Psychologist Howard Gardner has hypothesized that “intelligence” must be measured on more than one linear scale. There are, says Gardner, multiple intelligences; for example: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences. Gardner also postulates a naturalist intelligence:

A naturalist demonstrates expertise in the recognition and classification of the numerous species — the flora and the fauna — of his or her environment. [Intelligence Reframed, Basic Books, 1999, pp. 48 ff.]

You could argue that this intelligence is not highly valued in our society. When the majority of the population was rural, the naturalist intelligence would have been highly valued. For most of us human beings, this is no longer the case:

…the naturalist is comfortable in the world of organisms and may well possess the talent of caring for, taming, or interacting subtly with various living creatures. Such potentials exist [in the roles of biologists and environmentalists, and]… with many other roles range from hunters to fishermen to farmers to gardeners to cooks.

Fewer and fewer people hunt or fish these days; farmers make up less than five percent of the population; many of us live where it’s impossible to have a garden; and cooking has been reduced to opening packages of pre-prepared food. Yet it is a human characteristic that if we have an ability, we will want to practice it, and there will be consequences if we don’t practice it. Sherlock Holmes needed opportunities to practice his highly-developed ability for criminal investigation (a combination, perhaps, of logical-mathematical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences); without such opportunities, he reached for his seven-per-cent solution of cocaine.

For those of us who have some measure of it, the naturalist intelligence will find expression, even in the typical urban or suburban landscape where there is little in the way of biodiversity. In a debased form, it may be what drives some people to be able to identify the year and model of a Harley Davidson motorcycle glimpsed from a distance. My older sister keeps a horse and my younger sister has cats; the evening attendant at the Elm Street parking garage raises pigeons. I live in the middle of the city with almost no space for a garden; what saves my sanity is birdwatching and house plants; those two things, and I take an hour-long walk every day instead of going to the gym, for I would rather be outdoors in the worst weather than cooped up in a sterile gym.

I have fantasies about quitting ministry and going back to work as a carpenter. At least then I’d be working with wood, which even when cut is a living material. At least then I’d be outdoors much of the time.