousy in one thing so kind of smarter across the board stupid across the board I think the the step I took I would call it in advance is you can be very smart with language average with music lousy with understanding other people or vice-versa there’s no necessarily correlation between the two but I think stupid has two very different connotations one is that your computer isn’t very good for example I’m very not biologically very good spatially but the truth is with a map and a position determiner and some special attention to the environment I can do perfectly perfectly well but I suppose if there were a test of spatial intelligence I wouldn’t do very well so one meaning for stupid is it takes you a long time to do what it takes other people who are smarter in that intelligence I mean I’m very musical especially when I was younger I heard something once not only didn’t could I remember it I couldn’t forget it and so that’s smart in that kind of a technical sense but the other sense of stupid what I think is much more important is how do you go about leading your life you know do you know what you’re trying to do can you achieve it when you make a mistake do you make the same mistake again or do you simply stick in a rut and you know that has to do with your own understanding of yourself what you’re trying to achieve what I call intra personal intelligence and I’d much rather to have somebody who was stupid in the first sense but had a good sense about how to negotiate their way through life then somebody who had the computers going full blast but kept knocking their head against a wall I make fun of Mensa I don’t know agreed to about Mensa that’s the high IQ group but I say you know to get into Mensa you have to have a high IQ and once you get in you spend your time congratulating people who are in Mensa with you to me that’s a pretty stupid way to spend your life course in American history but we’ve had periods of greed and we’ve had periods which were much more generous and I think we’re certainly have been in a period of incredible greed I think certainly dating back 20 or 30 years that’s not going to be changed overnight what I my perception is that what societies do is a co-occurrence of a set of ideas which are developed

usually by thinkers by think tanks and with charismatic leaders who can bring about those changes so to use things which most people could have access to I mean Franklin Roosevelt built very much on the ideas of the progressive Progressive Era which were developed in the teens and then people like Barry Goldwater Ronald Reagan Newt Gingrich built very much on the neoconservative ideas which were developed by William F Buckley in his National Review and other such thinkers in the 1950s and 60s what I’m hoping is that some genuinely progressive ideas some general liberal ideas ideas for example social entrepreneurship which have grown enormously in the last 10 or 20 years will intersect with a president who not only totally gets it but has a generous dollop of charisma I think what we’re realizing now is that this a significant part of the population tends to be more Republican than anything else who would rather destroy the presidency and the president then time to come to some kind of an a belief that the country can and should be should be different but it’s a huge educational effort education not just in a sense I do it but in terms not only of government but of private leaders of philanthropists opinion leaders and folks like me we’re in the trenches and they’re not going to be up there in the stage but who believe in this and try to try to work on it and Thomas Friedman who writes a lot about this clearly is searching for a mission for the United States because the United States has been essentially the world leader in the last century in terms of policies and of role models and he I think he realizes that now a lot of things we stand for is exactly what the world doesn’t want and doesn’t need I think of Obama doesn’t succeed hopefully he will serve two terms will be alive hopefully he’ll try if he doesn’t succeed I think it’s going to be I think it means the United States will be finished as a as a moral force in the world and maybe that’s okay after all I’m not running for office so I don’t think the United States is exceptional and I don’t think it has to be the moral leaders not only have countries like Denmark and Sweden that I know the best worked out the best kind of balance of individual initiative creativity entrepreneurship with some kind of a concern not only about the country but the rest of the world but the people there are much happier and I would love for someone to do a detailed study of the United States and particularly the people who are I’m going to call the destroyers to see what kind of understandings they really have of the other possibilities I’d love to know how many Americans have given the choice of one in a million becoming a trillionaire but actually much more likely at the age of 55 losing the job not being able to get another one and would matter what their insurance is the first time something bad happens they get bankrupt well making a little bit less money making somewhat higher taxes but knowing that the kids will have a decent education that there’s a safety net I’d like to know how many people would really rather choose the first because I don’t know I will say something which was a shock to me and shows that I’m very much out of the mainstream some years ago I wrote an article for foreign policy they said how could we change things for the better and I know they wanted me to write about education but I’m free country happily said I wrote about what I wanted and I said the average household makes about $40,000 a year I think that nobody in America should be allowed to keep more than four million dollars a year hundred times as much they can make as much as they want but anything above four million they either have to give back to the government or they have to set up a charity then I said well people make money for no more than 50 years so let’s multiply 4 million a year by 50 and we get the 200 million I said no American should be allowed to pass on to their progeny more than 200 million again they can make 200 trillion but everything beyond that 200 million a sizeable sum I think we would agree odd either to go to back to the government origin some kind of a 501c3 philanthropy I could not believe the Gulf I got from people who are wealthy people were average and truck drivers and cab drivers they all hated it because somehow I made it it’s mine and no one can take it away from me that’s insane it’s insane any analysis and yet I think that’s what we have breathin in our air probably to some extent over hundreds of years but certainly in that toxic Regan Gingrich what did Reagan say government is not the solution it’s the problem we’re that’s that’s the that’s the stuff we’ve been stuck we’ve been sniffing it isn’t

it isn’t marijuana it’s a it’s it’s that markets can do no wrong I’ve never met Obama I don’t know whether ever will but if I had 90 seconds with him in an elevator this is what I would say mr. president American society has been dominated by the three MS money markets and me and especially the young the best the brightest the students that I work with they want to be rich they believe totally in the market even though that’s a very complicated thing it’s all about me we have to switch them first of all 90 degrees to the three es which I hope will be visible on the camera excellence engagement and ethics that’s what I call good work good workers of people who know what they’re doing are engaged in it and try to do it in a responsible way and then we flip the e another 90 degrees to w-4 we you can’t ask other people to be good workers unless you do it yourself and join together to do good work is the replacement for money markets and me and the way that we spread excellence engagement and ethics I think that one of the good features about the United States since I’ve been bashing it is that it’s built into our DNA to take a chance and if we fail to try again and that’s why with the good in the bad Hollywood Wall Street in Silicon Valley all over the world our icons particularly for young people particularly young people with ambition and I can remember back thirty years or so ago I had a steady stream of people from East Asia Chinese Korean and Japanese saying we want to be creative tell us the 23 steps to being creative an order please and I kept saying it doesn’t work that way basically I don’t think I had the word startup I said you got to try something out try to get some other people to support you and if it doesn’t work what it what can you learn from it so I think it’s it’s in our it’s in our national DNA but creativity is completely neutral it can be used Osama bin Laden is very creative and he’s changed the history of the world but I mean I don’t think we really want to gender more Osama bin Laden’s Bill Gates is is very creative but twenty years ago a lot of us were pretty critical about him and I think so to speak he’s redeemed himself by what he’s done with his with with his resources so to me it’s really wedding hour say the the societal DNA for taking a chance with doing doing something in a responsible way one thing we have learned though from our research recently with young people and it’s kind of a surprise to me and these are again rather privileged young people is they’re quite risk-averse and this is especially in school they want to know what’s required of them what’s the right answer they don’t want to take any chances there and I even wonder if you take a look at Wall Street and the the major peccadilloes of the last 10 years or so whether the young people were kind of getting signals from their bosses about what what’s what they’re supposed to doing what they can do so that’s a that’s a rather different view of creativity than Thomas Edison alone in his lab you know coming coming up with new ideas and and trying them out so I guess this with this soliloquies is convincing me of is creativity isn’t kind of a fixed entity over the time and over the over the mill year and clearly the the secret is to is to bottle up what what we’ve done well but not to assume that it’s going to be done exactly you creativity used to be sitting alone in a garret in Paris or tinkering with your test tubes in New Jersey or being a patent officer in in Baron Switzerland and now it’s global and how that takes place when everybody’s connected to everybody else when any artwork can be initially not only transmitted but morphed and photoshopped and flickered and message messed around and so on when we need to have different analytic tools than we had in the days of solitary creativity what’s interesting in our own study is we have what we call the good play project which is about kids and and computers is that every child of a young person is wired now and most older people as well the overwhelming uses either social networking which is basically hanging around the front of school but doing it now 24/7 wherever you are gaming some games are intellectually challenging but a lot of them are just can you get the other guy before he gets you there

usually guys then and here I’m talking about the work of Mimi Ito in particular there’s some what we call messing around where people have ideas and interests and pursue them a bit but the way in my day I would write a book about something and talk to some people than read got another way and then there there’s you know what what’s called geeking or geeking out people getting seriously interested in things and that’s still a small percentage of the population whether it’s bigger than before and I can’t judge and the I haven’t hold enough to have lived through the promises the educational promises of radio television the film strip DVDs CDs and so on of course school hasn’t changed very much I do believe that the new digital media would change education radically and they’ll change workplace radically Wiki government by simone novak argues very persuasively that in things like giving a patent we can make use of expertise in the population and in fact it’s probably imperative because they’re way too many applications and the Patent Office is overwhelmed it takes years for it to make a decision and they only almost always say yes because they don’t have a good argument to say no now if you simply were to post an idea for an invention and let everybody in the world say whether it should be patented that’s nonsense because 99% of people would have no idea about how to analyze it and wouldn’t have the knowledge to know whether it was original or not so the idea of wiki government and it seems to work in the patent area is that people have to be technical enough to be able to read the stuff and to be able to comment in a appropriate way and ultimately raters themselves will be rated the way there are an ebay so if john smith pipes up all the time but what he has to say is nonsense he gets a very low rating and the decision in the end is made by the US Patent Office and they see which people to pay attention to and which not that seems to me on the face of it to be a plan where it taking seriously on the other hand all you would need to have three multinationals who decide to corrupt the process by pretending to fakery the way many people on the left and the right have thousands of emails sent to a political candidate and if the clinical candidate isn’t sharp they think it’s their their own constituents rather than you know IBM or whatever paying for it this badou gaming the system is not going to disappear just because some people have a good idea of how to use latex / tees well I give an honest answer number one is I sleep very well number two I’m much more likely to be kept up by family kinds of problems especially ones which I think that I should be able to solve that I can then by by cosmic problems but what gets me to work each day and I think that’s the deeper question that you’re asking is whether there’s anything that I can do in any particular role to nudge upward the the amount of good work that’s done work that’s excellent engaging in ethical and I made a big decision five or six years ago to begin to work much more with young students secondary students college students trying to get them to think about ethical issues at a time when they aren’t already having to hit a payroll and do what the boss says and I’m still feeling my way I’ve worked at three colleges and my team has worked at many many secondary schools all over the world and I wouldn’t at all say that we’ve discovered the magic way of doing it but I’m a great believer that people cannot deal with any kind of complex issue unless they’ve had to engage and think about it discuss it roleplay and so on and when I began a good work project with my colleagues one of them bill Damon said if I could cure cancer bill said I would he said I can’t I think working a good work is the most important thing that I can do and I agree with him I think that’s the most important thing that I can do and I try to use everything he including this one to raise people’s consciousness about it I mean the problem has story historically was people could be very bad workers and they could destroy their society but the rest of the planet would survive now we’re all we ended all together you know whether it’s a disease or money or human beings we circulate all around the world somebody who wants to do mischief could destroy the planet it could destroy all the people on it and unless we develop the good work muscle regionally locally nationally and internationally there won’t be a plan that’s pretty easy because whenever I describe IQ tests I say that IQ tests take have a combination of language and

logic and if you do well in language and logic if you can combine them you’ll have a high IQ and I say that’s a selector for who will be a law professor and I then mentioned Bill Clinton Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama who all three of them were law professors and clearly they have the IQ kind of intelligence it’s absolutely clear to me that Obama has enormous intrapersonal intelligence his book Dreams to my father is an amazing book and it’s obviously everybody has lots of control personal intelligence but here’s the here’s the big question we don’t know and that is um what is this existential intelligence like existential intelligence is one that I use kind of playfully and that’s the interest in big questions there’s no doubt that he’s interested in these himself but it’s not clear to what extent he’s such a pragmatist that he will lose that sense of mission that bigger story John Kennedy really achieved nothing practically as president but he had enormous power to excite people to motivate them to think differently and that’s why we still remember him you know 50 years after the fact and I’m not sure speaking now in September of oh nine whether the existential intelligence which Obama clearly has in his own life is something that he can mobilize more I mean you know Ronald Reagan was able to mobilize that I don’t like what he did but there was no question that he helped people think about meaning and we thought that Obama could but it’s a it’s just not clear at this point Derek Bock who is the president of Harvard used to have this quote I don’t know that it’s originally with him which is if you think education is expensive try estimating the cost of ignorance and the truth is until century or so ago formal education for the elite was fine but there was really no need to educate the mass of society at least beyond the basic literacies but now it is completely obvious that unless people are not only educated to a higher level but want to continue to learn actually motivated to continue to learn don’t feel it’s a gun to their head that there will not be very useful to themselves or to their society the problem is that a small proportion of the population gets a very good education at the short end I would say the International Baccalaureate crowd which is a kind of Education which elites are able to get whether or not they belong to the IB but of course that’s expensive education and it presupposes a lot of parental and teacher support in large parts of the world that’s just not not a practical reality and that’s why people who are in policy which I don’t think about much more macro things ranging from One Laptop Per child toward making sure that women are able to go to school to ensuring that the country isn’t last on some kind of international comparison and we can’t think about education in that is as if it’s were as if it were just one thing my focus has been on educational aspirations but that’s an ideal and I’m quite aware that it’s easier to achieve at Phillips Academy Andover than it is in a one-room schoolhouse in Bangladesh with 60 kids not enough food to heat and if I can close with one sentence I think that the major problem with the No Child Left Behind policy which is completely bipartisan policy is it uses the country to solve the problems of inner city Detroit or DC and that’s just mixing apples and oranges the way I’ve put it the problem in the inner-city is excellence the problem in the heartland is engagement the problem among the elites