Element 8:

The 11 Biological Intelligences

“If genetic variation prompts all 6.5 billion of us on earth to learn in a different manner, how can we ever develop learning systems for the masses that really work? The answer can be found by understanding the 11 Biological Intelligences.”
– JW Wilson, Advanced Learning Institute

multicoloredbrain[1]While at first the task of developing learning systems for 6.5 billion people, all with different neurological structures, may seem overwhelming (see “Six and a Half Billion Intelligences – Not One“), it is made much less complicated by recognizing that, while human brain plans dramatically vary in detail, they all fit into a limited number of general designs.

Evolution is like a funnel. At the top, nature has poured in billions of different basic nervous systems, and, at the bottom, only those few that best fit the present environment have flowed out. It is estimated that less than 1 percent of the basic nervous system plans ever tried out by evolution exist today. As anthropologist Stephen Jay Gould explained, the “surprising fact of life’s history [is] marked decrease in disparity followed by outstanding increase in diversity within the few surviving designs.” While all 6.5 billion of us do indeed have unique details in our brain structures, what makes designing learning systems somewhat less difficult is recognizing that only a few general brain designs provide for a limited number of broad learning modalities.

Read on to learn how evolution selects a limited number of brain plans

bluelighting[1]To ensure the survival of the human species, evolution has selected for genes that produce a limited number of general brain designs. These plans provide each of us with a primary modality in which we prefer to learn and adapt to our world. I call these different learning modalities “biological intelligences.” Because of genetic variation and the vast complexity of the brain, there probably can never be a definitive list of biological intelligences. That having been said, I focus on 11 of the biological intelligences that the existing neurological, genetic, and psychological evidence indicates are the most prevalent across our species:

  1. Kinesthetic
  2. Tactile
  3. Taste/smell
  4. Visual
  5. Audio
  6. Spatial
  7. Musical
  8. Linguistic
  9. Mathematical
  10. Emotional – internal
  11. Emotional – social

Criteria for These 11 Biological Intelligences

Research indicates that these 11 biological intelligences are the most prevalent across our species. While information from the worlds of evolutionary biology, education, and psychology have been relied on heavily to compile the list, for an intelligence to be represented here, its structure-function brain areas must have been identified in the medical literature. Numerous other intelligences not listed here, such as natural and intuitive, have been proposed by fields outside of neuroscience. I do not doubt that some individuals in our species possess unique abilities, but these more esoteric intelligences are not represented here because they are not yet adequately addressed in the medical structure-function research. It is my belief that, for us to build learning systems that work, we need to have the most scientific criteria possible upon which to draw conclusions.

3dcableshead[1]The most efficient way for us to learn new information is to have it delivered to our preferred biological intelligence. This is because accessing our primary intelligence helps commence the neurological cascade that is the basis of long-term memory formation (see “What Is Learning?“). When we fail to receive new information in our primary biological intelligence, it makes it much more difficult for us to quickly and efficiently select that information into our long-term memory banks.

It is important to recognize that no single general brain design is better than any other. Our different intelligences predispose us to become butchers, bakers, or candlestick makers. The survival of our species depends on our different biological intelligences working together as one global brain to support the survival of the species as a whole.

Unfortunately, our present learning systems, based on Ancient Learning Theory, fail to perform up to our expectations, because they focus on only one kind – the linguistic intelligence, putting at a disadvantage the estimated 85 percent or more of the population for which language is not the primary method of creating the electro-chemical cascade that ensures learning.

Accelerating Learning by Accessing Our Primary Biological Intelligence

Please understand that research into these biological intelligences is in the infancy stage. Yet those of us who study brain function and learning are resolute in the belief that, before we can develop efficient learning systems, we must have methods that help identify an individual’s primary intelligence and then deliver information to that person’s preferred modality of learning. Barbara Prasching, who heads the Creative Learning Company, says in Diversity Is Our Strength: the Learning Revolution in Action, “People of all ages can learn virtually anything if allowed to do it through their unique styles, through their own personal strengths.”

differentstrokes[1]Neuroscientists Michael Posner and Marcus Raichle write in their award-winning book, Images of the Mind, “We can envision a cognitive neuroscience of the future able to discover the latent talents of different brains. One could then design the kind of educational experience that would enable individuals to best develop those talents. Such an approach might finally break through the idea encouraged by a unified concept of ‘intelligence’ that some of us are culturally and intellectually superior to others. Instead it would move us closer to the realization that many kinds of potentials are made available by different structures and organizations of individual brains.”

Harvard’s Howard Gardner says, “Finally, as my work in multiple intelligences taught me, individuals have distinctly different kinds of minds. … Unfortunately, this fact has not been seriously confronted in the schools. Parents have a special responsibility when their youngsters do not learn in the traditional ways. It is up to us to find ways to help children use their kinds of mind.” Based on the evidence of how different brains learn differently, in his book Age of Unreason, Charles Handy goes so far as to say, “Instead of a national curriculum for education, what is really needed is an individual curriculum for every child.”

In the book Cracking the Learning Code and in future newsletters you will discover:

How, like a Swiss army knife, your brain is split into a collection of different learning domains.

How to identify your primary biological intelligence.

How the acquisition of new knowledge is the most joyful and effortless when accomplished in your primary biological intelligence.

How an overabundance of neurons, and neural connections in specific brain areas, gives you your dominant biological intelligence.

How stimulating your primary biological intelligence is like igniting a blasting cap by triggering the explosion of massive neural activation, which is necessary to produce long-term memory formation.

How our neural energy (the 25 watts of brain power provided by glucose and oxygen via the carotid arteries) naturally flows to the brain areas that represent your personal dominant biological intelligence.

How first presenting new information to your non-dominant intelligence is like swimming against the tide – learning can be done but it takes much more effort.

How when you are forced to learn new information in a modality outside of your primary biological intelligence, learning is not only more difficult but levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase, creating not joy in learning but anxiety.

How we label many people as dyslexic, ADD, or learning disabled when, in reality, institutions have failed to provide knowledge to them in their primary biological intelligence.

That many of our world’s greatest minds, such as Einstein and Churchill had difficulty in school, because their primary biological intelligence did not fit the linguistic-based school system.

That 85 percent of the world’s population learns most effectively in a modality different than the one used by the traditional educational system – a mismatch problem.

How this mismatch problem may eventually breed out our ability to fully develop the wonderful unique gift of intelligence we are each born with.

How learning systems that appeal to a learner’s primary biological intelligence have increased grade performance up to 183 percent.

How, because the brain is an associative instrument, once you have used your primary intelligence to understand a concept, further information about that concept can be presented and easily remembered in a learning modality outside your preferred one.

Why using a single brain area to try to adapt to the world is not a successful survival strategy.

That the problems of idiot savants and autistics arise from a genetic predisposition that prompts them to perceive the world and process information almost exclusively in one biological intelligence.

To help you understand more about the 11 Biological Intelligences, click on other Elements:

What Is Learning?

What Is Intelligence?

What Is the Learning Code?

Six and a Half Billion Intelligences – Not One

We Learn Through Selection Not Instruction

Meaning – the Holy Grail of Learning

The Power of Concepts Over Details

Why Humans Are Such Copycats

Why Experience Beats Linguistic Learning Every Time

Stress – the Death of Learning