The Ninth Intelligence

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In Howard Gardner’s catalog of Multiple Intelligences, the Ninth Intelligence is the rarest of them all.

Monument to Plato, Academy at Athens

Gardner calls it Existential Intelligence. Other candidate names are Spiritual Intelligence, Theological Intelligence, Religious Intelligence, Priestly Intelligence, Prophetic Intelligence, Mystical Intelligence, Kabbalistic Intelligence, Transcendent Intelligence, Metaphysical Intelligence, Ethical Intelligence, MetaCognition, Sustainability Intelligence, Cybernetic Intelligence, Pattern Thinking, and (my favorite) Systems Intelligence.

Other related terms include Intuition, Visionary Insight, Mindfulness, Wisdom, Enlightenment, and Consilience.

Of all these flavors of the Ninth Intelligence, I prefer Systems Intelligence because it expressly exhibits the System Models and the calculus of their solution for Ethical Best Practices under an express Value System.

In the video below, Nora Bateson tells the compelling story of her father, Gregory Bateson, a venerated pioneer of Systems Thinking.

An Ecology Of MindGregory Bateson


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  1. Geoffrey Dodd

    Barry Kort, I think I’ve had this working – especially since, at the age of 18 years, I read Dr Abraham Maslow’s books – and it has been a “differentiator” that has made social adaptations tricky, to say the least…..when most people are NOT thinking in an INTEGRAL way…. e.g. I, like you, don’t imagine all those divisive boundaries between the disciplines….!! I see analogies everywhere and a Oneness… as e.g. spiritual psychology…

  2. Tom Christensen

    In the Prof. Clare W. Graves circle of inquiry, these diff names apply to cognitive capacities that coemerge with the 7th level of Cognitive Maturation, usually referred to as “Second Tier” cognition. Systems thinking is only one capacity. Here is a paper I wrote articulating those capacities that have been named to date. After reading Jean Gebser, The Ever Present Origin, I was drawn to add another, Transtemporal Cognition:

    • Barry Kort

      I gather that “Second Tier Cognition” nominally corresponds to MetaCognition.

  3. Barry Kort

    Howard Gardner reviews the first eight intelligences in the first half of this video.

    In the second half (starting at 4:57), Gardner describes the Ninth and Tenth Intelligences in his catalog, which he calls Existential Intelligence and Pedagogical (Teaching) Intelligence, respectively.

  4. Barry Kort

    When a culture is impoverished in the Ninth Intelligence, it tends to engage in foolish, unwise, and unsustainable practices.

    Agnotology is the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. The neologism was coined by Robert N. Proctor, a Stanford University professor specializing in the history of science and technology.

  5. Barry Kort

    The term of art, “Systems Thinking,” emerged in the middle of the 20th Century, but the kind of thinking that falls under the modern rubric of “Systems Thinking” isn’t a new kind of thinking. One can find practitioners of this kind of thinking throughout human history, dating back to the dawn of civilization, some 6000 years ago. Among these, consider a version that emerged during the Age of Enlightenment, three or four centuries ago. In 1840, William Whewell summarized “The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences” and gave it a name: “Consilience.”

    In 1998, E.O. Wilson revived this long-forgotten term of art in his seminal tome, “Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.”

  6. Sam

    “systems intelligence” or “systems thinking” is a natural habit of those who have learned to think mathematically…
    to these people it is not a “novel new way to think” or a “novel intelligence”

    • Barry Kort

      Howard Gardner only added the Ninth Intelligence long after he had the first 8. He called it Existential Intelligence, which I observe to be an application of Systems Thinking (e.g. Model-Based Reasoning).

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