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“Practical Intelligence”

The concept of intelligence has been around for a long time. It has always been controversial with a recognition, for many years now, that the standard measurement of one’s intelligence quotient (IQ) is inadequate. Since Howard Gardner’s work around the idea of multiple intelligences, the whole field of intelligence has continually shifted and been debated.

According to Karl Albrecht, one intelligence that is necessary for healthy living is practical intelligence. In his book, Practical Intelligence: The Art and Science of Common Sense, he lays out the nature of practical intelligence and describes attitudes and skills that, when developed, support and enhance this form of intelligence.

Albrecht begins his book with a brief survey of the state of thinking in America (the perspective from which the author comes) and what he sees as the “dumbing” of its culture which has become one dominated by the pursuit of amusement. In the author’s view, parents, teachers, mental health professionals, and many others need to take responsibility for promoting practical intelligence in a world that sorely needs practically intelligent people to solve significant personal and social problems.

Albrecht then goes on to discuss the theory of multiple intelligences and describes how two of the intelligences have been developed in terms of their application to everyday life. They are emotional intelligence and social intelligence. Albrecht wants to now develop a third — practical intelligence — and offers his book as a start to that process.

After a section of the book which defines practical intelligence as “the mental ability to cope with the challenges and opportunities of life,” he turns to the heart of the issue with four habits and four megaskills that are integral to the development and application of practical intelligence. The four habits are:

  • Mental flexibility — “The willingness to let yourself be changed by your experiences. It includes commonly recognized habits like open-mindedness, tolerance for ambiguity and complexity, absence of dogmatism, respect for evidence, and willingness to consider various points of view.” (pp. 364-365)
  • Affirmative thinking — “A pattern of selective attention and ideation that supports a high level of mental health.” (p. 357)
  • Semantic sanity/flexibility — “The habit of using words, figures of speech, and language patterns that support adaptability, openness to new information, and willingness to consider various points of view.” (p. 369)
  • Valuing ideas — “[T]he habit of saying a “tentative yes” to all new ideas at the first instant of perception … rather than reflexively shooting them down.” (p. 84)

The megaskills are:

  • Bivergent thinking — the integration of divergent and convergent thinking
  • Helicopter thinking — the integration of concrete and abstract patterns of ideation
  • Intulogical thinking — the integration of intuition and logical processes
  • Viscerational thinking — the integration of rational and emotional processes of thinking

The last two chapters of the book apply the habits and megaskills to problem solving and successful living.

Practical Intelligence is a very well written, engaging book. Apart from the times the author skates close to speculative thinking and the promotion of trance states, the model he presents offers a holistic approach to practical intelligence for everyday living. Albrecht provides a useful framework that simplifies what is known about practical thinking. Although the book is not written for a Christian audience, it should be very useful for anyone who wishes to become a better thinker — and wouldn’t all Christians want that?

Steve Parker reviews movies and books and comments on things of interest to Christians who are thoughtful about their faith on his blog, Thinking Christian, where this review was first published. He writes from Adelaide, Australia.

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