Existential intelligence is an individual’s capacity or ability to understand and contemplate philosophical topics relating to mankind’s existence. According to the theory of existential intelligence, some individuals have an easier time conceptualizing deep philosophical questions, such as the origin of mankind, what constitutes consciousness, and man’s purpose on earth. Those individuals with a strong tendency toward existential intelligence are, according to some experts, more inclined to ask questions regarding these ultimate realities, including the meaning of life.
In terms of the origin of the phrase, the concept is tied to philosophical theories as well as the theory of multiple intelligences. Regarding the concept’s definition, this type of intelligence draws on many of the same questions and topics associated with existentialism, a method of philosophical inquiry popularized in the 1940s and 1950s. Existentialism proposes that human existence cannot be defined by spiritual or scientific categories currently in existence, but rather requires a deeper understanding. Using existentialism as a basis of understanding, the concept of existential intelligence is then associated with Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.
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Howard Gardner of Harvard University first presented the idea of multiple intelligences in the early 1980s. Education and psychology experts had sought a better understanding of the natural way children think and learn, so Gardner developed a theory to help identify the strongest tendencies in school age children. Initially, Gardner presented the concept of seven intelligences, including logical or mathematical, spatial, musical, and others. The theory of multiple intelligences was designed to explain different types of learning modalities and thus allow educators to develop learning plans to work with the strengths of each child.
After introducing his theory of multiple intelligences, Gardner and other education and psychology experts continued researching the concept. Several professionals, including Gardner, later proposed additional types of intelligence. Although Gardner neither publicly nor officially included existential intelligence in his revised theory, he and other professionals discussed its existence. While remaining unofficial in terms of including this concept in his theory, Gardner proposed a definition for the concept if it were to be included with his other intelligences.
Since the theory of multiple intelligences centers on education and early childhood psychology, some experts argue the validity of including existential intelligence with Gardner’s other intelligences. Deep philosophical questions regarding mankind’s existence often stir intense, passionate debate, a prospect some experts argue has no place in childhood education. Avoiding such debates is the primary reason most experts decline to add this concept to the greater theory of multiple intelligences.