My personal view of integral life

What is social intelligence? Some points and a review

Here is an assignment that I wrote a week back on Multiple Intelligences course. We are all connected and the basic actions are made of interactions and intersubjectivity. And the World is built of perspectives… but that’s another story. Here is a short review and a comparison of a few authors, what a social intelligence is.

First I have to say that reading Goleman was a pleasure. His style is not reductionist, he clearly understands the interiors and exteriors of an individual and probably the collective too, although that perspective wasn’t that present in his book. I don’t know if he is familiar with Integral Theory, but I would see that he could really “get it”, at least the four quadrants. Gardner’s view of “social intelligence” or as he put it in his book, social contexts, was somewhat empty descriptions of the LR quadrant. He clearly tries to smuggle his theory of intelligences to social contexts as well, but I think he failed a big time at least in his book. He talks about “human intelligence in societal perspective”, tries to get into the point, but when waiting for the punch line to become at the end, all that happens is a big collapse to a reductionism of the UR (and some LR). Gardner tries to construe social intelligence as a manifestation and engagement between two components: “(1) individuals who are capable of using their array of competences in various domains of knowledge” (UR, behavior, Zone6) and “(2) the societies that foster individual individual development through the opportunities they provide, the institutions they support, and the value systems they promote” (LR, structuralism, Zone8). So here we have a right-hand absolutism and in particular the outside form of it.  Gardner tries to somehow fit it into the LL by saying that “in this framework, intelligence becomes a flexible, culturally dependent construct”, but fails in doing so not giving clear examples and theories on that.  So much of Gardner for this week…

Goleman’s work was for me as a scientist a really pleasure to read because of the exact data and clear/vivid examples and descriptions. Notable factors from the first 100 pages are: the low road – the high road; protoconversation; neural mirrors. He describes and explains exhaustively what the low road is and why we are registering other people’s emotions and feelings faster than we can cognitively realize it. The way from the eyes to OFC, amygdala and PFC are the basis of the WiFi, the firing neurons that register the differences, the most subtle nuances of human expressions in a matter of milliseconds. The high road is more cognitive approach to experiencing the we-ness, interpreting the shared feelings and emotions. It is in use after the low road has already registered what has just happened. Before developing the ability to speak and use language, Goleman represents protoconversation, with the exchanges of gaze, touch and tone of voice. This is described as “the prototype of all human interaction, communication at its most basic” (Goleman, p.36). Goleman also presents mirror neurons, which reflect back an action we observe in someone else, making us mimic that action or have the impulse to do so. These are of course the UR matches for experiences UL feelings that are reflected back to the person who evoked these feelings. With the explanation of mirror neurons Goleman launches a term “empathic resonance, a brain-to-brain linkage that forms a two-person circuitry via the low road” (p. 43) (UR, LL) and continues that mirror neurons ensure that the moment someone sees an emotion expressed on your face, they will at once sense that same feeling within themselves” (p.43). I think this fits perfectly on Wilber’s description of the “miracle of we”, a shared mutual resonance of not two I’s, but rather you and I, a we. Even thought those two persons looking at each other might not know each other, or might even speak different language, there is a we, that I call a proto-we. There are two persons forming a we and that first encounter might lead to a further enforcement of deeper we-ness. Of course, with two (or more) people who have known each other for a long time, this exchange of shared emotions is deeper in the we, probably sharing strong horizontal solidarity and perhaps (or most likely) also vertical solidarity. Goleman writes vividly of altruism, compassion and empathy, which are basically slight nuances of the same thing: experienced we-ness on different levels of horizontal solidarity (Wilber).

So what kind of implications based on Goleman’s research could we have on social intelligence? He presents that by re-wiring the high road it is possible to affect the low road by altering the rethinking in various moods. This means that when a feeling of emotion triggered by the low road happens, its interpretation with the high road could change the emotion totally e.g. from negative to positive. This, of course, requires practice. This is actually the basis also of a Buddhist loving kindness meditation or compassion exchange. “When the high road speaks up, it takes away the low road’s microphone” (Goleman, p.76).  So by doing this intentionally, we gain conscious control of our emotions. This is what being aware of our every emotions, motions and interactions means. Goleman, I think, avoids reductionism clearly: “you can’t separate the cause of an emotion (UL and with UR neural function) from the world of relationships (LL) – our social interactions (LR) are what drive our emotions” (p.83). Here we have all the four quadrants tetra-arising together.


Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice. Basic Books.

Goleman, D. (2006). Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. Bantam.

Wilber, K. (2006). Integral Spirituality. Shambhala.


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Categorised in: Development, Philosophy, Psychology, Science

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