Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner’s “Five Minds for the Future”

VTR Date: May 1, 2007

Howard Gardner discusses his theory of multiple intelligences.


GUEST: Howard Gardner
VTR: 05/01/07

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And once again my guest today is Howard Gardner, Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard who, given the range of his researches, writings and awards, has quite appropriately been hailed as one of America’s most interesting psychologists.

Long renowned for his concept of “multiple intelligences”, Professor Gardner has now written Five Minds For The Future, new ways of thinking for a new time of vast changes. And I would ask my guest to name and describe those minds for us.

GARDNER: Thank you first of all for inviting me again on the program. The five minds by name are: the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind and the ethical mind.

And it’s useful to think of them as in two categories. The first three are the more usual cognitive notions which we have when we use the word “mind”. The last two have more to do with the human sphere, respect and ethics. So, shall I go through them?

HEFFNER: Please. Please.

GARDNER: Okay, the disciplined mind, I’m talking about discipline in two senses. One is having some profession, craft, skill at which you’re very good. So good that you can’t easily be replaced by a machine or by a set of rules. A form of expertise. But you need the second form of discipline, namely, continuing to work and hone your skills because it’s no longer the case that you can get a degree at 20 or 30 and rest on your laurels. Instead whatever you’re doing you have to keep learning, keep refining your craft, getting up to date because of the enormous changes that take place in technology and so on. So that’s the disciplined mind. And that’s the sine quo non of survival in the work place.

The synthesizing mind in many ways is the most intriguing because the synthesizing mind says we live in a world now where we’re all being inundated with information. Any topic of any interest, if you simply go to Google or another search engine, and look it up, you could spend the rest of your life just reading or looking at the pictures or looking at the links.

So the synthesizing mind has to decide what’s important, what to ignore, how to put it together so it makes sense to you, otherwise you will lose it and then if we have to communicate, as most of us do at work or a television program or so on, how do you convey your synthesis to somebody else. So that’s the synthesizing mind.

The creating mind, to use the current phrase … is thinking outside the box. But you have to have a box before you can think outside the box …

HEFFNER: The first three …

GARDNER: … and that’s where discipline and synthesizing come in. But it’s a good thing to do that pretty early in life because most … creating most new ideas come from the young. And so the creating mind is one which asks new questions, looks at things in new ways, comes up with answers which other people haven’t had before. And of course in a world where the computers are getting smarter and smarter, it’s the people who can look at things in an entirely different way, who really will be at a premium.

Fortunately in the United States we have a lot of creativity being modeled on the streets, whether it’s the streets of Manhattan or Silicon Valley or Hollywood or so on. In other countries where the schools may be objectively better, creating isn’t modeled and that often leaves those … people from those countries at sea about how to use the knowledge that they’ve accumulated.

So that’s kind of a sequence … discipline, synthesizing, creating. The other two respectful and ethics are kind of a change of lenses, if you will.

Respect is fairly easy to explain, it simply says we live in a world which is incredibly diverse. Either we can get along with other people in that world or not. And one of the ways you should start is by giving other people the benefit of the doubt … even if they don’t look like you, sound like you … try to answer them … sorry … try to respond to them, try to understand them, try to work productively with them. Give people the benefit of respect as long as you can.

Ethics is a more abstract kind of capacity. As I define ethics, it involves an abstract capacity to think of yourself as a worker and as a citizen. The ethical worker says, “I am a journalist, teacher, doctor …whatever … what are the responsibilities I have in that role and how can I carry them out in a way that, that meets high standards?

The ethical mind as a citizen says “I’m a citizen of a city, a region and, of course, of the planet. What are my responsibilities in that role? How can I carry it out in a way that not only makes me feel good, but that other people say, ‘That person’s a good citizen.’”.

Now it’s a heavy, it’s a heavy assignment to be disciplined and synthesizing and creating and respectful and ethical. But what I try to do in the book Five Minds For The Future is to flesh out what each of these minds consists in and then to give some suggestions about how these minds could be nurtured and then, I have what I call my “no cigar” category. And that is false forms, you know, forms which may look disciplined by really aren’t. Ones that may look like good syntheses, but really aren’t. Ones that may look respectful but are really disrespectful and so on. Because it’s … in each case you can, you can fall down. You may not succeed in exemplifying each of the five minds. And ideally …


GARDNER: … you know, we would like people who have all these virtues.

HEFFNER: Howard, what’s the, what’s the penalty for falling down?

GARDNER: Well, it depends on which of the minds. The penalty for not having discipline is either you’re unemployed or you work for somebody who has more discipline. The penalty for unethics should be shunning from your professional group … if it’s a license, it means, means your license is taken away. If it’s not a licensed area, that you’re not given employment. You and I both know that some people are unethical and get away with it.

And so, in that, that sense there may not be a penalty for being unethical. In the world that I live in I think there should be a penalty for being unethical. And unethical is not obeying … is not disobeying the law, we know that there are penalties for that. But there are so many gray areas and so much shady areas nowadays that avoiding breaking the law is, is a pretty low hurdle. So I expect more of people.

HEFFNER: Do you think that we’re going to be in a situation in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer in terms of these five minds for the future?

GARDNER: Interesting question. I thought you were going to say, “Are we in a situation where the rich will get richer?” and the answer, I think, is yes. I’ve recently come up with a modest proposal, which, if I could take a minute … I’d just mention …

HEFFNER: Please.

GARDNER: I think that no person in America should be allowed to keep more than 100 times the amount of money the average worker makes each year. So, to be concrete, if the average worker makes $40,000, no one should be allowed to keep more $4 million dollars. You can make as much as you want. But anything above $4 million you need to give either to a charity, or to the government. And you can decide which area of the government you want to give it to.

Then to make it even more dramatic. No one should be allowed to pass on to his or her beneficiaries more than 50 times that amount. So to stick with the same figures, you should not be allowed to leave to your beneficiaries more than $200 million dollars, if you have $2 billion or $20 billion or like Bill Gates, $80 billion … you can give them to charity or you can, you can return it to the government.

I think that these things, which I don’t expect to be passed tomorrow, will work against the notion of riches getting richer and richer and richer … because if you’re rich enough, you don’t have to have these kinds of minds, you can buy them. You know, you can buy somebody who has a discipline … you can buy somebody who’s creating. I guess you can’t really buy someone who is respectful or ethical, but you can buy a lot of protection against being found out.

HEFFNER: But … but …

GARDNER: That’s what high paid lawyers do … is they protect unethical people from the consequences that they, that they merit.

HEFFNER: But you see I didn’t say … the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer in those terms. I meant in terms of the minds that you describe that will enable us … these mindsets … do you feel that … when I ask that question I really should put it in the form of a statement … I feel, as you described the five minds … I see this dichotomization, this increasing split between those who appreciate and enjoy and make use of your formulations of the five minds, the five ways of thinking. And those who don’t have the opportunity to, don’t have the facility to.

GARDNER: You know that’s a very complicated question. Clearly you cannot develop a disciplined mind or a synthesizing mind unless you have a reasonable education. And you and I both know that that’s not fairly distributed in this country.

Creating is a bit quirkier. It’s not something you … I always say … we don’t know how to promote creativity, we know how to thwart it. And you know, that can be thwarted both in an affluent and in an indigent kind of environment.

But, you’re right, the disciplined and synthesizing mind need a well-endowed educational milieu, probably a school, though it doesn’t have to be a school if the right other features are there.

As for respect and ethics … I don’t think they have to do with how much disposable income you have. Respect begins at day one when you see how people around you treat one another and how they treat you. You see it in school, you see it with your family, you see it with, with friends. Either there’s an air of respect or an air of disrespect.

And when I talked about false varieties, one very well known false variety nowadays is “kissing up and kicking down”.

HEFFNER: (Laughter)

GARDNER: You’re perfectly respectful to people who have power over you or people you want to impress. And you don’t give the time of day to people who don’t have influence over you.

HEFFNER: Why do you say “these days”?

GARDNER: Well, the phrase … the phrase is, is …

HEFFNER: All right.

GARDNER: … is a new one. Yes. I would say though, it’s a rather flagrant disease of our time. And, I mean, the number of leaders in not-for-profit as well as for-profit who got where they are by stepping over carcasses while flattering those people who had power over them is very, very dramatic.

Is it more dramatic than 100 years ago? I don’t know, but it’s, it’s … you’re the historian … but it certainly very, very flagrant nowadays.

And as far as ethics are concerned I’m extremely concerned about the ethical fiber in this country. I think it’s very tenuous. I think, alas, there’s a lot of apparent awards for cutting corners for being unethical. And so you need to have, we need to have tougher moral and ethical fiber to resist the blandishments of cutting corners and hoping that you won’t get caught.

HEFFNER: Howard, in terms of the five minds … you see that we must develop for the future and in terms of the GoodWorks project … what is your view of the future? What do you see as happening?


HEFFNER: You know I’m not going to let you go.

GARDNER: I don’t see, I don’t see the crystal ball here as clearly as … as clearly as you do.

HEFFNER: I don’t.


HEFFNER: But I want to know how you see it, what your assumptions are about the future in terms of the five minds.

GARDNER: I think that the big revolution of our time in the world of science is understanding genetics and the brain. And we will have in our power for the first time in human history to actually change people’s life prospects through genetic testing and manipulation. And through brain assessment with possible interventions … either a physiological or pharmacological … even, even psychological sort.

HEFFNER: Does that please you?

GARDNER: It frightens me, but I do believe that human beings make the rules. And we can make the rules that certain things are verboten. And this will not prevent everybody in the world from doing things that they want to do it, but we can send a very clear message of what’s permitted in the circles we’re in and what is not permitted.

Let me use the analogy of journalism, which you and I have often talked about. There’s no way we can prevent any message we want from being sent on the Internet. And I think it’s hopeless. But The New York Times should not operate with that assumption, nor should a public broadcasting outlet. They should have a higher standard.

Similarly, I will not be able to prevent people from manipulating the genes of their future offspring to make them into wizards or into master criminals. But I certainly would like to live in a society where that is verboten and where there, there are real, at least, social sanctions, if not legal sanctions against doing it.

Either you believe that all this is foreordained, in which case you just throw up your hands, or you believe that human beings can make a difference.

One of the things about the proposal I gave you earlier about limits of how much people should be allowed to keep is 50 years ago this would not have seemed like a bizarre notion. Most people don’t believe that when John Kennedy became President, the marginal income tax was 91%. Now if somebody wants to raise it from 37% to 38% you’d think it was a crime against humanity.

Most people in America would not believe the kind of taxation you have in Scandinavia and the kind of social support you have when you get old or something goes wrong.

We think that, you know, the United States is the only standard by which healthcare, taxation and so on should be set. That’s nonsense, but I can bet you as much as you want that if you interviewed the average American they would not be aware, they would not be aware of any of the things I just said.

Human beings decide what kind of societies we want to live in and human beings can change that. But what led to the GoodWork Project was a feeling that in America in the last decades markets have become the arbiter of everything. And that the cash value of things and the demand on the street should be the overall determinant. And that’s nonsense.

The overall determinant should be whatever people in a democratic society want it to be with plenty of protection for minorities as long as, you know, they’re not impinging on other people’s rights.

HEFFNER: How do you think that change came about. You talk about … quite correctly … about what the tax level was on higher incomes in John Kennedy’s time. Or, if you were talking about World War II … my goodness … when Franklin Roosevelt said “$25,000 should be the limit … not of taxes but of accepting income.” There were some who were shocked, but we knew we were in a struggle. Are you saying this because we no longer feel mankind is in a struggle?

GARDNER: Let me take your future question in a somewhat different way. Combine the two questions. In an Arthur Schlesinger kind of way I see a pendulum in American history. I think the Progressives of a century ago developed a set of ideas about the society which were picked up by the New Deal and roughly from 1930 to 1980 that was the perspective that the middle of America had. There were always loonies on both sides.

With the beginning of the National Review by your friend Buckley and the failed campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964, a counter-movement arose, a counter-intellectual movement … you might say the Anti-Progressivists … and with the Presidential election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, there was really a sharp shift.

And what you’d be talking about, you know, you might say, “no taxes … low taxes” and laissaz faire certainly came to the fore and perhaps it was not bad in all respects. I think in England, for example, it had some, some good effects.

We’re now at a point where there may be a reaction in the other way because, you know, we’re dealing with 1900 and 1950 … the year 2000. We may be developing ideas now, which in the next 20 or 30 years will take us to a new place.

But there also is this principal which Malcolm Gladwell has taught us about … the “tipping point”. It is quite possible that the United States has “tipped” so far in a self-aggrandizement market, Uber alles kind of thing, that it will not be possible to correct that.

Then the big question, Richard, is does the rest of the world follow suit? Or does the rest of the world, which here I would say is … for now, primarily Western Europe and East Asia, say, “We don’t buy the American model.”

I mean I’ve sometimes said that in Europe it’s about the state; in East Asia it’s about the family; in the United States, it’s about the individual.

Each of these is a way to organize things. But I think the individual in America has gone way too far, which is why we have these disparities. I mean a 28 year old hedge fund manager can make more money than the GNP of certain, of certain countries. And that is just, as far as I’m concerned, wrong in every single metric I know. Unless you believe that the amount of money you have is your worth and you should be able to do whatever and however you want with it.

HEFFNER: But it’s interesting, you say, “Unless you believe …” and I think we live in a time when a great many people … maybe most people have come to accept that notion. Believe it.

GARDNER: Well, one of the reasons that we began the GoodWork Project was I discovered in many, many young people and, of course, having four kids, I know a lot of young people and they couldn’t imagine any other way of thinking about things. And that’s not their fault … I mean, you might say, we might call it “market fundamentalism”. If you’re raised in a fundamentalist household … of course you’re going to think that way.

On the other hand, I have to say, trying to be somewhat judicious that our late friend John Gardner, once said to me … five, six years ago … “there have never been so many young people in America doing so many good things. But” he added, “it’s unconnected to the political process. And they may be doing things which help 20, or 200 or 2,000 people and yet legislation is being passed or not passed which affects multiples of that. And that’s why John Gardner devoted the last years of life, unsuccessfully, to campaign finance reform. Because he felt this prevented good people from going into government. It also prevented good people from losing … because you can’t afford to lose when you’ve spent millions of dollars … because you’re never going to have that again.

And so, you know, this is a set of interlocking elements and I’m not smart enough to know “Is there a way to cut these elements like a Gordian knot?” Is it campaign finance reform? Is it the educational system? Is it legislation about money … the way I did? But if we don’t find a way to do it, I think we will go the way of other empires, whether it’s the Roman Empire, or the Western European Empires of the sixteenth and seventeen century. Or the British Empire of the last century.

HEFFNER: Of course, over the past half century and more at this table those who have ay de mi’d, who have in more dire terms than even you have offered today, when we’re off the air, when the beady red light is off … and I say, “What in the world are we going to do?” the answer for so many people has been … and something they don’t want to say … another great war, another great depression. They see catastrophe is the only thing that will bring us back to the kinds of thinking that you’ve been doing.

GARDNER: Yeah. I don’t … I don’t actually believe that, either on the air or off the air. I think that leaders are people who can get large numbers of other people to think differently, feel differently and behave differently. And they are people who have narrative capacity as well as what I call “embodiment”. They actually live what they’re talking about. As we’re talking now … Barack Obama is running for President.

I don’t know him, I don’t know much about him. He has a very important story to tell. The 60s are over, it’s a short story. But what it means is the fault lines in American society have to be recomputed. Can he do that? I don’t know. Will he be in the position to do it? I certainly don’t know, but I think it is possible to excite people and to get them to move in new directions … without a catastrophe, because the truth is we cannot afford a catastrophe. Even the Second World War did not have nuclear weapons till the bitter end. But now with nuclear weapons within the “reach” of so many rogue states, we might even say the United States is one of them. We cannot afford to have another war.

Climate change could be a way of mobilizing … Thomas Friedman is making the argument that we need to have the first Green President. That certainly is something young people ought to be betting on because it’s their world and their progeny. But no, I think a war is much too risky a, an enterprise to pin your, your hopes on. I think it has to be … it has to be something that is religious, not in a God sense, but in a spiritual sense where people feel they’re willing to sacrifice for this or that idea.

HEFFNER: It’s interesting … a couple of the things that I’ve read of yours … lately … and I’m so amazed this, this wonderful book … never mind a wonderful book, a wonderful idea that you would participate in a book called Howard Gardner, Under Fire … people who are critical of you intellectually … the wonderful autobiographical sketch that you wrote at the beginning … I gather that religion, if not religion then family tradition … mold them all together, played a large role for you and you believe plays a large role for the rest of mankind.

GARDNER: I think that’s right. No one’s ever put it quite that way before. But whatever flaws I’ve had, I’ve always known what I came from and that was very important to me. But I was a student of Eric Erikson, the great psychoanalyst, who talked about a sense of identity. I think the sense of identity is being totally re-computed in the beginning of the 21st century because people no longer come from one place and have only one root, so to speak. Blendedness is the identity of today and tomorrow and that’s why respect takes a different form now because we’re in touch with everybody in the world.

I take a remarkable stand in Five Minds for the Future, the stand that we should not have published the Danish cartoons. A hundred … ten years ago I would never have taken that stand. But nowadays anything said, a careless remark, a disrespectful thing can be sent around the world and people can be killed for it. And I think we have to set a different kind of standard in a world where it’s no longer just “our” group and maybe one other group.

But there’s just hundreds and hundreds of groups which are in constant touch with one another. And identity is important, but it’s not going to be a, a monad kind of identity, it’s going to be a pluralistic, variegated tapestry.

HEFFNER: I don’t mean it as a shibboleth … I don’t mean it as a flag to wave. What then does this feeling of yours … how does it relate to our concept of individualism, of free speech, of needing more and more speech as a remedy to our problems when you talk about the Danish cartoons?

GARDNER: Well, it … I, I wrestle with this every day because I’m not at all sure I’m right. The line that I’ve drawn is twofold. One, I think that especially in the current milieu … graphic images of the disrespectful sort are very inflammatory and you can say … you can make your points in plain language, which don’t have the same inflammatory … so that’s one distinction I make.

The second one, which is the one I made earlier is … there’s no way we can ever govern what anybody says on the Internet or on a blog, but we need to draw a line between those, you might say papers of record and those broadcasts of record which we don’t expect to be scurrilous and if they make their point, they should make their point as clear, but as non-inflammatory as possible.

HEFFNER: Howard Gardner, that’s obviously the point at which I have to say, “We’re out of time you’ve got to come back so we can talk about that too.”

GARDNER: (Laughter)

HEFFNER: Thanks so much for joining me today.

GARDNER: As always, it’s a pleasure.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. For transcripts, please send $4.00 in check or money order to The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150.

Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”

N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.