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[Existential intelligence] has been valued in every known human culture. Cultures devise religious, mystical, or metaphysical systems for dealing with existential issues; and in modern times or in secular settings, aesthetic, philosophical, and scientific works and systems also speak to this ensemble of human needs.
Howard Gardner has written about the possibility of a ninth intelligence—the existential (Gardner, 1995, 1999)—and so I would like to examine what some of the potential applications of this candidate intelligence might be in the curriculum. Gardner defines existential intelligence as "a concern with ultimate life issues." He describes the core ability of this intelligence as "the capacity to locate oneself with respect to the furthest reaches of the cosmos— the infinite and the infinitesimal—and the related capacity to locate oneself with respect to such existential features of the human condition as the significance of life, the meaning of death, the ultimate fate of the physical and the psychological worlds, and such profound experiences as love of another person or total immersion in a work of art" (Gardner, 1999, p. 60). Gardner explicitly states that he is not proposing here a spiritual, religious, or moral intelligence based upon any specific "truths" that have been advanced by different individuals, groups, or institutions (see Gardner, 1999, pp. 53–77, for a fuller discussion of why he has decided not to propose a spiritual or moral intelligence). Instead, he is suggesting that any rendering of the spectrum of human intelligences should probably address humanity's long-standing efforts to come to grips with the ultimate questions of life: "Who are we?" "What's it all about?" "Why is there evil?" "Where is humanity heading?" "Is there meaning in life?" and so forth. There is room in this inclusive definition for explicitly religious or spiritual roles (theologians, pastors, rabbis, shamans, ministers, priests, yogis, lamas, imams), as well as nonreligious or nonspiritual roles (philosophers, writers, artists, scientists, and others who are asking these deeper questions as a part of their creative work).