“Existential intelligence might be manifest in someone who is concerned with fundamental questions about existence, or who questions the intricacies of existence.”
Existential intelligence can be defined as the ability to be sensitive to, or have the capacity for, conceptualizing or tackling deeper or larger questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why are we born, why do we die, what is consciousness, or how did we get here.
Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
There are many people who feel that there should be a “ninth intelligence” added to Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, that of “existential intelligence.” We could call it wondering smart, cosmic smart, spiritually smart, or metaphysical intelligence. The possibility of “existential” intelligence has been alluded to by Gardner in several of his works. He has stated that existential intelligence might be manifest in someone who is concerned with fundamental questions about existence, or who questions the intricacies of existence. And while Professor Gardner has offered preliminary definition as:
Individuals who exhibit the proclivity to pose and ponder questions about life, death, and ultimate realities
Perhaps the difficulty is that Gardner wisely believes that this will open a can of worms best left out of the arena of education. Or, since a great deal of the importance and credibility of Gardner’s work rests on neurological evidence of site specific locations within the brain, it might be that its a bit risky for any author or scientist to definitely pinpoint the exact biological seat of spiritual wonder or cosmic awareness without offending any number of people, or some cultural or religious groups.
It is important to remember that part of the power of Gardner’s work depends upon careful examination of the available data and scientific evidence. So, at this point in time, it might be safe to say that existential intelligences is the “half” in 8-1/2 intelligences that comprise MI Theory.
Life’s Larger Questions
Despite this avoidance on Gardner’s part to definitively commit to existential intelligence, there are many who have accepted the presence of this intelligence as face and have attempted to clarify what it might look like if it were part of the MI array. For those who have met children who appear to have “old souls,” it is often easy to accept the existence of existential intelligence as something very real and important. These are the children who appear to have a sixth sense, they may be psychic, or ones who pose, and sometimes even answer, life’s larger questions. Like:
- Why am I here? Why are we here?
- Are there other dimensions, and if so, what are they like?
- Can animals understand us, or do animals go to heaven?
- Are there really ghosts?
- Where do we go when we die?
- Why are some people evil?
- Is there life on other planets?
- Where is heaven?
- Why does God live?
Sharon Ely Pearson is an editor and the Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated (CPI). She is the author/editor of several books, most recently The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook and Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Theologies of Confirmation for the 21st Century. When not traveling for work or pleasure, she enjoys tossing tennis balls to her year old black lab, Chobe.