Review Of Howard Gardnerís Extraordinary Minds (Television Series)
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 2/4/12
In reviewing the five part television series, Extraordinary Minds, from 2010, a series of 52 minute long interviews conducted by Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist, let me return to an earlier point in time. Some years ago, in the mid to late 1990s, I happened across a book by Gardner, who had pioneered the idea that there are multiple intelligences- seven he initially defined, then expanded to eight, beyond that measured on standard IQ tests. This theory, propounded in 1993ís Multiple Intelligences, was embroidered upon in the book I read, titled Extraordinary Minds, published in 1998, which detailed the workings of four historical figures Gardner deemed to possess extraordinary minds. The problem was, that, as troubling as Gardnerís Multiple Intelligences Theory is, because of the fact that some of the intelligences are not intelligences, and others are merely aspects of other intelligences enumerated by Gardner, or part of the general IQ formula, the later book was even more troubling because, while, in the abstract, one can possibly dismiss a total missed claim as theoretical, when confronted with real historical examples, such claims often seem silly.
The four extraordinary minds that Gardner claimed represented archetypes that were above and beyond the Ďordinary intelligences Gardner earlier posited. First, there was the Master, which is someone who is, as the term suggests, a master of one or more area of human endeavor, but whether or not this occurs via mere genetics, volition and practice, or both, is not really at issue. Gardnerís concern is the end result. While one can quibble that Gardnerís term deals with the symptoms, not the source, of the extraordinary intelligence, there is little quibble that his choice for Master- musical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart- was spot on.
More troubling was Gardnerís claim of the Maker archetype, for which he chose psychoneurologist Sigmund Freud. This sort of intellect is at the head of his field, and moves it in newer directions. The problem is, by his own definition, Gardnerís later term- the Influencer- is a better fit here. And the problems with Freudís methodology are almost endless, even as parts of his work are coming back into vogue- as example, what better explains the psychological neuroses of Alien Abduction (claimed by millions about the globe) than sexual repression? So, while Mozart is a hit, Freud is a foul ball. The third sort of extraordinary mind, claimed by Gardner, was writer Virginia Woolf, aka the Introspector. Gardner says this type is a master of communication- i.e.- art, and that she created the Experimental Novel. The problem is that, as shown here, Woolf was a bad writer:
The clichť that ends the book is perfectly in tune with those throughout the book, and it is larded with them. The characters are as banal as they come, their situations dull, and the resolution not resolved. Now, were there some great descriptions, or philosophic depth Woolf may have pulled it off, but there is not an original thought in the book. Some argue that it perfectly portrays the dullness of those folkís lives, but one need not write a boring poem on boredom to make a point. Having recently read Betty Smithís great A Tree Grows In Brooklyn the point is hammered home, as nothing earth-shaking occurs in that novel, but it is an absolute masterpiece in that everything it utters serves the novelís purpose- be it the description of a store, the tang of a scent, or the look in a characterís mien. The everyday in that novel is vivid, intellectual, and breathing, while To The Lighthouse is a hermetic and aridly lifeless affair. The characters are unrelatable to most and even those who do know such people long to distance themselves from those types.
The book is a logorrheticís delight- a run of words utterly devoid of deeper meaning. Even Joyce, in the regurged puke of Finnegans Wake at least had music and humor. This is a wholly joyless exercise; and thatís what it is- an exercise, not a finished product. It was not even Ďexperimentalí in its day, though, as Joyce, several other Modernists, and even Tristram Shandy came before it. I would say that it was style over substance but thatís giving it too much credit.
In short, Woolf was not only NOT a master of anything, but she was not even at the forefront of Ďexperimental writing,í for she was well behind even Joyce in the folly of stream of consciousness, hence, she was a) not a master, and b) not an innovator but a follower, and c) very bad at what she did. To use her as an example is not only a miss, but an absurdity, and an example of Gardnerís shoehorning people into categories they clearly do not belong in- a point quite important when regarding the television show Gardner later propounded.
The final extraordinary mind Gardner examined was Mohandas Gandhiís, which he termed the Influencer, defined as one who challenges authority and takes risks to achieve goals. They engage the minds and spirits of followers, and convert power into influence. In short, these are what are known as Leaders, generally, and herein one sees how Gardner often conflates things that are merely personal qualities- such as self-confidence, or an ability to communicate interpersonally, with things that require active cogitation- or the use of intelligence. These things donít necessarily require any intelligence, nor ability to ponder consequences, but may simply be a product of oneís genetic disposition. After all, is gregariousness or extroversion a sign of greater intelligence than introversion, for most leaders, in all fields, revel in the opportunity to lead, and be at the center of things? This is not to say that Gandhi was not an extraordinary person, nor lacked an extraordinary mind, just that challenging authority and risk-taking are not evidences of such, for how many bratty children or punk teens challenge authority, and how many adventurous risk-takers injure themselves in extreme sports? Gandhiís ability to organize and see how things might play out could be signs of a certain sort of intelligence, but not the other claims. So, on Gandhi we get another foul ball. Thatís one hit, for Mozart, one miss, for Woolf, and two foul balls, for Freud and Gandhi.
But, before I go on to Gardnerís ideas of multiple intelligences, let me trot out my own view on three intellects, and once you understand my quantitative ideas you will see how Gardnerís pale in comparison, for his idea of intelligence are really bits and pieces of my three intellects posit, put into ad hoc use. This is my posit, and one I often ask in my Dan Schneider interviews:
DS: I ask this question of almost all my interviewees, but, as a historian uses different parts of the brain that artists or scientists, let me see if you find any relevance to it. I believe that artists are fundamentally different, intellectually, than non-artists, and that the truly great artists are even more greatly different from the average artists than the average artist is from the non-artist. Let me quote from an essay I did on Harold Bloom, the reactionary critic who champions the Western Canon against Multiculturalism: ĎÖ.the human mind has 3 types of intellect. #1 is the Functionary- all of us have it- it is the basic intelligence that IQ tests purport to measure, & it operates on a fairly simple add & subtract basis. #2 is the Creationary- only about 1% of the population has it in any measurable quantity- artists, discoverers, leaders & scientists have this. It is the ability to see beyond the Functionary, & also to see more deeply- especially where pattern recognition is concerned. And also to be able to lead observers with their art. Think of it as Functionary2 . #3 is the Visionary- perhaps only 1% of the Creationary have this in measurable amounts- or 1 in 10,000 people. These are the GREAT artists, etc. It is the ability to see farther than the Creationary, not only see patterns but to make good predictive & productive use of them, to help with creative leaps of illogic (Keatsí Negative Capability), & also not just lead an observer, but impose will on an observer with their art. Think of it as Creationary2 , or Functionary3 .í In the sciences, this dynamic is applicable. When I interviewed Steven Pinker, he seemed to feel IQ was good at predicting success in life- at least socially, academically, and career-wise. But my 3 Intellects posit is something I donít think he fully got the point of. That is that creativity is wholly Ďoutsideí the axis of IQ. In other words, there could be someone with an IQ of 180, and a Functionary Mind, vs. someone with a 120 IQ, and while the 180 may be better suited for test taking, the 120 IQ, with a Creationary or Visionary Mind, will be able to understand concepts at a deeper level. IQ measures narrow problem solving, but is utterly useless in regards to creativity. To use an analogy: think of vision tests. In a real world sense, this is akin to the Functionary being able to see on the 20/20 scale, while the Creationary might be able to see on the first scale- yet only at 20/50, but also be able to see in other light- X-rays or infrared, etc. Then, with the Visionary, not only are the two sorts of sight available, but also the ability to see around corners, through steel, etc. In a scientific sense, the Functionary might be represented by your typical person working in the sciences, the Creationary by someone along the lines of a Madame Curie, or Nicolaus Copernicus, who can discover great ideas, but which are logical extensions of prior paradigms. The Visionary, however, might be able to make even greater leaps- such as Hutton reaching far beyond Bishop Ussher, Darwinís and Wallaceís ability to transcend Lamarckism, Newtonís development of a new mathematics- calculus, etcÖ.
Now, letís compare Gardnerís eight intelligences posit to mine. Using Wikipedia's summation, he defined intelligences as having these criteria:
1. Potential for brain isolation by brain damage,
2. Place in evolutionary history,
3. Presence of core operations,
4. Susceptibility to encoding (symbolic expression),
5. A distinct developmental progression,
6. The existence of savants, prodigies and other exceptional people,
7. Support from experimental psychology and psychometric findings.
Let us go one by one: isolation by brain damage is a slippery slope, so to speak, as the plasticity of the brainís storage capacity, as well as the mind (and weíll leave that tarbaby aside, for the purposes of this essay), often exceeds traditional ideas of loci in specific areas. Damaged brains sometimes transfer (by whatever processes) abilities between areas. Plus, this seems too mechanistic an idea of what an intellect or intelligence is. By contrast, I describe the three intellects by their abilities and effects on the external world, and these can cut across disciplines- a thing that Gardner mistakes as an intelligence unto itself, as we shall soon see. As for a place in evolutionary history? Let me analogize. This is akin to asking about the difference in how tires for compact cars, schoolbuses, and eighteen wheelers are made. Clearly they perform similar functions, and have likenesses, but they are also distinctly different, and with different purposes, as well as different methods of creation. All three are manifestly tires, but the import is not in the different molds or processes used in their creation, but whether or not one is better in certain sorts of weather, their tractability, or their air pressure limits. These last three qualities are what differentiate these tires as distinct things, not their creation, however interesting that may be, because those facts are superfluous to the drivers of the vehicles those tires are used for. And, a key point is this, the very fact that Gardner- a non-Creationary and non-Visionary intellect- albeit clearly high on the Functionary scale, takes such a position in his second defining quality, goes to the center of the very limits that such hierarchies as his entail- they are rigid, formulaic, and utterly insufficient in meeting the challenges of the things they purport to describe. By contrast, my take on the matter at hand is specific yet fluid.
On to his third and fourth defining characteristics: core operations and symbolic expression, there can be some debate, but that intelligences touch upon the center of how the beast (the human) navigates a life, and how he or she physically command the communications they are granted, by virtue of their species, is less intelligence than a heritable trait. For Gardner to use these as hallmarks of intelligence reminds me of when my wife has ridiculed Politically Correct claims that Ďall people are creative,í by extending such claims to the world of pop culture and sports, and claiming that Ďeveryoneís athleticí simply because we can walk to our mailbox to retrieve a letter. Yes, one uses oneís muscles to walk, but mere ambulation is not the equivalent of Albert Pujols hitting a home run or LeBron James dunking a basketball, and to suggest otherwise, is, in this analogy, easily seen as ludicrous. Yet, the conflation of an ability to weave baskets or crochet is often seen as creativity on par with Rodinís sculptures or the paintings of Goya or the dramas of OíNeill, and I donít mention this lightly, but because, in his television show, Gardner wildly conflates such minor abilities with extraordinary ones.
The fifth characteristic- a distinct progression in development, is obvious, but, again, not really specific to intelligence, per se. Itís akin to trying to define singing by the ability to open oneís mouth, rather than a complex manipulation of the lip muscles and larynx. The sixth characteristic, of having exceptional examples, is also tautological, for there will be such outliers in other aspects of human existence, from good looks, to height and weight, to even emotional traits, such as joyousness, irritability, and so on, yet no one can seriously argue these as intelligence markers. And just compare Gardnerís very characteristics to the far more specific ones I enumerate in my three intellects posit. The final one is basically scientific findings. On this I agree, but given the fluff and fogginess of his other defining hallmarks, when taken all together, it leaves a muddled way to analyze these things, and this is a fact that many of Gardnerís critics have seized upon, and with good cause, and often devastating critiques. While I regard these critiques as damning, I donít think they annihilate Gardnerís overall premise, that intellect (a more precise and less fudgy term than intelligence) is not simply IQ based, in a linear sense. My own posit is that there are three distinct bands of intellects- akin to the spectrum of light, and that just because one may be high on one scale does not mean they are particularly high on another scale, although the three intellects are progressive, from Functionary through Creationary to Visionary. Gardnerís error was in trying to break the intellects down into de facto analogues for the human senses, rather than see them as appearing along a spectrum.
Note Gardnerís eight intelligences, and then cogitate on how each of them could be plotted across my three intellects. The intelligences are:
Gardner also believes other things might qualify, like existential and moral intelligence, but these are so definitionally murky that they are not even scientifically testable. After all, not only are the moralities of a Roman Catholic and Muslim different, but what of those irreligious folk: atheists, agnostics, and undefined, who donít even subscribe to religious morality, but secular ethics- and morals and ethics ARE quite different things!
Take the first three categories: these are not really intelligences, so much as emergent properties, or components, of an intellect. I.e.- whales may have some form of harmonic or tonal language, as sentient beings, but there will be lesser and greater endowed whales- i.e.- there will be whales that are the Great Romantic poets of their ilk and those that are the dimwits who use slang and can never Ďgetí that great literal Ďtone poemí that Keats the Right Whale just sung. And one need only study the lives of a Newton or Einstein or Feynman, etc., to see that these folks were way beyond the ordinary in terms of mathematical abilities, and they were so far beyond most that there differences were not those of mere degree, but of kind. There are average folk- the Functionary, who are mostly innumerate; then there are folks with Creationary mathematical abilities, and they may be good at assorted math skills, but never pursued it, or do so at low levels in business or science. Then there are the visionaries, like Newton, who fundamentally get what most donít. In short, mathematical ability is not an intelligence, but an area of human interest that, like the arts, can host one of the three sorts of intellects within its domain.
Perhaps the most troubling is the bodily intelligence that Gardner subscribes to. This is merely physical ability- wholly disconnected from cogitation and intellect, and something mostly intuitive, which, the way Alex Rodriguez can hit a baseball, be improved upon, but there is no intelligence to it. A-Rod does not study film and determine complex equations as to why he has struck out six of the eleven times heís faced a certain pitcher. This attempt to expand intelligence to things beyond the human mind is a PC smokescreen to try and make people lacking in intellect feel better about their emotional well being, while simultaneously stripping them of the very desire to improve their real intellects, thus letting their minds hang out to dry, so to speak. These withered minds then never develop, and this only reinforces the emotional need for these people to clutch to these fake ideas of intelligence. Yet, even though this is in no way a true intellect, it does have analogues with true intellects, for those blessed with physical gifts, have degrees of these gifts that range, and become differences of kind for, no matter how much I wanted to start at point guard for the New York Knicks, as a kid, no amount of practice would make me a starter in the NBA. Yet, many a professional b-baller can just show up, do to their gifts, and earn millions in paychecks from teams and sponsors. But, to be a Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James, is on another level of different kind than the NBA benchwarmer.
Similarly, musical intelligence (really aptitude) is something one either has or has not. As example, I encounter much in life with music in the background. I have a synaesthetic ability to Ďhearí the music in words, even unspoken, but I had this long before I started writing or became a great writer. It was always there, although nurtured by me. Yet, I have utter terrible vocal abilities, so singing was out, and music simply did not interest me, just as mathematics did not, even though I had learnt and forgotten calculus before graduating junior high. I did have an interest in language though, so pursued my great pattern recognition ability in that field. Hence, I am a great writer, not musician nor mathematician simply because of personal interest, not alack of intelligence in the other areas. My intellect was thus transferable, because it was based on pattern recognition across what Gardner would term separate intellects. Finally, the last three so-called intelligences are about on par with the two ones that Gardner excluded because they are almost wholly subjective and untestable. Hence, as in Gardnerís bookís spotty record on defining what an extraordinary mind is, so too is Gardnerís record, on what intelligence really is, spotty.
Which brings me to the 2010 television show of his, titled the same as
his book: Extraordinary Minds. It apparently ran only one season on cable
television (I donít know the network), and was relegated to Netflix, where I
recently watched all five episodes with cellist Yo-Yo
Ma, linguist Noam Chomsky, dancer Jacques díAmboise, science writer Jared
Diamond, and political activist Zainab Salbi. And
yes, if you have not figured out, after reading to this point, that Gardnerís
five subjects are as troubling a representation of his ideas as his other
extraordinary minds and intelligences are (for reasons pointed out and for
having personal relationships with some of his subjects- which definitely
muddies the interviews to a lowest common denominator pabulum), then you clearly
On Netflix, the series is promoted this way:
In this thought-provoking video series, famed author and scholar Howard Gardner conducts frank and revealing interviews with contemporary geniuses whoíve used their brilliance and revolutionary ideas to help shape the world.
Ok, the interviews are not frank nor revealing, nor are the people interviewed geniuses, nor revolutionary.
To start with there is Yo-Yo Ma, who is certainly a good cellist, but, thatís being an interpretive artist, not a creative one, and who really hums his tunes? And I mean that even in the world of Classical music. In the interview, this personal friend of Gardnerís comes off as a nice man, but the interview does not even delve into music- its origins, its place in Maís life, how he goes about interpreting music, nor creating it- if, indeed, he is noted for such. Part of this is Gardnerís dropping the ball, and simply allowing his friend to airily prattle on, but most of it is simply because being a nice guy with great musical hands does not make Ma a great intellect. Several times, Gardner even has to clarify the meaning of certain words, such as solipsistic, for Ma has no clue as to what they mean, even though, within Gardnerís context, he should be able to discern them. Hence, a total miss on subject number one.
The second interview was with Noam Chomsky, a left wing intellectual who may qualify for Gardnerís thesis of an extraordinary mind, for his work on human linguistics, and neurology, but is eminently simpleminded in his formulations of how people, individually, or en masse, act. As described in my earlier review of a documentary on him, in this interview, Chmsky yet again mumbles and digresses needlessly on minutia, and Gardner does not keep control of the interview. Instead of focusing him on the subject at hand- his and other extraordinary minds- their genesis and sustenance, Gardner allows Chomsky to go off into linguistic minutia with minimal interest, in general, and little relation to the seriesí thesis. On the plus side, Chomsky never goes off the deep end on his political views- the expression of which has forever dimmed his real and important contributions to science. It would have been edifying for Gardner to at least pose the query of how spouting off on topics not in his expert purview, and to ill effect, has damaged Chomskyís reputation in his field, specifically, and, generally, as a first rate intellectual. No such probe comes from the host, however. Thus, one is left impressed with Chomskyís knowledge set, and hints of an ability to see beyond the norms most are stuck in, hinting at somewhat of a Creationary intellect, but, in other areas, outside of discussion of the brain, Chomsky seems a man afloat in a boat in a moat with no sense of direction, and a medium level Functionary mind.
If Chomskyís interview was frustrating, for its failure to elucidate
aspects of a mind that might live up to the seriesí billing, the third
interview played out more as a farce, for it was with dancer Jacques díAmboise,
whose intellectual claim to fame seems to be that he started a dance program for
American public schools that has spread worldwide. Now, while this act of
philanthropy is certainly commendable in a time when obesity rates in the U.S.
have skyrocketed, the fact is that díAmboise comes off as a boob. Gardnerís
multiple intelligences posit fails miserably here, even more so than in the
interview with Yo-Yo Ma, for díAmboise is a dancer, who seems content to
prattle on for several minute bursts on how it feels to play a character like
Apollo, in a ballet. Nothing of any intellectual basis is propounded, and
Gardner, again, fails miserably, in extending his theory out to include someone
who would seem an ideal candidate for the bodily-kinesthetic
intelligence. díAmboiseís self-absorbed
prattlings annoy and turn one off, not only to the man, but to the sheer
ludicrousness of Gardnerís posits, for if díAmboise is an extraordinary
mind, with a specific intelligence, it does not evidence itself in the
interview. Instead, one is subjected to an old man dancing poorly, and
explaining how leg kicks, in one direction or another, repeated ad nauseam, are
somehow important for the mind. Hence, he is the second miss in three tries,
while Chomsky is a partial hit, for the choice, although the presentation does
little to elucidate.
The fourth subject, science writer Jared Diamond, is easily the best of
the five interviews, although Diamond fits less into Gardnerís idea of an
extraordinary mind with a particular intelligence than he seems to be an almost
archetype of a high Functionary intellect, on my scale. His highly organized
brain, interview, and- if one is to believe him- personal life, all bespeak a
man of high Functionary intellect who has a tight control of every aspect of his
life. Diamond also speaks most directly on his views of intelligence, as
revealed in his various pursuits- from human physiology to birdwatching to
anthropology, and while Noam Chomskyís ideas on the mind having genetically
built in conceptions of language in relation to the material world may prove the
longest lasting contribution to the arts and sciences, of the five individuals
interviewed by Gardner, there is little doubt that Diamondís posit of the
longitudinal lay of the Eurasian landmass, versus the latitudinal lay of the
Americas and Africa, setting the stage for Eurasian domination of the world, as
described in his 1997 Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs, And Steel,
is the single most interesting and novel idea of any of the subjects
interviewed. Diamond actually makes Gardner a better interviewer by having such
an organized mind and clipped responses to queries. However, a telling moment in
the interview comes when Gardner asks Diamond about all the synchronicities in
his life and career that have led to his fame and life of luxury, and Diamond
seems to have had the first recognition of such, given he came from a background
of luxury and privilege. This very moment ironically puts Diamondís idea on
geographyís power to shape human culture in a wider context: that of someone
who did not do much to make his one vaunted insight, but just stumbled upon it
when asked a query by a native New Guinean;
a fact that Diamond basically cedes in his answer to Garner over his
synchronistic exceptionalism. Thus, while Gardner likely would put Diamond in
the logical-mathematical intelligence box, he is more obviously a high
Functionary type, one who would do very well on an IQ test. By contrast, when,
two decades ago, a cousin in Minnesota Mensa, urged me to join her group, I took
the test (copyrighted in 1969), and hit the 93rd percentile, even
while deliberately answering a dozen or so questions wrongly (according to the
Mensansí idea of right and wrong) because I knew them to be, indeed, correct.
As example, I refused to put the number of sides of a circle at either an odd or
even number (for infinity is neither), and I refused to put a cup as most
naturally going with a saucer, since I grew up never using saucers. These are
correct, and justifiable, claims, but they do not fit into the Functionary box,
as I have a Visionary intellect. I am certain, however, that Diamond would have
answered both of those sorts of questions correctly, and with little or any
cogitation at why they are not valid tests of intellect, only cultural bias, at
least on a personal level. In his profession, he might surmise such, but itís
in such a change of hats where his true intellectual status can be discerned.
Thus, probably the best hit of the series, even though, when Gardner asks
Diamond on what creativity is he gets a wholly Functionary reply.
The fifth and final subject of the series was an interview with an Iraqi
womenís rights activist, Zainab Salbi, who, like all the other subjects of the
series (save, perhaps díAmboise) grew up in a life of privilege, as her father
was Saddam Husseinís personal pilot. The only female in the series to be
interviewed, like Ma and díAmboise, their interview with her is painful to
watch, as ZERO of intellectual profundity is discussed. Itís just an hour to
hear Salbi tell her life story, hear her express horror and outrage at the
treatment of women, in general, and war, specifically, and rant about how,
despite her motherís warnings about men, her first marriage was to an abusive
ass. Her recognition of such, and her extrication of herself from a bad
marriage, is treated as if it were some great accomplishment, on par with the
Manhattan Project. Her lack of concern for men, who die at far higher rates than
women, in and out of war, is odd, in a normal world, but oddly expected in the
PC world she inhabits. Her supposed Ďintellectí would likely be described,
by Gardner, as the excluded Ďmoral.í But, there is nothing in the interview
that suggests that Salbi has any greater morality, just the means to enact it.
And, much of the interview comes off as just plain whining, by Salbi. Of all the
interviewees, Salbiís is the most troubling, for, at least, Ma and díAmboise
can be argued as greats in their interpretive artistic fields- Salbi comes off
as simply a privileged and educated woman who turned to charity. Is this really
that new? Noblesse oblige, and all?
In looking back, after watching all five of the interviews- and I watched
them out of order, from Diamond, Chomsky, díAmboise, Salbi, to Ma, I found it
notable that there was not a single creative artist interviewed. Chomsky and
Diamond are scientists, Salbi a political activist, and Ma and díAmboise mere
interpretive artists. And, aside from the fact that they all share lives of
privilege, and succeeded less on their own merits- with the exception of
díAmboise, and more on their social statusís ability to allow them to
Ďplug iní to the auspices of privilege, it felt that the two ethnic
minorities- Ma and Salbi, were included for only that reason, as tokens, for,
along with díAmboise, there was nothing revealed about their minds that hinted
at their belonging in a league with Diamond and Chomsky, even though those two
would rank, in my three intellects posit, merely high on the Functionary scale-
nothing that would or could be deemed extraordinary. In short, Gardnerís
series did not reveal any Newton, Beethoven, Rembrandt, Ibsen, Whitman, nor
Steinbeck to the masses.
Interestingly, all of these people are and were intimately involved in
the granting rackets of the arts and sciences; including the host, Gardner, a
1981 recipient of the MacArthur Prize fellowship, aka Genius Grant, even though,
as a professor, with a light workload (which affords him the ability to do
pointless shows as this), and free time aplenty, the very notion of even more
money and time is not only superfluous and insulting to the vast majority of
artists and thinkers working real jobs, with little time off, who pursue their
arts at the expense of normal social lives, and strained finances. He comes
across, in the series, his books, and theoretically, as another high Functionary
mind, but one utterly unable to make the Negatively Capable leaps to associate
things that, on first glance, seem unrelated, but on further review, and with a
linking connection, seem obvious. Hence his parsing of intelligence into areas
that are mere physical talents, or coordinations, and often things utterly
untestable, rather than seeing these are merely areas where the true three human
intellects, can all act upon, in varying degrees.
The net result of all of this is that Extraordinary Minds, the television series, fails at its aim. Even worse is that its failure might signal, to the dumb suits, that such shows are simply not interesting to the masses. This is wrong. The flaw is not in the concept, just in Gardnerís execution and poor interviewing skills. Instead of focused probes into the minds of the five subjects- for good or ill- we get gossipy biographies from people with little of a mindly nature to share, and in those rare moments when an intellectual point is made, Gardner demurs it to return to his axes and prurient probes into the personal, a tack almost as distracting to the intelligent viewer as is looking at Gardnerís strabismus in closeup. A defender of Gardner might counter that this was done due to the relative paucity of intellectual bounty provided by the guests, but that merely shifts the blame to the reason for Gardner even choosing these five representatives, especially, and again, utterly void of a creative artists- much less a great creative artist. In fact, there seems to be no acknowledgement, in Gardnerís view, of the concept of quality, in terms of intellects, for even if one were to be able to box minds into one of seven, eight, or eighty, intellects, the reality is there will always be greats and all others in such categories- despite his use of the adjective extraordinary. There is Big and Small creativity, good and bad, great and terrible, and terrible creativity is worse than lacking any creativity, for it wastes the time and efforts of all involved.
Similarly, Gardner seems to not recognize that extraordinariness is rare- very rare, and that perhaps only one of his five interviewees even qualifies for the term, and that only in a cursory or preliminary manner. It reminds me of the PC claims that everyone can do _____, which prompted my wife to also analogize that this is akin to calling everyone Ďathleticí simply because almost everyone can walk up a flight of stairs. This is akin to claiming me an athlete on par with the aforementioned Albert Pujols, LeBron James, or Alex Rodriguez, simply because I am able to not get winded when walking to my mailbox to pick up the dayís correspondence. Itís the classic misreading of similar actions at differing levels of success. This is something I, as someone availed of a great intelligence and Visionary intellect, have seen for decades in the arts; and it is this experience, of spending years within creative and intellectual circles, and observing others as a coeval and equal, with individuals not openly preening for effect, and not studying such from the outside, like Gardner; as well as, demonstrated above, the superior fit of my Three Intellects posit onto the realities of the human mind, that make me be able to say that Gardnerís posits, and this television series, ultimately derived from it, fail. After all, Gardner does not even recognize the influences that idiot savantism, autism, ADD, homosexuality, and other effects, can have on the mind, much less creativity, and even the Visionary.
One day Iíd like to be able to interview Gardner for my Dan Schneider Interviews series, for I think there are things of merit into his plumbs beyond the strictures of the ordinary, in search of what makes homo sapiens sapient, but this television show, Extraordinary Minds, simply does nothing to expand upon those presuppositions. And, given the opportunity, my interview with Gardner will be better than these proffered, for the readers will expand and learn. So will Gardner, for Iíll do it better.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Open Salon website.]
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