Are smart people smart in all regards? Is somebody who is book smart also street smart? I think we’d all agree that the answer to these questions is “no”. We have a stereotype of “pointy headed intellectuals who can’t park a bicycle straight”. In fact, here’s a recent story of a very smart college professor who did something very stupid and landed in a jail in Argentina. And yes, it involves a bikini model.
One problem with our measures of intelligence — IQ mainly — is that they may be culturally biased. A deeper problem is that they really only measure System 2 — the slow thinking portion of our brain. (For an introduction to Systems 1 and 2, click here). System 2 is deliberate, slow, and requires a lot of energy. We have to invoke it and focus it to make it work effectively. System 1, on the other hand, is fast, efficient, automatic, and always on. If you’ve ever experienced highway hypnosis, your System 1 was driving the car while your System 2 was thinking of more important things.
System 1 makes the vast majority of our decisions for us. It recognizes patterns and makes decisions. If a pattern is confusing or unrecognizable, System 1 may call on System 2 to review the evidence and render a more considered decision. Or it may just jump to a conclusion on its own. You never know. You can’t get through the day without System 1 — you would exhaust yourself if you made every decision using System 2.
So System 1 makes most of our decisions but IQ tests only evaluate System 2. There’s something amiss here. We measure how smart someone is — in a bookish or academic sense — but we don’t measure how rational they are.
Can we measure how rational a person is? Kevin Stanovich thinks so. Stanovich coined the term “dysrationalia” which is defined as “the inability to think and act rationally despite adequate intelligence.” There’s some debate as to whether this is a thinking disorder or a learning disability (after all, you can get good grades and still be irrational). But something seems to be going on and Stanovich tries to put his finger on it in his book, What Intelligence Tests Miss. Stanovich essentially argues that IQ tests (and college entrance exams) don’t measure judgment or effective decision making.
We may think of good judgment as an element of intelligence but Stanovich argues that it’s different and needs to be measured differently. He proposes a Rationality Quotient or RQ test. As Sally Adee points out in New Scientist, such a test would aim “to assess our ability to transcend cognitive bias.” In other words, it’s our ability to override the heuristics and biases of System 1. Adee continues that rationality comes from metacognition, “…the ability to assess the validity of you own knowledge. People with high RQ have acquired strategies that boost this self-awareness.” As an aside, this is exactly what I teach in my critical thinking classes.
The RQ is not finished yet and it probably won’t be for a while. It will take some amount of time to gain agreement on what such a test should include and then validate it in many different situations. Indeed, it may even be difficult to decide what “rational” really means. What’s rational to one person may seem insane to another. In fact, that’s a good question: what’s your definition of rationality?
When driving home from a party, I may ask Suellen a question like, “Why did Pat make that cutting remark about Kim?” Suellen will then launch into a thorough exegesis about relationships, personal histories, boyfriends, girlfriends, children, parents, gardening, the nature of education, and the tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. In the end, it will all make sense — even to me, a socially challenged kind of guy.
Suellen is great at answering questions like these. It’s often referred to as social or emotional intelligence. It’s about people and relationships and empathy. I’m generally better at academic intelligence and questions like how do you calculate the volume of a sphere? (I don’t mean to say that I’m better at academic intelligence than Suellen is … but that I’m better at academic intelligence than I am at social intelligence. I hope that’s clear… I wouldn’t want my lack of social intelligence to lead me to insult my own wife.)
For me, two intelligences — academic and social — have been quite enough. But not for Howard Gardner. In Five Minds for the Future, Gardner suggests that there are five different intelligences and, if education is to succeed in the future, we need to teach them all.
I’m fairly well versed in the tenets of critical thinking. Now I’m trying to understand Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. Why? Because I’d like to mash up critical thinking and multiple intelligences. I’m wondering if critical thinking works the same way in each intelligence. Can you think critically in say, academic intelligence, while thinking uncritically in social intelligence? That’s certainly the stereotype of the absent-midned professor.
To mash up critical thinking and the five minds, let’s first look at Gardner’s theory. The five minds are:
Disciplined mind — to master the way of thinking associated with a specific discipline — say, economics, psychology, or mathematics. I think (hope) it’s also broader than that. I’m certainly trained in the Western way of thinking. I categorize and classify things without even thinking about it. I’m now looking at Zen as a different way of thinking — one that destroys categories rather than creates them. That’s certainly a different discipline.
Synthesizing mind — the ability to put it altogether. Gardner points out that memorization was important in times characterized by low literacy. In today’s era of Big Data, synthesis is much more important and memorization much less important.
Creating mind — proposing new ideas, fresh questions, unexpected answers. As I’ve noted before in this blog, a new idea is often a mashup of multiple existing ideas. To propose something that doesn’t exist, you need to be well versed in what does exist.
Respectful mind — “… notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups….” This is very similar to the concept of fair mindedness as used in critical thinking. This could be our first mashup.
Ethical mind — how can we serve purposes beyond self-interest and how can “citizens…work unselfishly to improve the lot of all.” Again, this is quite similar to concepts used in critical thinking, including ethical thinking and the ability to overcome egocentric thinking.
Today, I simply want to introduce Gardner’s five minds. In future posts, I’ll try to weave together critical thinking, Gardner’s concepts of multiple intelligences, and the Hofstedes’ research on the five dimensions of culture. I hope you’ll tag along.
By the way, the volume of a sphere in 4/3∏r³.