The Human Potential Movement and Multiple Intelligences
In the human potential movement, a number of key questions arise that define what this concept is all about:
“What are the limits of human ability, the boundaries of the human experience? What does it mean to be a human being?”
The theory/movement was spawned in 1961 by Michael Murphy and Richard Price who drew in accomplished thinkers in Fritz Pearls and Aldous Huxley in the form of seminars to tease out human potential through the lens of multiple intelligences (Fisher, 2017).
One of the draw cards to this movement was in conveying the notion of the intellect. Rather than narrow human potential to someone who can think logically and intellectually, the person can be more or less intelligent in different domains such as music, mathematics, somatically and so on. A good summary of multiple intelligences can be seen as theorized by Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences model (Gardner, 2011)
Multiple intelligences model
Note: There are other models and theories that discuss multiple intelligences such as lines of development which we will touch on later. This is a good starting point to understanding where one’s strengths exist in one domain of intelligence compared to others.
Hierarchy of Needs
One of the leading figures of the movement, who later broke away from it, Abraham Maslow, created a ‘hierarchy of human needs pyramid’ that showcased the stages of human development according to his theory. See image below for a basic breakdown of the theory.
Hierarchy of needs model
Note: this theory is important to the human potential concept as it implies stages of development that a human goes through, given the conditions are optimal (environment, inner drive etc.). As will be further explored, this concept has clear limitations in integrating a clear path of progress. It is something to shoot for, without knowing where to begin shooting at.
One critique of this theory is that it was developed within an individualistic culture i.e., USA, using US test subjects. How does this theory fit into collectivist cultures such as Asian cultures (Gambrel & Cianci, 2003)?
In more recent times, the notion of ‘becoming a better version of ourselves’ has been pushed and peddled around like a child finally learning how to ride a bike confidently
The becoming denotes an evolution into a better version of ourselves. This brings with it some critiquing to consider.
Critique number 1. Whilst this is a nice idea, it is future tense focused and takes away from what is happening in the present moment.
Critique number 2. It states nothing specifically around what a better version actually means for the person. Is the desire to be a better version contingent upon developing a skill or an inner quality such as ‘to be more courageous in the face of making challenging decisions’.
Critique number 3. Does the “self” exist, and if it does, then how does this apply to collectivist cultures within Asia where Buddhism and the concept of ‘no-self’ is prevalent in that collective psyche of people.
Another way to address this inner drive toward human potential is to consider being anchored in one’s best in the present moment. Implicit here is the idea that we are only ever at our best in the present moment. There is no better version out there. Being anchored in one’s best is powered by an awareness of what our “best” constitutes in that very moment.
This brings me to the essence of what our best actually is or is not for that matter. Is being our best a quality of ‘being’ or an act of ‘doing’? Hence what does becoming a better version of ourselves constitute?
Considering the quality of being is made up of our character strengths; moral aptitude, and a sense of mission and purpose that drives our human potential moment by moment. For it is in the moments, the interstitial spaces where creativity, clarity and wisdom blossoms
Having laid out the fundamental movements and theories that have entered the human psyche and indeed morphed into other forms by proponents of positive psychology and NLP, even pop psychology, I will briefly introduce the theory that draws all other theories together called the Integral Method.
The Integral Vision
The driving force behind this concept is Ken Wilbur. In his succinct book called ‘Integral Vision’ (Wilber, 2007), Wilbur summarises two key elements to human potential called:
- Lines of development (aka intelligences).
- Stages of development
See Figure 3 which illustrates some of the lines of development. There are more lines of development than is displayed in this figure. Understanding the vital six is a good place to start.
Lines of development
The basic thrust of this concept is that each line of intelligence can develop through three stages as seen below
Let’s say the focus is to grow the moral line of intelligence. Stage 1 would be focused on the individual (a morality that revolves around “me”). This would be a low level of morality. Stage 2 would focus on other people who belong to my group or tribe. This is thinking of the other, in the context of the tribe. Stage 3 would include and transcend the other two stages as it focuses on a “worldcentric” perspective, which considers all peoples, animals and the planet in an inclusive world view. It holds multiple perspectives and is grounded in a strong sense of self and other.
The ultimate growth through the stages via the moral line is summed up in the maxim to love and respect others as you would love yourself.
When considering the notion to become a better version of yourself, consider if it is a call to focus on the quality of being (aspects cultivated within such as character strengths, morality, presence) or on acts of doing (working through various lines and stages of development)
Ask yourself, what specifically do I want to be better at (skill-sets and specific intelligences) and become aware of how you are developing through the stages of development.
In other words, growth and development are par for the course when it comes to becoming a better version of ourselves
Finally, become anchored in your best in the present moment, as this will allow you the space to simply be at your best in what you are doing. The process of becoming is to be enjoyed in precisely the present moment.
Fisher, M. C. (2017). (Gestalt) Pathways of Dissemination Part II: The Hub of the Human Potential Movement. Gestalt review, 21(2), 103-122. https://doi.org/10.5325/gestaltreview.21.2.0103
Gambrel, P. A., & Cianci, R. (2003). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Does It Apply In A Collectivist Culture. The Journal of applied management and entrepreneurship, 8(2), 143.
Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (3 ed.). Basic Books.
Wilber, K. (2007). The integral vision: A very short introduction to the revolutionary integral approach to life, God, the universe, and everything. Shambhala Publications.
More on integral vision: https://integrallife.com/the-many-ways-we-grow/
Howard Gardner video summarises multiple intelligences:
Short version: https://youtu.be/iYgO8jZTFuQ?si=QbBBGwng3Nrt4M0p
Longer tutorial: https://youtu.be/8N2pnYne0ZA?si=bk0UqkpxNAehSSfD
About the Author:
Founder of the Functional Training Institute
Tarek began as a fitness professional when he was 20 and now co-owns and operates the largest functional training education company in the world– the Functional Training Institute (FTI).
Tarek has travelled the world teaching concepts in functional training and coaching for fitness professionals. Through this process, he has gained significant insights into the best methodologies and techniques to enhance coaching performance for fitness and health professionals.
His passion for creating business leaders in the health and fitness space through training and education programs combined with mental fitness, has made him an industry leader and indeed, industry innovator.
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