What’s Intelligence?

So what is intelligence?

The next time a child asks you this question there’s an answer we’d like you to give.

“It depends what you mean by ‘intelligence’. There’s no such thing as ‘intelligence’ – if you mean a single quality or attribute. There are six human intelligences that exist in our bodies and our brains, and we need to know about all of them. None of these intelligences exist as a fixed amount, and we can all have high or low degrees of some of them or all of them. If we have low levels of certain intelligences then there are many different ways to raise the levels of those intelligences.”


The Shorter Oxford Dictionary of 1993 offered these definitions of ‘intelligence’ –

1. The faculty of understanding; intellect.
2. Quickness or superiority of understanding; sagacity.
3. The action or fact of understanding something; knowledge, comprehension.
4. An intelligent or rational being, especially a spiritual one; a spirit.
5. Knowledge communicated by or obtained from another; news; information.

To us, these definitions of ‘intelligence’ now appear archaic. Clearly they are concerned exclusively with the rational, the factual, the cognitive – and the mention of the word ‘spiritual’ is surprising and appears odd and out of place within this particular and very limited framework of understanding.

By 1983 Howard Gardner had already published ‘Frames of Mind – The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.’
In 1996 Daniel Goleman published ‘Emotional Intelligence’.
In 2000 Zohar & Marshall published ‘Spiritual Intelligence’.
In 2006 Goleman published ‘Social Intelligence’ – an excellent book that showed his earlier ideas about ’emotional intelligence’ were somewhat imprecise and hazy.

We owe a debt of gratitude to all of these authors and researchers, but the work on multiple intelligences continues, and so does our understanding of multiple intelligences.

3Di’s contribution to the debate is summed up in our three dimensional model of human intelligences. It’s based on an original hypothesis of ours that there are six distinct intelligences, which operate on three axes or continuums, which are arranged in three dimensions. In essence it’s very simple, and quite easy to comprehend.

The research we’d now like to do, through parents, teachers and others, consists of finding out at what age children become aware of the notion of intelligence, and how they first understand ‘intelligence’. Our presumption is that the majority of us still see intelligence exclusively as something along the lines of the Oxford definitions, which is how it’s normally communicated to children. In other words, the idea of intelligence is an over-simplification that sees intelligence in terms of what’s became known as ‘IQ’ – which is supposed to be something testable and measureable. This does children no favours at all.

The whole notion of ‘IQ’ became questionable and fell into disrepute when it was discovered that various researchers had fiddled and fixed their data. Quite rightly a more sophisticated view of ‘intellect’ recognises that it doesn’t exist as a fixed amount, and it’s not really testable – since so much depends on context, culture and the conditions of the test.

As part of our research into how children first get hold of ideas about intelligence or intelligences (plural) we’d like our researchers – which could be YOU – to talk to friends and family about their definitions of intelligence, and where their ideas about intelligence(s) came from. As an aid to discussion we have developed a ‘poster’ of our 3Di model of intelligences which we’ll make available to our regular blog readers and commenters if they care to email us for a copy. We’d appreciate your thoughts and feedback.

Emotional Intelligence

It’s important to understand, when discussing the model, that we are also trying very hard to change perceptions about what is now commonly referred to as ’emotional intelligence’. This particular ‘intelligence’ isn’t recognised by us as a separate and distinct intelligence. In our view, our ability to manage destructive emotions (such as greed, anger, jealousy, hatred and envy) is what constitutes ’emotional intelligence’, and we do it by using our six intelligences simultaneously. [We can define ‘Emotional Literacy’ as someone’s understanding of the destructive emotions.] In order to control our destructive emotions and impulses it’s necessary to use thought, feeling, intuition, empathy, instinct and the input from our senses. In a sense the words ’emotion’ and ‘intelligence’ are the antithesis of one another, which is why we think it’s impossible, or at least counter-productive, to use the term Emotional Intelligence as if it’s an actual intelligence that operates on its own.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/ or see our website at www.3diassociates.com.
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3 Responses to What’s Intelligence?

  1. Pingback: See in Your Mind’s Eye and Experience in Your Soul these Positive Emotions « Life is Mysterious

  2. 3D Eye says:

    Thank you, Gina. We’ve met so many talented young people whose need for personalised learning and teaching has gone unrecognised and unmet. Some of them never recover from a feeling of personal failure, even though it’s the system and its institutions that have failed them. We’re just thankful that there are also many superb teachers who never give up and who find ways to give every young person what they need, and thereby ensure all of their talents and intelligences are developed. It’s good to hear that with you in his corner your son has done so well. We’re also very thankful for all your support and kind words.


  3. Gina's Professions for PEACE says:

    This is an amazing article! Thank you for citing the works of others who helped pave the way for the beginnings of your work. I can sense the depth of your work even if I cannot fully understand it all yet, but I am thoroughly enjoying the education I always receive here. I can also sense that your ground-breaking work is incredibly forward-thinking and will someday be regarded as commonplace. Your hard work reminds me of Gandhi’s quote of: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” I wish I’d had you all in my corner as I went up solo against elementary school teachers who tried to label my eldest as learning disabled. Good grief. He was simply exceptional, and he now enjoys a lucrative art career and is personally mentored by the likes of Iain McCaig. Thank you for another enlightening post.
    Always in your corner, Gina


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