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Naturalistic Intelligence

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In 1983, Howard Gardner of Harvard University challenged the concept of IQ (intelligence quotient) with his theory of multiple intelligences. According to Gardner, human intelligence is not simply IQ, but can be categorized into seven different types of intelligence. In recent years, Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is supported by advances in the field of brain science that analyze brain function.

Gardner initially proposed seven intelligences: logical-mathematical, verbal-linguistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, and visual-spatial. An eighth intelligence was added later: naturalistic intelligence (or intelligence of the natural world).

Naturalistic intelligence is intelligence that responds to natural events, the world of nature and the effect that humans have on the natural world. Even if we are equipped with the knowledge (intelligence) to live in cities or an artificial indoor environment, this intelligence is not by itself adequate in the natural world.

Take, for example, a situation in the mountains when the sky looks menacing and it becomes necessary to take refuge somewhere. In a place without convenience stores or restaurants nearby, the only choice is to take food and utensils with you or procure them yourself (by picking fruit and nuts, fishing or hunting).

Just the other day, some German people went missing on a ski slope in Japan. I was very concerned, hoping that they would avoid the worst-case scenario, but then relieved when they returned the following day.

In Germany and countries in Northern Europe, there are many kindergartens that are known as "forest kindergartens." Some schools literally have no ceiling or walls, and children spend the day outdoors all year around. In this way, the children develop an understanding of nature by experiencing how cold it is when it rains, the darkness of the forest after sundown, and learning which nuts and mushrooms are edible. I wondered if the Germans who had gotten lost had also attended such a forest kindergarten.

As a university student, I belonged to the back-packing club and climbed mountains throughout the year. In Germany, such clubs are known as Wandervogel clubs, and in addition to back-packing in the mountains, their activities include hiking in fields for days, but at universities in Japan, most are basically mountain-climbing clubs. They are active throughout the year, but according to my count, we spent about 60 days actually living in tents in the mountains. In my back-packing club, we mainly undertook "off the beaten track" mountain climbing, that is, climbing where there were no fixed paths. With a map and compass in one hand, we made our way through deep thickets and walk upstream along the creek and mountain ridges. Unless it was an emergency, we did not use a camping stove, but gathered dry wood and fallen branches to make a fire. We collected water from the stream to boil rice for our meals. Where the thickets were very dense, it sometimes took an hour to advance only 100 meters and several hours to the nearest mountain trail, so when the weather conditions were bad, it was safer to stay in one place and not move.

It was a hard climb, but lying in the thicket and looking up at the night sky, I remember an indescribable feeling of oneness with nature. This experience deepened my understanding of the topography of mountains, the weather, and plants, and reflecting on it today, I would say that it greatly contributed to my development of naturalistic intelligence.

Even now, I sometimes think back to the day that I spent at Oshirasawa Pond on the other side of the surrounding mountains at Ozegahara Marshland. There were, of course, no roads leading to Oshirasawa Pond, and it took at least two days to make our way through the thicket to get there. Surrounded by marshland with no one else around, we forgot the passing of time as we lay in this heavenly paradise, gazing up at clouds and stars in the deep blue sky.

I remember hearing a rustling sound coming from the thicket on the other side of the pond. I was prepared to encounter a bear, but what I saw was a group from the Explorers Club at Kyoto University coming out of trees, and instead of wearing mountain boots, they were wearing Japanese rubber-soled socks. It was an experience I'll never forget.


sakakihara_2013.jpg Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.
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