ET Question #1: Validity

The first question- Is there evidence to support Existential as an intelligence? This includes its theoretical soundness. Can ET be distinguished from personality characteristics such as curiosity, humor, introspection, belief, faith, spiritual awareness, etc.

Does ET fit into the puzzle of defining human intelligence?
Criteria used by Howard Gardner-
To qualify as an intelligence, each set of abilities has to fair reasonably well in meeting 8 criteria.

1-  identifiable cerebral systems
2-  evolutionary history and plausibility
3-  core set of operations
4-  meaning encoded in a symbol system
5-  a distinct developmental history & mastery
6-  savants, prodigies and exceptional people
7-  evidence from experimental psychology
8-  psychometric findings

. How does Existential thinking fare for these 8 criteria?

6 thoughts on “ET Question #1: Validity”

  1. Welcome to the Existential Discussion – We will initially focus on examining the validity of the idea of Existential Intelligence. Is it a unique, coherent and distinct form of intelligence?

  2. from Ellen Winner –

    Hi Branton
    I think that the asking of big questions is an important human ability, but I don’t know whether this could be explained adequately by a combination of other intelligences like linguistic and/or interpersonal and/or logical mathematical, etc. or whether it is only explainable as a single separate intelligence.
    That’s really my take at this point.

    Ellen Winner is Professor Emerita of Psychology at Boston College and Senior Research Associate at Project Zero. She has authored five books focusing on art education including Invented Worlds, and Gifted Children: Myths and Realities.

  3. from Howard Gardner.

    My way of thinking about existential intelligence is that it is basically a form of philosophy— akin to ontology or aesthetics— except that it grows out of issues that have particular meaning for our species- since we will all die. ChatGPT could contribute to any branch of philosophy but its contributions to existential intelligence would necessarily be somewhat inauthentic. When Sartre or Kierkegaard were pondering existence, it had a personal significance which can’t be swept aside. .. or simply faked.

    . . . as the anthropocene ends, we may be spending more time as a species contemplating who we are, why we are here, what lies ahead, is there life after the death of homo sapiens. Those are existential questions– which other animals certainly don’t ponder– and if large language instruments pondered them, we would not know whether to take them seriously– just as we would not know how to make sense of the monkeys who– as the old expression goes—keep typing till they produce the collected works of Shakespeare.

    Howard Gardner, personal communication. 1.1.24

  4. Some thoughts on Existential Intelligence – Marc Tassoul – feb 15th 2024

    Although not elaborated here, my view on an Existential Intelligence starts from Jung’s typology with the iNtuitive (as elaborated in the MBTI), and Will McWhinney’s realities, with what he called ‘Mythic’ in his book Paths of Change.

    Existential thinking involves being able to ‘story’ events around oneself and in the world. As such, for example, religious beliefs provide stories to help provide meaning to one’s experiences. So, being able to ‘story’ (as a verb) events together into one comprehensive whole, and thereby providing meaningfulness and depth to one’s experiences is my filling in of an ‘existential intelligence’.

    I very much liked reading Victor Frankl’s book, In Search of Meaning, on his experience of the concentration camps. Their ability to survive in these horrible circumstances largely depended on the stories they maintained to support events and actions. An example of such meaning and the connection to being able to survive was the use of cigarettes, not for the nicotine, but as a means of trading stuff in the camp. And when somebody took up smoking their own cigarettes, it was mostly indicative for their giving up their efforts to survive.

    One might argue that an Existential Intelligence ultimately deals with our mental images of the world around us – including symbols and what they mean or may evoke (with different meanings and connotations in different contexts / cultures / circumstances). It is also about the sacred – the use of imagery, and (so-called?) sacred writings – and the teachings we believe them to contain. But also the understanding of abstract terms, for example a term like ‘democracy’ and the adjective ‘democratic’ (again applied differently in different contexts / cultures).

    In my view, an important term in this context is the term ‘sacred’. Sacred is generally seen as indicating some religious essential symbols, e.g. the holy bible, or relics found in churches, or certain people in a religious hierarchy. I want to extend the use of the term ‘sacred’ to anything that people feel hurt by when destroyed or criticized or otherwise damaged. This can be memories, traditional stories, family objects, concepts, rituals, etc. etc. At a higher level of abstraction, one may understand these as the glue of any social grouping (e.g. family, community, nation). The ability to be ‘conscious of’, and ‘move’ in these domains of meaning, is a competence I would call ‘existential intelligence’.

  5. I prefer to approach the subject of existentialism from a phenomenological angle because as I use my logic and reasoning I do get to the conclusion of absurdity.
    However, sociologists Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera estimates that only 7% of the world’s population are atheists.
    If indeed we are just part of the evolution of life, then life is indeed absurd.
    Yet logic and reasoning cannot account for why we help the poor, take care of the sick, go to war on ridculous philosophical grounds and other illogical behaviours.
    Somehow a large majority of the population find their answer to the big question through forms of religion. The question is whether there are truths to those religions or is it just a coping strategy to avoid the reality of absurdism?

  6. Hi Henry,
    Thanks for the provocative and thoughtful comment. Much food for thought! It appears that the use of logic to address existential questions is woefully inadequate. Obviously religion is a great way to organize our responses to the many threats to our existence- physical, social and cultural. They have withstood the tests of time despite our human propensity to use their power for ill as well as good. Ah, the burden of human imperfection.
    Cheers. Branton

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