My personal view of integral life

Specialization and generalization seen through the lenses of Multiple Intelligences and Integral Methodological Pluralism


In this paper I will shortly discuss and compare Gardner’s (2006) update and view on “laser” and “searchlight” intelligences. What are their meanings and structures, if there are any? How does Gardner’s proposition for specialization and generalization fit with the Integral Theory or AQAL? I will also discuss here Fischer’s (2003) and Cook-Greuter’s (2005) views on Cognitive and Ego development, since those are closely attached to the development of particular intelligences. The terms “searchlight” and “laser” are not appearing in any other researchers’ texts as critically cited or further developed, which makes me wonder whether there is any use for such terms. Finally, I will try to put all these together with Wilber’s non-exclusive, enfolding and enacting methods of Integral Methodological Pluralism and especially try to analyze how does a “Kosmic Address” have effect on specialization and generalization.

Keywords: multiple intelligences, laser, searchlight, integral methodological pluralism


Gardner (2006) describes three meanings for intelligence: Intelligence as a species characteristic, intelligence as individual difference and intelligence as fit execution of an assignment. Intelligence for specie can vary under a huge range; for example dolphins are bodily-kinesthetic and spatially probably hundreds of times more developed than humans. Individual difference of intelligences is somewhat clear to everybody: one can argue that one person is more intelligent than the other. Interesting topics that are discussed in Gardner’s book Multiple Intelligences (2006) are adding further depth to intelligences. Those are: profiles, bottlenecks, compensation, catalysts and a notion that “the whole does not equal the sum of the parts” (p.222). Gardner gives an example that “social class or the proximity of one’s hometown to cultural centers may affect whether, and how well, musical intelligence develops” (p.218), which in terms of AQAL is a view from LL and LR quadrants (collective interior and exterior). Next, he introduces a term “bottlenecks”, which means weaker intelligences that “inhibit the full expression of stronger intelligences” (p.219) and bottlenecks, according to Gardner, might result from strong intelligences that overpower others and links these to a person with “laser profile” or more specialized intelligence on one or two particular intelligences. This again might be compensated: “…compensation occurs when one intelligence makes up for another”. How often do we see very highly intelligent individuals on mathematics who simply are very low on interpersonal intelligence? He then says that “one intelligence can mediate and constrain the others; one intelligence can compensate for another; and on intelligence can catalyze another” (p.219). Last notion on interactions among multiple intelligences is the role of “experience”. An MI approach, according to Gardner, considers experience as the way a person interacts with the environment. In the frame of Integral Theory this is included in the Kosmic Karma where the transcendence of the previous moments are included and thus the interactions with the environment (Zone7) are brought forth to the intelligence as well. I think that intelligences can be seen from the phenomenological perspective (Zone1) and here we see history being part of it, and the development of the intelligence, as a structure or structuralism: “structuralism is phenomenology plus history” (Wilber, 2003, p.20).

Analysis & Discussion

Critique of Gardner with the lens of IMP

Gardner has presented the terms “laser” and “searchlight” intelligences in his book, Multiple Intelligences, first in 1993. He states that “individuals with laser profile, as the name implies, have a sharp spike in their profile” (p.36) and with this profile he means a “psychograph” of multiple intelligences or lines of development. Individuals with laser profiles are usually very advanced in one or two lines/intelligences. From my point of view, those people are for example top-class specialized surgeons, highly advanced artists, very narrow detailed scientific researchers etc. People with the searchlight profile, according to Gardner “…have roughly equivalent strengths in three or more spheres but do not exhibit a single, markedly pronounced intellectual strength” (p.36) and he gives an example for this a businessman or a politician. In corresponding to Gardner’s laser and searchlight terms, psychometricians speak of general and specific intellectual factors. Gardner is not taking his view on these that much further and he clearly misses the point of development and stages or altitudes in particular intelligences (except for earlier years of development). One can be brilliant at his own level or altitude for example in logical-mathematical intelligence, lets say at Orange, but a person with a center of gravity (COG) of Turquoise and the logic capabilities being way higher than the other person’s, there simply can’t be any comparison of the intelligences even though the person with brilliant Orange level logical skills would be showing his talent, say, at the age of 12. What I mean by this is that people coming from different developmental, cultural and social backgrounds could still possess a laser intelligence, but another person can simply be “more intelligent” in every single line of development than the other person when possessing highly developed searchlight type of overall intelligence or just sheer high vertical overall development. Wilber (2006) has put it pretty exhaustively when thinking about overall development and how different cosmic grooves, say in form of an intelligence, unfold from moment to moment: “Part of an object’s Kosmic address is the fact that objects come into being, or are enacted, only at various developmental levels of complexity and consciousness” (p.252), which clearly means that one cannot be “more intelligent” than he is at certain stage or altitude, because that is simply not possible! Wilber continues that “whether they exist in some other way CANNOT BE KNOWN (his capitals) in any event, and assuming that they do exist entirely independently of a knowing mind is nothing but the myth of the given and the representational paradigm – that is, is just another type of metaphysical thinking and thus not adequately grounded” (p.252). When discussing of the laser intelligence or peaking of a one particular intelligence, even with that, there has to be a developmental view, because the structures that the particular intelligence has are not given, but must be sequentially developed and enfolded. When mapping an intelligence with the Kosmic Address, we would see this: intelligence = altitude (e.g. Green) + perspective (here, Upper Left). This then again proves the point that different worldspaces of intelligences contain different phenomena, always. Gardner tries to tie the developmental aspects of laser and searchlight intelligences into education describing giftedness as a matrix and defining various interesting terms for the matrix: intelligence, giftedness, prodigiousness, expertise, creativity, genius (p.45). As mentioned earlier in the paper, Gardner fairly well recognizes the adolescents’ developmental aspects (Piaget) and focuses with that light on educational aspects. He asks: “what kind of extraordinary performances or achievements are wanted?” (p.51), which clearly refers to the laser intelligence. And he further focuses on the development and education of the gifted: “the simple decision about which teachers or mentors to include in a giftedness program carries powerful signals about the direction children should ultimately pursue” (p.51). I think this is a good try for the school systems and education, but what about the not so extraordinary gifted (laser) children, but rather those with brilliant cognition and searchlight type of intelligence, how should those kids be educated? I would rather see an educational system with the support of natural creativity and enthusiasm and not making everyone fit into the same model.

Fischer and Cook-Greuter on development

I will now turn into the developmental aspects and make a short comparison of Kurt Fischer’s (2003) and Susanne Cook-Greuter’s (2005) views on the development of the cognitive or self-identity line (can also be considered as an intelligence). Why I do this is simply to give more perspective for Gardner’s non-developmental views of intelligences (yes, he credits Piaget on the early years developmental aspects, but suddenly it just “stops”). Fischer describes differences between typical ladder-like developmental model and his multi-dimensional model. First, there is variation in activity at center stage. Secondly, Fischer’s model is about individual cognitive performance vs. group performance (ladder model). Third, his model can recognize multiple cognitive levels in each person and multiple tasks and domains. He also presents that with his model, it is possible to separate complex interconnections and multiple directions of construction. Fischer is not talking about lines (as Wilber or Cook-Greuter), but rather of skills. Two main distinctions in skills are optimal (strong contextual support for a skill combined with organic processes”) and functional (“steady construction of a skill). The gap between optimal and functional levels can be measured and it grows with age. Fischer describes that “growth patterns differ under different conditions, even for the ‘same’ skill in the same person, and the dynamics of this variability are fundamental in adult cognitive development” (p.499), which means that there seems to appear “spurts” in development as well as regressions. Other used skill levels in addition to functional and optimal are automatized (very low) and scaffolded (high, rare) (see Figure1). In Fischer’s model there is a recognition for co-participation, which means that when in a group, people co-construct complex skills that often go beyond their individual capacity (this idea is also found in Gardner’s model of the environment affecting the development or an intelligence).

Figure 1. Developmental range in a web.

Fischer describes four sequential tiers (reflexes, actions, representations, abstractions), which form together 13 levels of development of representational and abstract skills, which could be compared to Cook-Greuter’s Ego development model with Fischer’s description of adult identity understanding. As well as Cook-Greuter, Fischer recognizes that “a stimulating environment must catalyze the development of the highest stages of moral and reflective judgment, and it may be essential for other domains of adult development as well” (p.501). In his model as in Cook-Greuter’s, an important factor is the constant movement around particular level: both have different terms for upward and downward movement. Backward transition equals regression and forward consolidation equals transformation in Fischer’s and Cook-Greuter’s terms respectively. Unlike Fischer claims, I don’t see Cook-Greuter’s model as being ladder-like, she also talks of movement in a spiral-like fashion between levels, but maybe Fischer describes this movement as more complex jumping in a nest of strings. Both recognize that “each of the identity stages beyond the first requires co-construction of one’s own abstract identity with those of other people, and in each case this challenging task requires a minimum skill level” (Fischer, p.502). Fischer stops in his research to ego level or early post-conventional level, where as Cook-Greuter’s study really starts to flourish. Particularly striking quote comes from Cook-Greuter in her description of the Unitive stages (Construct-Aware): “Construct-aware people start to wonder about the meaningfulness of more and more complex thought structures and integrations such as can be imagine with a fifth or nth person perspective” (p.28). Fischer also describes of complex abstractions at “his” higher stages, but they seem to stop to merely 4th person perspective level.


In this paper I have shortly discussed the possible features of laser and searchlight intelligences and how do those fit to developmental models of intelligences, skills or lines (Gardner, Fischer, Wilber, respectively). We have seen that even though there certainly are very gifted people with peaking laser-like intelligences, those kind of special gifts or talents are not given, but rather are developing all the time. Of course the earlier years of development are crucial especially with very talented children, the tetra-meshing four quadrant support of the environment (LR), culture & family (LL), overall personal development (UL) and supportive health, nutrition, exercise and other exterior phenomena (UR) are highly important. The searchlight intelligence can be seen as a general intelligence, even though the term is quite contradictory among researchers: what it means that there are highly talented people with multiple lines or streams of intelligences. This is why I would rather use Wilber’s (2006) model of psychograph (Figure 2) for describing a person’s overall development. With that it is clearly easier to differentiate laser “peaks” from searchlight “plateaus”. Putting these into the frame of AQAL and IMP, we can also see how important non-exclusion, enactment and enfoldment are. With skillful means and the realization of the Kosmic Address (=altitude + perspective) we can realize that different worldspaces contain different phenomena, all the way up, all the way down, which simply means that without the developmental aspect and realization of the different perspectives, there is no point in differentiating or defining laser or searchlight intelligences in the first place.

Figure 2. Psychograph.


Cook‐Greuter, S. (2005). Ego development: Nine levels of increasing embrace. Pre-publication.

Fischer, K., Yan, Z., and Stewart, J. (2003). Adult cognitive development: Dynamics in the developmental web. Handbook of developmental psychology. SAGE Publications.

Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons. Basic Books.

Wilber, K. (2006). Integral spirituality: A startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern world. Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (2003). Excerpt D. The look of a feeling: The importance of post/structuralism.


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Categorised in: Development, Integral, Psychology

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