Naturalist intelligence: what is it and what is it for?
The theory of multiple intelligences released by Howard Gardner has been, since it was disseminated in the 80s, one of the proposals for research and intervention in psychology that have generated the most interest at street level.
At first the types of intelligence proposed by Gardner were 7, but twelve years after the publication of the work that would make them known, the author presented another element for this list. It was naturalistic intelligence, also known as the eighth type of intelligence .
What is naturalistic intelligence?
Naturalist intelligence is the ability to categorize elements of the environment by recognizing their differences and the way in which they relate to each other , and to use this information to interact with them in a beneficial way.
The paradigm of this type of intelligence are naturalists and explorers such as Charles Darwin or Alexander von Humboldt, able to delve into natural environments, identify different animal and plant species, learn the defining characteristics of each and use this information for their own benefit .
Confusions around naturalistic intelligence
The naturalist intelligence is confused precisely by the reference to the natural world that is made in its conceptualization.
While in the definitions of the rest of the intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner, a lot of emphasis is placed on their condition of capacity for mental processes, the idea of naturalistic intelligence It seems to give a lot of importance to the type of information with which it works, and not only to what is done with that information . The formality of this intelligence is explained as a process, but it also talks about the specific contents it deals with: those elements of nature that we have to identify and take advantage of for our benefit, the anatomical particularities of each of the plants and animals that we examine, etc.
In other words, while we know that logical-mathematical intelligence will be activated whenever we consider a logical and mathematical challenge and that spatial intelligence will have a role whenever we conceive something that can be imagined in a two-dimensional plane or 3D, it seems that naturalistic intelligence will only work with a very specific type of content: those that would be linked to the natural environment or to all the life forms that come from them.
Immersion in the natural debate vs. artificial
Interestingly, understanding that naturalistic intelligence applies only to this type of content does not make its conceptualization more clear and delimited, but rather the opposite occurs.
In fact, to sustain this notion of what naturalistic intelligence is requires us to relate the debate of whether the theory of multiple intelligences is more or less scientifically valid with another discussion that has practically nothing to do: the philosophical dispute about what is the natural and the unnatural, and in what sense these two worlds are ontologically different from each other. For example, are the different types of vegetables something natural, since they have been profoundly altered over centuries and millennia of artificial selection? Or even ... are what we know today as animal species something natural, when many of these categories have been established from the genetic analysis (and therefore, "artificial") of its members and not so much from a direct observation of your anatomy?
This immersion in metaphysical waters makes it not too complicated to relate the naturalistic intelligence with the personal enjoyment of environments little altered by the human being or with mystical ideas such as the ability to empathize with life on the planet, the sensitivity when it comes to feel one with nature, etc.
The role of the natural in the eighth intelligence
However, and contrary to what is often believed, naturalist intelligence it does not refer only to flora, fauna and what we find in virgin environments . Part of this confusion could come from the fact that at first Gardner explained very vaguely what this new type of intelligence consisted of, dedicating only a few lines, and in them he did not talk as much about naturalistic intelligence as about "the intelligence of naturalists" .
The mentions to the natural environment served to create a powerful image that served to exemplify in a few lines what this new concept consisted of. So, although Gardner talked about the ability to get to know the natural environment well, clarified that as he understood it was also involved in the recognition and classification of all types of objects and artifacts : cars, shoes ...
That is why naturalistic intelligence would be defined, rather than being a reflection of our ability to learn from natural environments, as a reflection of our ability to learn about all kinds of environments and to interact appropriately with the elements that are available in them.
Validity of naturalistic intelligence and criticism
By making the concept of the natural take second place, the naturalist intelligence is left out of the complications and turbulences of the ontological nature-artificiality dilemmas, but there is another problem that does not escape: it seems to overlap with the other types of intelligence . Or, at least, with the linguistic intelligence (to conceptualize the identified elements), the logical-mathematical (to understand the hierarchies and categorizations) and the spatial intelligence (to apply this knowledge in a concrete environment and in real time).
The problem of the overlap between the types of intelligences proposed by Gardner does not come again and of course it does not concern only the naturalistic intelligence, but the nuclear idea of the theory of multiple intelligences, according to which these are mental capacities more isolated from each other than united forming a whole. So far, due to the lack of empirical evidence in favor of multiple intelligences and the good health with which the notion of a unified intelligence counts, the addition of this octave does not serve, for the moment, to reinforce the ideas of Howard Gardner.
- Gardner, Howard (1998). "A Reply to Perry D. Klein's 'Multiplying the problems of intelligence by eight'". Canadian Journal of Education 23 (1):
- Triglia, Adrián; Regader, Bertrand; and García-Allen, Jonathan (2018). "What is intelligence? From IQ to multiple intelligences". EMSE Publishing.