Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Understandings of Human Potentials--Introduction

Today there is a growing recognition among educators, neuroscientists, psychologists and concerned others that human beings possess a range of potentials, intelligences and capacities that cannot be easily identified, quantified and developed by “conventional” understandings. As we try to make sense of incredibly complex human nature and immensely violent human history, maybe the notion that there is only one way to teach, learn, think, and assess human potentials is a bit outdated. The challenge for our generation could be to find new ways to ascertain universal individual potentials and to implement different ways of learning which are appropriate to each person so as to make them thoroughly aware of, and help them fully realize their precious potentials.

Many great contemporary thinkers have offered insights about the nature of human potentials and their continual flourishing. During this month, we will discuss ideas of some of those thinkers and ascertain their value for human education and growth. We begin with Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner who is most famous for his conception and development of the theory of Multiple Intelligences.

According to Gardner, there are at least seven distinct intelligences, and each can be linked to its own neurological substrate in the brain: linguistic intelligence (sensitivity to the spoken and written word and the ability to master languages), logical-mathematical intelligence (the capacity to analyze problems logically and scientifically), musical intelligence (skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of music), bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (as exemplified by dancers, surgeons, and artists), spatial intelligence (characteristic of pilots, graphic artists, and architects), interpersonal intelligence (a talent for understanding and relating to other people) and intrapersonal intelligence (the capacity for understanding oneself). Gardner also considers several new candidate intelligences — spiritual, moral, existential, and naturalist.

Although human beings are naturally equipped with a variety of complex and powerful potentials, most of our potentials remain untapped or unequally developed. In the words of Anais Nin, "We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations."

Why human beings sometimes grow in one dimension and not in another? What is the relationship between nature of stimuli and type of growth? How can we maximize and measure development in our evolving potentials? How many intelligences can one optimally develop in a short lifetime? What is the difference between an educated mind and an enlightened being?

Please join us this month for a conversation where we hope to discuss and discern the nature and flourishing of complex human potentials from interdisciplinary, cross-cultural and humane perspectives.


Anonymous said...

The difference between the educated mind and the enlightened mind:

The educated mind has been indoctinated in the values of its society. The enlightened mind(instinctively perhaps) looks beyond societal values to a higher set of values which could clash with societal values.

Education does not equal enlightenment.

Anonymous said...

Why human beings sometimes grow in one dimension and not in another? What is the relationship between nature of stimuli and type of growth?

The notion of developing various psychological potentials, or nature of stimuli and type of growth reminds me of a Native American folk tale....

One evening, an elderly Native American told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

He said, "My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil... anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed and ego.

The other is Good... joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked, "Which wolf wins?"

The old man simply replied, "The one you feed."

Anonymous said...

The most universal set of values is "The Golden Rule" (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) which occurs in many different societies.It is also ignored in many different societies.

A culturally specific set of values, for example, could be hunting. Native Americans killed only what they needed for food or clothing and made offerings to the spirit of the animal. Contrast this to the aerial gunning of wolves for sport in Alaska or the canned hunts in upper NYS of zoo-raised animals, with correspondingly no fear of man, who are slaughtered humans thatthey were raised to trust only because the hunters like killing things.

Anonymous said...

Why Golden Rule is ignored in many societies speaks volumes about polarities in human nature. Hannah Arendt who wrote about the causes of the Holocaust, suggested the notion of "banality of evil," which I think is an important concept when it comes to explaining the unconsciousness that humans manifest in ignoring the Golden Rule.

Human nature is nothing if not contradictory. Different thinkers have focused on partial aspects of being human. Humans exhibit will to power (Nietzsche, Adler, Foucault etc), will to pleasure (Freud), will to meaning (Jung, Frankl). Which potential predominates depends upon what is fed and nourished by self and culture.

Anonymous said...

Abraham Maslow in the 20th century and now Howard Gardner have without doubt done a great service, in expanding conceptions of not only what it means to be intelligent, but also what it means to be fully human. By offering a more wholesome conception of being human and opening up the possibilities of nurturing much more than merely verbal and mathematical intelligence (imagine the provincialism of SATs, GREs etc), Gardner has compellingly given every human being a new hope and a fresh promise for the embellishment of life.

But Gardner is not only known worldwide for his ground breaking theory of seven plus intelligences. After reading his book “Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds,” I never take disagreement or difference of opinion with anyone in the same light. How difficult it is to change someone’s mind cannot be fully comprehended without taking into consideration the “seven levers” that Gardner proposes are integrally involved in changing minds: 1. Reason; 2. Research; 3. Resonance; 4. Representational Rediscriptions; 5. Resources and Rewards; 6. Real World Events; and 7. Resistances.

The seven levers of mind change also explain why clash of civilizations is not just a competition and conflict over valuable resources but also a clash of ideas that have been embedded in the human mind by forces of propaganda, custom, tradition and culture. Only truth shall make us free. We need books not bombs.

Anonymous said...

I will agree that the educated mind is an indoctrinated mind; on the other hand, the enlightened mind is one that functions within the society, recognizing the play of cognition but knowing that beneath our learned behavior there is a YOU that never changes.

Nomi said...

"beneath our learned behavior there is a YOU that never changes."

And Descartes would have agreed with you but perhaps not the majority of modern scientists. The idea of a timeless, formless, transpersonal, transcendental “Soul” is not welcome in the debates of academia. Today's science seems to suggest that brain equals mind and there is no need for invoking the existence of a soul to explain what could otherwise be explained by the complex but knowable operations of the brain. However, the enigma of Consciousness remains a profound and perennial mystery. According to Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University, David Chalmers, "Consciousness poses the most baffling problems in the science of the mind. There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain. All sorts of mental phenomena have yielded to scientific investigation in recent years, but consciousness has stubbornly resisted...Some have been led to suppose that the problem is intractable, and that no good explanation can be given."

Some books such as "Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything"
by Ervin Laszlo, “The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul” by Mario Beauregard, and “The Spectrum of Consciousness” by Ken Wilber make a case for transpersonal, transcendental dimensions of Consciousness.

Wilber perhaps is one of the most widely read Amercian philosphers of Consciosuness in modern times. He suggests that Consciousness comes in a "spectrum," and Freud and Jung are both "right" - they are simply tuned in to different "bands" of the spectrum or different "frequencies" of the same underlying phenomenon: that of the universal Mind or universal Soul.

The universal Mind is a "spectrum" of Consciousness that shades from complete un-Consciousness on one end, through the various levels of egoism, existentialism and transpersonalism, all the way to complete Consciousness, or Enlightenment, at the other end of the spectrum.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Ken Wilber subscribing to Vedantic metaphysics in his ideas about evolution of Consciousness and attaining Enlightenment? Vedanta is just one system of thought. Other systems such as Abrahimic traditons have come to a very different view of an evolved human being or enlightenment.

Here is a Wilber quote:

“Being and consciousness exist as a spectrum, reaching from matter to body to mind to soul to Spirit. And although Spirit is, in a certain sense, the highest dimension or the level of the spectrum of existence, it is also the ground and the condition of the entire spectrum. It is as if Spirit were both the highest rung on the ladder of existence, and the wood out of which the entire ladder is formed. Spirit is both Ground and Goal. In its immanent aspect, Spirit is the Condition of all conditions… In its transcendent aspect, however, Spirit is the highest rung on our own ladder of growth and evolution. It is something we must work to comprehend, to understand, to attain union with, to identify with. The realization of our Supreme Identity with Spirit dawns only after much growth, much development, much evolution, and much inner work, only then we do understand that the Supreme Identity was there, from the beginning, perfectly given in its fullness.”

Anonymous said...

"And although Spirit is, in a certain sense, the highest dimension or the level of the spectrum of existence, it is also the ground and the condition of the entire spectrum. It is as if Spirit were both the highest rung on the ladder of existence, and the wood out of which the entire ladder is formed. Spirit is both Ground and Goal. In its immanent aspect, Spirit is the Condition of all conditions… In its transcendent aspect, however, Spirit is the highest rung on our own ladder of growth and evolution."

If according to Ken Wilber, God or Spirit waa also the wood out of which the whole ladder is formed, how do we explain the problem of evil...?

Is God willing to prevent
evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and
willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor
Then why call him God?

Nomi said...

"Isn't Ken Wilber subscribing to Vedantic metaphysics in his ideas about evolution of Consciousness and attaining Enlightenment?" 12:23

Different cultures/traditions/regions subscribe to different (sometimes contradictory) metaphysical systems and ideas as they tend to offer answers to some of the most fundamental questions of existence. Metaphysics connotes what is beyond sense-data. Such metaphysical claims cannot be subject to the Verifiability Principle of Logical Positivism. So mystery of life persists.

However, instead of endlessly and fruitlessly arguing about metaphysical claims of different religions and cultures, one can always focus on what we have some significant scientific evidence for. The works of some of the great developmental/educational psychologists such as Howard Gardner, Abraham Maslow, John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Jerome Kagan, Roger Walsh, Robert Kegan, Lev Vygotsky, Erik Erikson, James Mark Baldwin, Jerome Bruner, Carol Giligan etc. are quite illuminating.

In the area of existential/spiritual understanding and growth, the works of Dalai Lama, Ken Wilber, Rupert Sheldrake, Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert of Harvard), David Bohm, Adyashanti, Thich Nhat Hanh, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Teasdale, Wayne Dyer, Michael Murphy, Lama Surya Das, Idries Shah, A.H. Almaas (aka Hameed Ali), Thomas Keating, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Susanne Cook-Greuter, Genpo Roshi, Sally Kempton, Diane Hamilton Sensei, Frances Vaughan etc. are quite relevant to our troubled times. No wonder meditation research is flourishing at a dozen universities, including Harvard and Princeton.

The cross-cultural evidence that human beings can develop their deeper analytical, psychological and spiritual potentials through proper intention, education and practice trumps perennial metaphysical quarrels. Ken Wilber rightly asks: Has nature labored these billions of years just to bring forth this egoic mouse?

Nomi said...

“how do we explain the problem of evil...?”

The question of human evil has forever baffled philosophers, theologians, psychologists, historians, educators of all persuasions and nations and still does. In the discussion of higher human potentials, one cannot avoid acknowledging the good along with the evil, if one has to do justice to the facts of history and modernity. We are in the midst of evil as always. Human beings are committing tragedies and atrocities upon one another with the same preparedness, ferocity, enthusiasm and carelessness that have always marked our species. War and violence have been constants of human history. When we think of evil, we first think of large-scale horrors. We think of the organized violence, and the World Wars, the Holocaust in Europe, the Gulags of Stalin’s Soviet Union, and genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda. But equally horrifying things happen on a smaller scale. All over the world rapes, tortures and assaults have always been part of everyday life. Is it human nature or human nurture?

Large scale horrors such as the Holocaust require efficient interaction of a variety of peoples, processes and personalities. Philosopher /political theorist Hannah Arendt has raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of banality—the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction. Large-scale totalitarian evil is characterized by such banality, and is not without strong evidence from across cultures and historic epochs. Can we say that human children are not sufficiently educated to understand the human condition objectively but are rather prepared and propagandized to passively accept the power politics of their respective groups and nations?

C.S. Lewis expressed a similar thought when he said, “the greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ´dens of crime´ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fine fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”

From Haim Ginott, a Holocaust survivor : “My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and killed by high school and college graduates. So I'm suspicious of education. My request is: help your students to be human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading and writing and spelling and history and arithmetic are only important if they serve to make our students more human.”

There is no doubt that the potentials for intellectual, psychological, spiritual growth are not as fully realized among the majority of modern humanity as are the potentials for fallacy, ferocity and prejudice.

No time like the present to reinvent education and redefine the meaning of life in the light of what science has now verified but history has always known. “I believe,” suggests Howard Gardner, “that the brain has evolved over millions of years to be responsive to different kinds of content in the world. Language content, musical content, spatial content, numerical content etc. The single most important contribution education can make to a child's development is to help him towards a field where his talents best suit him, where he will be satisfied and competent. We've completely lost sight of that. We evaluate everyone along the way according to whether they meet that narrow standard of success. We should spend less time ranking children and more time helping them identify their natural competencies and gifts, and cultivate those. There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to succeed and many, many different abilities that will help you get there.” Heraclitis was right: Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

Anonymous said...

I don't underestimate the power of meditation in developing one's spiritual intelligence. Just as development of mathematical intelligence requires theoretical knoweldge and practical experience, it is the same with spiritual intelligence. But sitting on the cushion is not the only way to meditate. Even Richard Dawkins is a contemplative, in awe of the beautiful mystery around. Otherwise why would he pen the following thought: “After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with color, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked—as I am surprisingly often—why I bother to get up in the mornings.”

Nomi said...

Richard Dawkins is looking at the universe with only two eyes: the 'eye of flesh' (empiricism), and the 'eye of reason' (rationalism). But maybe there is a third eye, the 'eye of contemplation' which genuine and disciplined meditators of all great wisdom traditions have discovered (seeing is believing), be it non-theistic Buddhist tradition or theistic Abrahimic tradition etc. Maybe it's not about belief or non-belief in God or Satan, its about evolution of consciousness which does not depend on symbols of any system but on the process of going deep within, the process of opening the inner eye.

That is what Wilber points out as the universal essence of all true spiritual traditions, of seeking, discovering, and finally embodying the Spirit within: "There are four major stages of spiritual unfolding: belief, faith, direct experience, and permanent adaptation: you can believe in Spirit, you can have faith in Spirit, you can directly experience Spirit, you can become Spirit. Meditation is not primarily uncovering the repressed unconscious, but allowing the emergence of higher domains... The point, of course, is to take up a meditation practice as the only sound and balanced way to proceed. If you are interested in genuine transformative spirituality, find an authentic spiritual guide and begin practice. Without practice, you will never move beyond the phases of belief, faith, and random peak experiences. You will never evolve into plateau experiences, nor from there into permanent adaptation. You will remain, at best, a brief visitor in the territory of your own higher estate, a tourist of you own true Self.”

Maybe that is what Marcel Proust meant when he said that the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

Nomi said...

Richard Dawkins is a jnana yogi (reason/knowledge) but does not see it that way. In a sense, different yoga practices (hatha yoga, jnana yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, kriya yoga etc) can also be understood as processes for stimulating different types of intelligences. A particular yoga practice can stimulate more than one intelligence. A particular intelligence can be influenced by more than one type of yoga practice.

Howard Gardner's bodily-kinesthetic intelligence can be stimulated by hatha yoga, logical-mathematical intelligence is conceptually the same as practicing jnana yoga, evolving interpersonal intelligence is akin to practicing karma yoga, intrapersonal intelligence has correspondences with kriya yoga, and so on. Can we say that science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive but two distinct frequencies/bands on the same spectrum of consciousness?

Nomi said...

In our times, Howard Gardner and Ken Wilber, among many others, have offered a holistic vision of human growth and development which embraces and honors science and spirituality in the same breath. Developing a mind of a scientist and cultivating a heart of a mystic exist as natural and universal potentials for all individual human beings. What William James glimpsed with psychedelic mushrooms, it seems Ken Wilber safely attained and permanently realized with the right kind of “requisite stimulus”--meditation.

William James wrote in his “The Varieties of Religious Experience”: Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness... No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question...At any rate, they forbid our premature closing of accounts with reality.

The following quotes from Ken Wilber make the case for disciplined meditation to discover our deeper consciousness, even more persuasive:

Meditation, then, is not so much a part of this or that particular religion, but rather part of the universal spiritual culture of all humankind--an effort to bring awareness to bear on all aspects of life. It is, in other words, part of what has been called the perennial philosophy.

The mystics ask you to take nothing on mere belief. Rather, they give you a set of experiments to test in your own awareness and experience. The laboratory is your own mind, the experiment is meditation. Please let that be your guide. And I believe that you will find, if your practice matures, that Spirit will reach down and bless your every word and deed, and you will be taken quite beyond yourself, and the Divine will blaze with the light of a thousand suns, and glories upon glories will be given unto you, and you will in every way be home. And then, despite all your excuses and all your objections, you will find the obligation to communicate your vision. And precisely because of that, you and I will find each other.

Anonymous said...

This discussion is suddenly more relevant now after Bill Maher's ridiculous new movie Religilous. The movie is missing the whole basic point of religion and shows how limited Maher's research and perspective are, and how unconscious his hostility towards authority. What else is self-congratulatory narcissism. He is a fundamentalist too but of a different persuasion which happens to be as false as the current soul-less beliefs of religions.

This is what Maher is missing--one cardinal dimension of religion is the Interiors of Consciousness. By bad-mouthing and making fun of the fallacious mind and propagandized belief systems of underdeveloped religious human beings, one cannot deny what mystics of all epochs regardless of their religious inclinations EXPERIENCED in their interiors. Then the limitations of language and the politics of the tribe got in the way of transcendental truth. That is why inner development is a solitary and individual affair. No religious symbol system can do the “inner work” that is necessary for attaining that state of being called the Buddha Mind, the Christ/Krishna Consciousness, aka Satori, Samadhi, Nirvana, Kensho, Fana in different religious systems.

Religions also comprise the essential meditational practices, the pointing out instructions to discover the latent state of infinity within which cannot be expressed in words and beliefs. The founders of all great religions had that particular experience of the Divine which is humanity's finest hidden potential. Instead of making fun of religions, Bill Maher will do much better to broaden his research and perhaps read William James and Ken Wilber and Evelyn Underhill (i.e. comparative understanding of mystical consciousness) what his fundamentalism might never allow him too. That is what Ken Wilber meant when he wrote about rehabilitating the interior.

'Thus our task is not specifically to reintroduce spirituality and somehow attempt to show that modern science is becoming compatible with God. That approach, which is taken by most of the integrative attempts, does not go nearly deep enough in diagnosing the disease, and thus, in my opinion, never really addresses the crucial issues.
'Rather, it is the rehabilitation of the interior in general that opens the possibility of reconciling science and religion.'

Nomi said...

This is an excellent point. Fourteen of Hitler's closest associates had PhD's from top European universities of the time. Even a philosopher like Hiedeggar, supposedly committed to the universal notions of truth, beauty and goodness, could not resist his tribal instincts, nationalistic fervor, and childhood conditioning, and publicly sided with Hitler.

One wonders if one can ever be safe from the influences of group-identity that create unconscious preferences for a particular pedagogy, politician, priest or a policy. I agree that "education" is mostly indoctri-nation that takes place inside the boundaries (geographical, religious, cultural and psychological) of a nation, for the most part. And some boundaries are lifelong.

Can you perhaps give an example of a "higher set of values" which can be adhered to by citizens of the world. Do you have a personal experience of struggling with cultural or universal notions of education and enlightenment? Because even "higher set of values" which supposedly should transcend the values of a society could be limited if they belong to a particular system of thought at a given time in history, or perhaps reflect an unconscious bias.

"The human being knows itself," claims Wilhelm Dilthey, "only in history, never through introspection."

Perhaps no one system of thought can encompass the whole truth at all times in an infinite universe. Are we in the realm of a paradox? Krishnamurti said something to the effect that enlightenment is a pathless land. Are there any set of potentials which can be cultivated to realize a "unity consciousness?"