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Five minds for the future
Howard Gardner | May 22, 2007
We live in a time of accelerating globalisation, mounting information, growing hegemony of science and technology and clash of civilisations. Our time calls for new ways of learning and thinking in school, business and professions. To know how psychologist Howard Gardner defines the cognitive abilities that will command a premium in future, read on. . .
For several decades, as a researcher in psychology, I have been pondering the human mind. I've studied how the mind develops, how it is organized, what it's like in its fullest expanse.
I've studied how people learn, how they create, how they lead, how they change the minds of other persons or their own minds. For the most part, I've been content to describe the typical operations of the mind -- a daunting task in itself. But on occasion, I've also offered views about how we should use our minds.
In Five Minds for the Future I venture further. While making no claims to have a crystal ball, I concern myself here with the kinds of minds that people will need if they -- if we -- are to thrive I the world during the eras to come. The larger part of my enterprise remains descriptive -- I specify the operations of the minds that we will need. But I cannot hide the fact that I am engaged as well in a "values enterprise": the minds that I describe are also the ones that I believe we should develop in the future.
Why the shift from description to prescription? In the inter-connected world in which the vast majority of human beings now live, it is not enough to state what each individual or group needs to survive on its own turf.
In the long run, it is not possible for parts of the world to thrive while others remain desperately poor and deeply frustrated. Recalling the words of Benjamin Franklin, "We must indeed all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."
Further, the world of the future -- with its ubiquitous search engines, robots, and other computational devices -- will demand capacities that until now have been mere option. To met this new world on its own terms, we should begin to cultivate these capacities now.
As your guide, I will be wearing a number of hats. As a trained psychologist, with a background in cognitive science and neuro-science, I will draw repeatedly on what we know from a scientific perspective about the operation of the human mind and the human brain. But humans differ from other species in that we possess history as well as prehistory, hundreds and hundreds of diverse cultures and subcultures, and the possibility of informed, conscious choice; and so I will be drawing equally on history, anthropology, and other humanstic disciplines.
Because I am speculating about the directions in which our society and our planet are headed, political and economic considerations loom large. And, to repeat, I balance these scholarly perspectives with a constant reminder that a description of minds cannot escape a consideration of human values.
Enough throat clearing. Time to bring onstage the five dramatis personae of this literary presentation. Each has been important historically; each figures to be even more critical in the future. With these "minds," as I refer to them, a person will be well equipped to deal with what is expected, as well as what cannot be anticipated; without these minds, a person will be at the mercy of forces that he or she can't understand, let alone control.
I'll describe each mind briefly; in the course of the book, I'll explain how it works and how it can be nurtured in learners across the age span.
The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking -- a distinctive mode of cognition that characterizes a specific scholarly discipline, craft, or profession. Much research conforms that it takes up to ten years to master a discipline. The disciplined mind also knows how to work steadily over time to improve skill and understanding -- in the vernacular, it is highly disciplined. Without at least one discipline under his belt, the individual is destined to march to someone else's tune.
The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons. Valuable in the past, the capacity to synthesize becomes ever more crucial as information continues to mount at dizzying rates.
Building on discipline and synthesis, the creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers. Ultimately, these creations must find acceptance among knowledgeable consumers. By virtue of its anchoring in territory that is not yet rule-governed, the creating mind seeks to remain at least one step ahead of even the most sophisticated computers and robots.
Recognizing that nowadays one can no longer remain within one's shell or on one's home territory, the respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these "others," and seeks to work effectively with them. In a world where we are all interlinked, intolerance or disrespect is no longer a viable option.
Proceeding on a level more abstract than the respectful mind, the ethical mind ponders the nature of one's work and the needs and deserves of the society in which one lives. This mind conceptualizes how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all. The ethical mind then acts on the basis of these analyses.
One may reasonably ask: Why these five particular minds? Could the list be readily changed or extended? My brief answer is this: the five minds just introduced are the kinds of minds that are particularly at a premium in the world of today and will be even more so tomorrow. They span both the cognitive spectrum and the human enterprise -- in that sense they are comprehensive, global. We know something about how to cultivate them.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business School Press.
Publisher: Harvard Business School Press
Howard Gardner is the John H and Elisabeth A Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero. The recipient of a macArthur Fellowship and 21 honorary degrees, he is the author of more than 20 books, including Changing Minds, Good Work, and Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons.
Copyright 2006. Howard Gardner.