from "Writing and Multiple Intelligences," A Working Paper

by Gerald Grow, Ph.D.
School of Journalism, Media & Graphic Arts
Florida A&M University, Tallahassee FL 32307 USA
Available at: http://www.longleaf.net/ggrow

 


Logical-Mathematical Intelligence


Thanks to Piaget, the logical-mathematical intelligence is the most securely documented of the intelligences. This intelligence derives from the handling of objects, grows into the ability to think concretely about those objects, then develops into the ability to think formally of relations without objects. One of the simplest applications of the logical-mathematical intelligence is in the quantification of observations--counting: a pursuit all writers carry out when they work to get their figures right. Enumeration is an example of the logical-mathematical intelligence's concern with precision in general. At its peak, this precision produces the intricate proofs of higher mathematics; on the everyday level, any author who communicates facts accurately is engaging this same precision--and presumably this same intelligence.

Precision in language is different from the precision of thought demanded by the logical-mathematical intelligence, but the two support one another. Mathematicians, Gardner points out, must not only be able to reason precisely, they must also be able to write down their proofs with precision. The idea of the logical-mathematical intelligence directs one's attention to the precision of language and precision of thought in a piece of writing--whether the sustained structure of a long work, the organization of paragraphs, sentences, or transitions.

The logical-mathematical intelligence seems particularly involved in problem-solving and in grasping, drawing out, and showing the implications of an event. Gardner portrays this intelligence at work when the Bushmen derive elaborate conclusions from a few animal tracks, and when a mathematician works through the implications of a theorem. Unravelling the logic of a mystery story, piecing together the parts of a complex topic, prosecuting the case in an expose, solving a difficult and important problem--these are writing activities Gardner might categorize as logical-mathematical operations. The logic of imagined worlds appears to be developed by this intelligence as well; Alice in Wonderland was written by a mathematician.

The most successful application of the logical-mathematical intelligence, Gardner suggests, is scientific method, "the practice of making careful measurements, devising statements about the way in which the universe works, and then subjecting these statements to systematic confirmation" (146). These three steps offer an interesting perspective on the stages in certain kinds of writing. You "make careful measurements" by collecting information. You "devise statements" about how these facts go together in a thesis, outline, or method of approach. You "confirm your hypothesis" through additional research and revision, and through writing the results in a convincing way. If you can't "confirm your hypothesis," you shift to a different approach.

To sum up the scientific approach, Gardner quotes a description of Isaac Newton which sounds like a writer in search of a way to organize a topic:

At the height of his powers there was in him a compelling desire to find order and design in what appeared to be chaos, to distill from a vast inchoate mass of materials a few basic principles that would embrace the whole and define the relationships of its component parts...In whatever direction he turned, he was searching for a unifying structure. (151)

One of the chief tasks of any writer is to find a way to focus the subject, to condense it around a central theme, approach, or organizing metaphor. Seen in terms of the logical-mathematical intelligence, writing is a search for "a unifying structure" to organize and explain a subject.

Gardner cautions against the Western tendency to assume that the logical-mathematical intelligence is THE intelligence that shapes or reflects all others. That is distinctly not the case. Music, dance, and novels are driven from other sources (169).

In writing, we perhaps think, plan, organize, and perform large-scale revisions in structure through use of the logical-mathematical intelligence.

Exercises that challenge this intelligence could focus on precision, fact-checking, organization, focus, revision for structure, outlining, and writing in analytical modes, such as comparison or generalization from specific examples.

If your students have access to someone doing work on the forefront of physics, biology, or another scientific field, interviewing that person could be a valuable experience. Few things are as stimulating, or as humbling, as talking with a fine scientist doing research on the forefront of knowledge, a few steps beyond all certainty. Closer to home, students might look for unusual examples of logical-mathematical intelligence--perhaps at the local chess club, among players of the lottery, in quiet professionals like CPA's, actuaries, and even in mechanics (whose problem-solving methods are celebrated in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Students could study and write about the use of logical-mathematical thinking on the news and in science reporting. Once you begin listening, you find signs of logical-mathematical intelligence in surprising places; I recently had a wonderful conversation after an unassuming tradesman who came to install a water heater casually mentioned "hysteresis losses," and we talked about what he read to feed the natural curiosity of his scientific intellect.

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