In 1996, psychologist Howard Gardner, added two more types of human intelligence to his original list of seven intelligences, which he published in his 1983 book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. One of those was something he called “Naturalist Intelligence,” or “nature smarts.” It is described as the ability to sense patterns in nature, to discriminate among living things, and a sensitivity to features in the natural world. This type of intelligence would have been extremely valuable to early humans, who were originally hunters and gatherers, and later, farmers.
It is important to note here that all human beings have some combination of all of the nine intelligences, and that no two people are ever exactly alike. IQ tests only measure three of the intelligences in Gardner’s model: mathematical, spatial and verbal. Most formal schooling also addresses these three intelligences. Part of the reason for this is that the other intelligences are not well understood, and are difficult to measure with any degree of accuracy.
I suspect that, one day, we will have a fuller description of naturalistic intelligence. Meanwhile, we do have some interesting clues. Michael Roads, who was born in Britain and emigrated to Australia, discovered that the was able to communicate with nature beyond the limitations of time and space. His books, Conscious Gardening and Talking with Nature – Journey into Nature, describe his experiences.
Tiokasin Ghosthorse, host of First Voices Indigenous Radio, told a story on his Facebook page that was very enlightening for me.
I happened to wander into Sylvester Park in Olympia. There was a man who was talking about the story of an old growth tree – a very old tree. He had it displayed on a flat bed trailer but that it was only a small segment of the total tree cut down.
He said the old tree was cedar and it came from a forest in British Columbia where the slaughtering corporation Macmillan-Bloedel, now owned by Weyhaeuser, continues to this day. He had bought the slice of old tree and wanted to tour what remained of it, to other parts of the continent and show the importance of ‘old growth trees’ in the environment.
After the show and speech he would give out little buttons, t-shirts and plastic bottles with the tedious recycle phrases printed on all of them. Amid my wanderings, one was to walk up to the tree and ask the man if I could touch the tree. He said a resounding, “NO!” and then continued in his politely formulated spiritual speech about the environment and nature and recycling and the financial costs and the taxes and the impact it would have on jobs and the organics of getting back to nature while living on the grid.
What I was doing, after looking intently at the tree and him, was to try to get close to the ~Brother~ in the tree. He suddenly turned around and said “well … okay, yes go ahead”, meaning I could touch the tree and without hesitation I climbed onto the trailer. I then took out some tobacco and placed a palm full on the exposed, ringed side of Brother tree. This happened during his ‘save OUR earth” lamentation without him noticing.
Something amazing happened that I would never forget, the very place I had placed my hands, …came this oozing sap. I think what I had said to the Brother tree was answered in the tears of sap it had given in response to my acknowledgment. I decided to count the rings from the outer to the inner, and to be sure, I then would count them in reverse. I counted to the 500th ring and noticed, the width of the rings had changed dramatically counting toward the 50 remaining in the center and the year was 1492. Brother tree was 550 years old and had begun life in 1442!
I began to count outward from year one and saw that in the year 1492, this 50-year-old Brother tree at the time, had stopped growing so fast and healthfully. Consequently, for the next 500 years, until 1992, it had the greatest difficulty in growing where the ring depths were very small.
I always wonder what Brother tree understood and if they could feel the impact of the great climate change in 1492; the environmental devastation that was to come and the tears of sap the Brother tree gave to me, was a ‘thank you’ for talking with him.
Did the Great Climate Change began in 1492? It was what we, the real Western man, the Original Peoples, came to know as the imported ‘western’ way of thinking. The evidence is real, the attitude is not changed, and the consequences drift into a madness.
I would submit that the climate change we are experiencing now may have begun long before Columbus, but I do agree that the human exacerbation of natural processes, resulting in the phenomenon we know of today as “global warming” is certainly encapsulated in the Western way of thinking. But back to communication with nature. This story illustrated for me what it must be like to be able to communicate directly with nature.
If this ability is present in all human beings – albeit in latent form in the vast majority of us – then why don’t more of us manifest it? Right now, the people among whom this ability is most often manifested tend to be what are now called “Indigenous” people. These include the people of Turtle Island, otherwise known as Native Americans in the U.S. and First Nations people in Canada, the various indigenous people of Mexico, and Central and South America known as “indios” in Spanish, the Australian Aborigines, the Maori of New Zealand, the original peoples on the African continent and India, and some smaller ethnic groups in other parts of Asia and Europe.
I suspect that this naturalist intelligence doesn’t show up in the white population as much because the cultures of which whites are a part have not valued that sort of intelligence or any of the skills associated with it. Think about this. Who were burned at the stake during the Inquisition, which lasted in various times and places from the 1100s until the early 1800s? Among others, it was the so-called “witches.” These people included those whose spirituality involved a reverence for the natural world, horse-whisperers, people with a particularly green thumb, and people who worked with herbal medicines. The witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts were about the same sorts of people. Those who seemed to communicate directly with animals were thought to have “familiars.” As you can see, it was not advisable for anyone to make public their ability to communicate directly with the natural world. This sort of intelligence seems to have been literally bred out of the white population.
More recently, in the 1960s, there seemed to be a resurgence of interest among young people in Paganism, Wicca, Druidism, and other avenues of spirituality that focused on appreciation of and communication with nature. Hippies also tended to be more interested in “ecology” and sustainable living. Notice how they were treated by mainstream society. They were marginalized as “hippies” who had no sense of civic responsibility. Hippies were, as a group, labeled as dirty, lazy, communistic, rebellious, immoral, and addicted to drugs.
Fortunately, many of these same people have been able to find ways to make their interests more palatable to the mainstream culture. It is now much more acceptable in Western society to be interested in the environment, sustainable living, clean energy, animal rights, and the like.
My point, however, is that, because naturalist intelligence is not valued in modern societies dominated by white people, those who have it don’t tend to hone their natural skills or follow their natural inclinations. Native Americans and other indigenous groups are now trying desperately to get the attention of those in the mainstream of Western societies, because they sense that the destruction of their beloved Mother Earth is fast approaching a point at which the damage that has been done cannot be reversed. It is imperative that we listen to them, because they have a perspective that the vast majority of us lack.
There are those who are saying that because human beings share a connection with Mother Earth, we do violence to the natural world when we do violence to one another. John Philip Newell wrote about this understanding on the part of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest, who also trained as a paleontologist and geologist.
“It was in the brokenness of Europe and the bloody trenches of the front lines that Teilhard de Chardin woke up to communion with God through earth. During Easter week 1916 at the Battle of Dunkirk, he wrote, “The more I devote myself in some way to the interests of the earth . . . the more I belong to God.”
“It was as he cared for the wounded, it was as he felt the shock of the earth around him, bombs blasting craters out of trampled vineyards, that he came to see most clearly the sacredness of creation’s body. He saw that what we do to one another as nations and what we do to the earth as a human race is what we do to the Presence of Love.”
This seems to be the indigenous view, as well, that when we do violence to each other and violence to the earth, we are also guilty of doing violence to God. I’ve seen this idea expressed several times in the last few months, and not always by indigenous people. Those who have a high degree of ability to convene with Mother Nature seem to feel this the most strongly.
Indigenous and non-indigenous people been talking about a time when the earth may go through a period of cleansing until it is restored to balance. Some Indigenous cultures have very old stories that recount other such cleansings, catastrophic events that were survived by very few people. A few people are now saying that the Pyramids of Egypt, for example, are remnants of a culture that predates what we think of as Ancient Egyptian civilization. There are other obviously human-made structures that are being studied, as well, that may one day offer clues to well-developed, even high-tech civilizations that existed before recorded history. What happened to these civilizations? Did they once make the same mistakes with respect to the earth that we have made?
If we could only communicate directly with Mother Earth, what might we learn? If we could just listen to those who can communicate with the natural world, how might our lives be changed for the better?