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human history, maybe the notion that there is only one way to teach, learn, think, and assess human potentials is a bit outdated.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.