Multiple intelligences in Chinese medicine





“Intelligence is something we want to have a lot of. What does Chinese medicine say about that topic. Enjoy.”

Nils Volden




Chinese psychology has an easy way to identify the personality of people through using the five classical personalities, Roun, Chenn, I, Pro and Teche. Often we find intelligence intertangled with personalities. This aspect is closely related to personality, but is not the same topic. In the classical Chinese medicine intelligence is often related to Spleen zang, the mental aspect Yi or to the I personality. This Spleen zang connection does not help us much when we want to really understand intelligence. Let us try to understand how Chinese psychology operates with multiple intelligences.

The area of intelligences is an area of confusion in the occidental psychology also. Let us use this confusion in occidental psychology as our starting ground. The dominant theory is interestingly enough called “The Theory of Multiple Intelligences – MI”. MI differentiates intelligences into specific sensory groups. MI is opposed by an understanding of intelligence as a single general ability; you are smart and nothing more. The theory of multiples intelligences correlates well with the Chinese psychology on the area, and that is why we select MI as a way to look closer into intelligences. We know that within Chinese medicine we find everything interconnected and coexisting. Made visible through the five element theory and its explanations of how everything functions in harmony.
Howard Gardner fathered the concept of MI when he published a book named “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences” in 1983. This book quickly became a new standard of perceiving intelligence in the world for the academics and the professional within psychology. Short, Gardner described eight criteria for a behavior that he considered to be an intelligence or ability of intelligence; later he extended this to ten. Besides grouping intelligences Gardner said that intelligences in people come like a blend. Everybody is a mix of multiple intelligences in different intensities. Exactly as Chinese psychology states through its mental theories. Later the MI theory of Gardner becomes a theory for discussion more than a conclusive theory. Since MI often states abilities as distinct intelligences. Perhaps we might see this as something similar to Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis, good for discussion and thought, but not really in clinic.


The ten intelligence groups or intelligence abilities of Gardner were:
• Musical–rhythmic intelligence
• Visual–spatial intelligence
• Verbal–linguistic intelligence
• Logical–mathematical intelligence
• Bodily–kinesthetic intelligence
• Interpersonal intelligence
• Intrapersonal intelligence
• Naturalistic intelligence
• Existential intelligence
• Moral intelligence

We need to remember that intelligence consists of three categories that are connected to distinct abilities. First, the person needs to produce something useful for the culture where he lives. Second, this is an ability to solve problems in daily life. Three, the person have an ability to create solutions to problems. According to the definition of intelligence we might conclude with a few key words: Usefulness, Problem solving and finding Solutions. Making the definition of intelligence connected to a way of pulling a society forward and not directly a high powered brain. Let us see into the different intelligences as put forward by Gardner and as we go through them let us also associate them with Chinese psychology and Chinese medical theories.


Musical intelligence
This is an intelligence that is directly connected to the Musical–rhythmic and harmonic sense in a person. In a way this is the ability to understand and sense sounds, rhythms, and music. In a way we might call this a sound related intelligence connected to the hearing. Audition and the ability to hear are connected to the zang organ kidney. Of course this is not only hearing a sound it is also processing a sound and also reading a sound. To be able to find the message in a sound we need to have a sufficient strong psychic qi and a good functioning audition. The general mental state and the qi in kidney zang are the two main parameters in musicality. We all know that everybody speak and understand when being spoken to, if we want to. We all enjoy some type of music, and we all have some ability to analyze sound impressions. Being musical is beyond this normal profane ability. Musicality is to really understand, read and live music to the highest level. Some can pick up an unknown instrument, and after a short time reproduce known songs, compose new melodies and even create new musical expressions. The kidney zang are connected to deep thinking and anxiety. Giving us the impression that real musical artists might have some mental issues connected to anxiety and that they on average think deeper than the rest. Perhaps they see behind elements we other do not connect. Often we find musicality connected to an analysis of persons and society. We will more often find musicality in Teche personalities. Teche personalities are connected to kidney zang.


Spatial intelligence
This is an intelligence that is connected to the Visual–spatial sense in a person. Before spatial intelligence were considered as intelligence, but now one of many others. Spatial intelligence is the ability to visualize inside the mind. Spatial intelligence is directly connected to perception of corners, up and down, inside and outside, and the proper use of space. Visualization is intimately connected to the eyes and the liver zang opens in the eyes. Making liver zang related to the perception of spatiality. As we know a Roun personality has an inborn ability to see or think how things are in forms of pictures and internal images. Making this intelligence intimately related to liver zang, Hun and the Roun personality.


Linguistic intelligence
This is an intelligence that is directly connected to the verbal-linguistic sense in a person. This is persons that have good abilities in formulating themselves verbally, with words and languages. This is the persons that have an ability to speak and formulate easy. On top of this we also find extreme gifts for language. Making this a perfect Teche person as the well formulated speaker he really are. Making this deep formulated linguistic intelligence related to kidney zang. Having written this we need to understand that a person that have little or no problems with speaking in public is related to a Roun personality and thereby liver zang. Having the ability to speak in public is not a part of this intelligence. Here we only consider the content and not the action of speaking. We also need to understand that this intelligence is not connected to the ability to a person to plan a good speech and to perform a good speech; an ability that correspond very well to the Pro personality and thereby lung zang. A person that is good in or likes very much reading, writing, storytelling and words in general are most likely related to Teche and kidney zang. This linguistic intelligence gives us many indicators for an increased ability in plain memory.


Reason intelligence
This is an intelligence that is directly connected to the logical- mathematical abilities. When a person needs to abstract something, reason and perform critical thinking he needs to think deep. Deep thinking is connected to kidney zang or the mental aspect of Zhi. To understand underlying principles in something is connected intimately to the Teche personality and the mental activity in Zhi. Telling us that this way of digging into complex matter are a part of the water element and its related mental capacities like the personality Teche, the mental activity Zhi and the zang organ kidney.


Kinesthetic intelligence
This is an intelligence that is connected to bodily and kinesthetic abilities. Kinesthetic intelligence is perhaps easily understood through Gross motor skill and Fine motor skill; the essence is bodily control. Within Chinese medicine bodily control is connected to liver zang and the Roun personality. Bodily control can be seen as our sense of bodily timing. A weak liver qi or a strong I personality will not have a good timing. A Roun personality is the best to achieve his physical goals and the best one to train his responses. A Roun personality is the master in activities as dance and physical education; some would also add acting to this list. Whatever a Roun personality do physically will be done to the supreme and the will surpass all the others.


Interpersonal intelligence
This is an intelligence connected to the social skills of a person. This is how good a person interacts with other people. Interpersonal intelligence is characterized by sensitivity to the moods of other people. It is also common to add sensitivity to feelings, the temperament of others and the ability to spot personal motivations in this intelligence. A person that has this type of social skills tends to cooperate much better than others as a group member. Remember this has little to do with making others like you or you being extroverted. This has to do with communication and empathy, the ability to connect and feel others. An interesting aspect here is the attraction to speaking; making this people eager in discussions and in debates. We got five basic personalities, but none of them directly embraces interpersonal intelligence. The reason for this is the lack of emphasis on this topic in Chinese medicine. Chinese psychology looks beyond and sees a person that has verbal skills and likes interaction with other people. Making this a person with verbal skills something that tells us that this might be a Teche personality, the mental aspect Zhi or related to the kidney zang organ. At the same time we also know that a Teche personality are deep and slow in their conversations. A Teche personality might be trusted, but when speaking about interpersonal relations we might suspect that the main topic is not the correctness of the message. The focus is on conversation and the interest in communicating. Roun personalities are random and impulsive. They might catch your attention and momentarily impress you, but not hold it for long. Actually it is only one personality that more or less fit interpersonal intelligence and that is the Pro personality. They are planned, structured and often the leader figure. Everything this personality do is for a purpose. Perhaps they use others and lie from time to time, but they create the relations they want. They make good business people and politicians. They will when engaged in teaching be good teachers and social workers. The problem is often their plans that lead them to other areas.


Intrapersonal intelligence
This is an intelligence connected to the introspection of a person. This is basically the ability to perform introspective activities or to self-reflect if you want. When a person score high on intrapersonal intelligence we find this person being deep and reflecting on himself as a person and controlling himself. In Chinese psychology this is the classical Teche personality. Deep on all aspects and evaluating all aspects of himself and others. The Teche personality is associated with kidney zang. At the same time we need to consider the I personality that is thinking about everything all the time. Their mind is on a 24/7 modus. If somebody think about what if inside them self it has to be an I personality, the only problem is the lack of constructive internal dialogue. The I personality is associated with the spleen zang.


Naturalistic intelligence
This is an intelligence connected to read the surroundings. This is more connected to knowing plants, weather conditions and animals. The origin to this intelligence are thought to be related to our historical past as hunters and gatherers; our evolutionary past. Gartner added this intelligence at a later stage as a way to put the human being as something deeper and more connected to nature. Placing the human in a greater context interconnected with nature we find the congenital essence become even more visible on this intelligence than the others. This does not mean that this intelligence is different and more congenital than the others. The ability to remember is connected to two aspects: Yi and Zhi. Yi is the short term memory. Zhi is the long term memory. Here we have to understand that the information of this kind is not saved for more time than needed. The information is just filtered through the unconscious mind searching for aspects. Chinese psychology will say that this intelligence are connected to the I personality. The most sensible of all personalities. The person that will absorb information from all aspects in the surroundings and run them through his mind sensing them for aspects. The I personality are closely related to the mental aspect of Yi and spleen zang.


Existential intelligence
This is an intelligence connected to the existential and spiritual aspects in life. It is not an intelligence connected to religious belief. In a way it is perhaps better to call this an existential intelligence; Gardner also proposed this. This intelligence is connected to the huge questions and to the existential questions in life. Some do not understand this while others might be 100% into this topic. In Chinese psychology we do not find a direct correlation to existential issues, but if we look closer into the essence of existing we find the necessity to feel present. Something that makes us reflects about our present way of acting for a Roun personality. Since this is more a deep reflection about issues of great importance than a question on believing in a supreme being we might rule out the Roun personality. If it is future guided as for example before dying way of thinking we might suspect a Pro personality. This existential intelligence is relatively permanent and not directly connected to present or future, making also the Pro personality become less likely. This is an internal process and less connected to sensing and thereby also less connected to the I personality. We have two candidates to this intelligence, a Chen personality and a Teche personality. The main difference here is that a Teche personality think deep into the matter and the Chenn personality processes more than he think. Since this is purely a way to reflect on an issue we might say that this is a Teche personality related intelligence. It is impossible to speak about existential intelligence without mention an important aspect with the Chenn personality, a personality associated with the zang organ Heart. A Chenn personality will remembering everything and acting correctly according to what he has learned. We find many religious fanatics in this Chenn group. That is why we have to understand that the best people to be trained to get a high existential intelligence come from the Chenn group and the best real existential intelligence come from the Teche group.


Moral intelligence
This is an intelligence connected to the understanding of right and wrong in a society. Remember that right and wrong is a very variable concept and the existence of a universal moral might not exist. When a person score high on moral intelligence we find this person being capable to act correct according to the rules of moral where he lives. In Chinese psychology this is the classical Chenn personality. Remembering everything from everywhere and acting accordingly. The Chenn personality is associated with heart zang. It does not matter what the topic is, a Chenn personality will act as told, making him score high on moral intelligence. Again, remember that moral is nothing fixed and has little to do with the ability to reflect on issues. Moral is the proper behavior, a type of being well educated. Depending on your philosophy, religion and culture you might have different moral standards. Also remember that Immorality is to act in opposition to your moral, and Amorality is to be unaware of some moral rules. The Chenn personality is the personality that follows his rules as good as he can without reflecting on their correctness.


It exist many intelligences or mental cognitive abilities. According to MI and Chinese psychology all intelligences exist in all of us to different degrees, some got more and some got less. Intelligences are separated entities and cannot be seen as one. A person with a high intelligence in one area is not necessarily more intelligent than a person who is low in exactly that intelligence, everything depends on the other persons other intelligences. It might be possible that the other have a higher score in another intelligence. We also have different levels of understanding abilities. Sometimes a person might focus on different elements of a theme and understand different depths. For example a person might be skilled in memorizing names of plants and another person might be very into the understanding of nature and finding plants, but bad in the Latin names.


Some say that it exist a general intelligence and that the smaller abilities or multiple intelligences of Gardner are rather elements of the general intelligence if even to be regarded as intelligences. Intelligence is according to Gardner more closely related to subjective generated strong areas than to a general high powered narrow defined mental capacity. Chinese psychology has several markers that might be defined as intelligence in western psychology. Most important are our psychic qi. The psychic qi might be seen as the horse powers of your mind. You might be born with a strong mind or have trained and developed it through mental training, good living conditions and a healthy life. Remember to be born with something is your congenital essence in activity, and what you have developed are related to your acquired essence. The deepest are the congenital essence that is Yin in relation to the acquired essence that is Yang. Yin is more permanent and Yang is more changing. We might say that if you are born with the ability you got it, but if you have developed it you need to take good care of it because you might lose it easy. Chinese psychology also considers the inner harmony in the body as one of its most important focus areas. This is often described through the five element theory, where we find the five different aspects of a human being interacting and intercontrolling each other. Our five personalities might be put into this model as the Roun personality is connected to the Wood element, Chenn personality to the Fire element, I personality to the Earth element, Pro personality to the metal element, and Teche personality to the water element. All of us are all five personalities, but with different strengths and in different mixes. Be aware of the aspect perhaps most important are the conclusion that intelligence are a collection of different abilities, a mixture, and not only one.


An IQ test will measure your linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities, spatial abilities, and little more. Making you only measure a tiny part of the intelligences you might have. Some might also criticize a normal school examination for only measuring linguistic and logical skills. We are a mix of multiples intelligences and need to be treated accordingly. More modern IQ tests have however become wider. Of course many do not like this since it is little research that support the theory and the simple fact one intelligence are easier to conform to. For many the topic intelligence enters almost a religious fanatic. Some actually go as far as celling Gardner and his multiple intelligences for useful fiction and unlikely. Chinese psychology supports Gardner’s theory.






The writer of this article gives seminars in Chinese medicine and Chinese psychology all over the world! Go to this page to find out how.





• Davis, Katie; Christodoulou, Joanna; Seider, Scott; Gardner, Howard (2011), “The Theory of Multiple Intelligences”, in Sternberg, Robert J.; Kaufman, Barry, The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence, Cambridge University Press, pp. 485–503
• Demetriou, A.; Mouyi, A.; Spanoudis, G. (2010), “The development of mental processing”, in Overton, W. F., The Handbook of Life-Span Development: Cognition, Biology and Methods, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 36–55
• Gardner, Howard (1993), Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice, Basic Books
• Gardner, Howard (1983), Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Basic Books
• Gardner, Howard (1999), Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century, Basic Books
• Gardner, H. (2004), Changing Minds: The art and science of changing our own and other people’s minds, Harvard Business School Press
• Jones, Paul Howard (2010), Introducing Neuroeducational Research, Taylor & Francis
• Volden, Nils (2008), Helsefag, Kinesisk medisinskvitenskap, TCM Press

One thought on “Multiple intelligences in Chinese medicine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s