Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Spectrums of Mind

Originally posted on October 17, 2012

My son David recently wrote a book titled “Spectrums”—really a fine book—opening to the wonders of the actual range of varieties of our existence—size, intensity of energy, speed, etc. I highly recommend it, even if I’m prejudiced. It is really interesting and well-written and often uses phrasing that I find both amusing and evocative.

But during the writing I suggested that there might be many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of variations of dimensions of mind. There are not only ranges of overall intelligence, but, perhaps more accurately, ranges of specific types of intelligence—or perhaps, equally descriptive, types of talent. These involve a wide range of not just general abilities, but sub-abilities, and they cross-over, affect each other. Variations of temperament, taste, and other themes might also be included.

Many stories of success and failure in history involve mixtures of ability: inventors whose cleverness was not manifest in the socio-legal sphere, who weren’t able to protect their patents, or who marketed ineffectively. The old joke goes: the guy (or gal) who invented the wheel deserves credit—but the one who realized that you need four of them for stability—ah, s/he was a genius! So which type of ability, or sub-type, or sub-sub-type, or dis-ability, in some situations, makes all the difference.

I’m very bright in some ways, rather dense in other ways, and it took me decades to get even partially clear as to how I was smart and how I wasn’t—I tended to miss cues that others were registering more clearly. I’ve been impressed with how much of this is in part due to the lacks in our language of gradings of qualities, in part because it was not yet in the general awareness that  some variable in fact did have a whole range of gradations.

Our culture still tends to think about so many things in terms of either-or, black or white, no room for the reality that in most things people are in-between in their preferences, sensitivities, abilities, and other elements. Unless awareness of these subtle differences be brought to the surface and named, people will be confused as to why other people seem so stupid or obstinate or mean—interpretations superimposed as explanations for why others prefer or sense or think so differently!

Also, this category of Spectrums of Mind applies to whole complexes of intuitions, sensations, what we might call “soul,” levels of integration and learning, and so forth. The word, “semantics,” hints at the complexities involved: Semantics deals with “how” words mean, the feelings and associations that get called up along with certain words. Misbehavior, rude, God, patriotism, truth, mother, love, annoyance, unfair, and the list is seemingly endless. Unless folks really think about it, there’s a tendency to assume that a word means what we think it means, and the idea that others really have different associations to the word is foreign, strange, beyond us. We need to consciously remind ourselves that other folks mean different things when they use words that seem (to us) to obviously mean what they mean to us!

You mean that others aren’t this way, don’t like what I like? There’s a mixture of surprise and shock here! It happens throughout childhood and between cultures. What’s weird is that it doesn’t happen half enough—people still feel surprised that others have so very many differences of preferences and associations and sensitivities—even when we are all in the same culture, sub-culture! Another problem is that some of these preferences aren’t recognized as merely preferences, but rather they seem to us or to others as the way things are, or should be. That is to say, preferences are sometimes fixed by the powers-that-be as values, which ends up putting down or marginalizing others who don’t share these preferences. The elitism of aesthetes, of those who think they know and appreciate fine art, is also a social dynamic that rests on an unconscious hierarchy of preference.

I’ll be adding further to this category from now on. I’m open to your suggestions and if you want I’ll mention your name—or not (as you wish).

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