Howard Gardner


On his book A Synthesizing Mind: A Memoir from the Creator of Multiple Intelligences Theory

Cover Interview of February 03, 2021


I believe that my book will initially draw three groups of readers: 1) those interested in my own history (largely family members and friends, perhaps colleagues and former students); 2) those who want to know more about the origins of MI theory, its principal claims, the diverse reactions to it, and how it has been followed up in the last three-plus decades; 3) those who are intrigued by the phrase “synthesizing mind”—the latter readers can learn what it is, how it is developed, how it can be educated and enhanced, and, if possible, how to strengthen one’s own synthesizing powers.

Though not intended primarily as such, the book also contains insights about what it was like to grow up in a ‘depressed area’ (northeastern Pennsylvania, once thriving because of anthracite coal) in the middle of the twentieth century—merely a mile away from my agemate young Joe Biden; to have inspiring teachers and mentors, as well as a smattering of anti-mentors and tormentors, and how one person succeeded in navigating a life in scholarship without following the usual career pathways within the usual scholarly departments.

To my surprise and pleasure, some early readers, reviewers, and interviewers have also found encouragement and even inspiration from aspects of my biography: especially my overcoming some personal and some physical handicaps; surviving a graduate training which was not pleasurable and sometimes quite punitive; being more of a book writer than an author of peer-reviewed, empirical studies; being able to go beyond—not becoming a slave to—what one is best known for, in my case “MI theory.”

I am not sure that I would advise anyone to do exactly what I did; but I firmly believe that if you have some talent, a strong will, and can negotiate setbacks, you can survive and perhaps even thrive in a variety of environments. I have long been inspired by the words of French economist and political visionary Jean Monnet: “I regard every defeat as an opportunity.”

Also, because I have studied and written about an unusually large number of topics, the book has given me the opportunity not only to discover links among these seemingly disparate subjects, but also to tie together this ‘network of enterprise’—this “through line”, as it were—in ways that make sense to me and, I hope, to others as well. And, going forward, I may be in a better position to understand what I do, how I do it, what may come next and why, and what may come after that.

Most important to me, I hope to be able to put ‘synthesizing’ on the map: why it is important, more today than ever before; why it has been relatively neglected by researchers; how it occupies an important, indeed invaluable niche, between journalism, on the one hand, and standard experimental social science on the other; how it might be nurtured by teachers, mentors, parents, on the one hand, and how we ourselves may sharpen our synthesizing capacities, to our own benefit and, if we are successful and strategic, to the benefit of those who encounter us and/or our work. Also, while some synthesizing can and should be done by computational devices and programs, the most important acts of selection and of action are and should remain distinctly human endeavors.