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Current Update as of October 09, 2002

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Thinking with Your Soul
(Harmony Books)
Book Summary by D.D. Delaney

We've all heard of IQ tests to determine the capacity of our mental abilities. In many ways our society depends on these tests to guide our choices and preferences, honoring high scorers with a certain awe and a wide latitude of opportunity while relegating lower scorers to the class of commoners.

More recently, researchers have determined that IQ does not seem to be the sum of intelligence. In response, they have developed serious proposals for the existence of biological intelligence, emotional intelligence, and a range of subsets to these and the standard IQ, making the study of intelligence—a field in itself—quite complex indeed.

Now Dr. Richard N. Wolman, clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry, has brought forth evidence for yet another kind of inborn human intelligence, which he calls spiritual. And he has devised a test which he believes can measure it.

His findings, complete with test, have been published in his recent book, Thinking with your Soul: Spiritual Intelligence and Why It Matters (Harmony Books). In it, as he explains in an introductory chapter, he suggests a language to describe spiritual thinking, experience, and behavior in objective terms, free of association with any particular religion, and a methodology by which spiritual qualities may be empirically measured. After sharing an outline of the discussion he intends to offer, he then launches his first chapter, “Spirituality Today,” which he addresses under several delineated headings
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He first notes the pervasive interest millennial Americans have taken in spiritual subjects and practice, a trend ever-increasing since the late nineteenth century. Though accompanied by greater participation in traditional religions, the most noteworthy feature of this spiritual quickening is a commitment to personal, or “customized,” spirituality, where individuals blend different religious traditions with their own personal take on numinous matters to create a spiritual framework satisfying to themselves.

This phenomenon was born out of the transcendentalist tradition of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and, in the social sciences, William James, and bred in America's increasingly diverse demography as people from all the world's religions have grown up in the melting pot. More recently it has reverberated throughout popular culture and is now spread far and wide over the Internet. Dr. Wolman finds the trend so well established it is irreversible, a kind of definition of our times spiritually, and this fact places an obligation on science to investigate it.

Operating within this spiritual phenomenon, he finds two basic types of individualities—the “traveller” and the “dweller.” Travellers are seekers after a spirituality to guide their journeys through life. Their search is both cause and effect of living in a mobile, transient society, and their numbers extend from investigation of a variety of spiritual traditions into the ranks of those served by the self-help movements.

Dwellers, on the other hand, are those who have found their truths and, whether they actually stay in one place, have settled into living those truths in their day-to-day lives. Most characteristically, their guidance tends to come from “the idiosyncratic, self-reflective, and self-disclosing world” within.

For both types, equally valid but different, there is danger of much personal confusion because our culture has yet to develop an informed system to support them in the experiences they are having. Dr. Dr. Wolman's PsychoMatrix Spirituality Inventory, or PSI, the test he has created (and administered to over 6,000 subjects), is intended for that purpose—to help people identify and come to understand the spiritual component of their natures. For many, that little-understood component is the cause of unnecessary dysfunction. Yet, when properly understood, it can be integrated into the functioning personality, providing much richness.

There are several conditions in today's world which should urge science to consider spirituality with more serious attention. There are also admitted obstacles holding back this development.

The first condition is the popular culture—books, magazines, TV shows, films, and a wide range of music—in which spiritual themes are liberally represented.

Second is the increasing number of people who find the strictures of traditional religion without meaning in modern life. They are abandoning religious institutions for a customized spirituality designed for their own needs out of whatever they find spiritually meaningful.

Meanwhile—a third condition—recent history and current events, from World War I through Sept. 11, are filled with a steady march of trauma, horror, and resulting disillusionment. As Dr. Wolman writes, “The need for spiritual enlightenment to combat chaos and violence and provide some sort of inner peace has never been more profound.”

At the same time, as spiritual masters have always taught and as science has now confirmed, we are all interconnected in a vast web of life in which what each of us does or even thinks can be shown to affect all the rest. The internet is just one, important manifestation of this condition.

Yet traditional forces in two influential areas—education and Science—hold back a full recognition of this massive shift in spiritual understanding and expression. Educational systems are particularly stressed by conservative pressure to reassert Judeo- Christian messages and values in the classroom. And in science, with its long-held antipathy to religion, many cling to the view that the spiritual, if it exists at all, is outside the purview of empirical study.

Yet Dr. Wolman believes neither education nor science can divorce itself from today's spiritual impulse and the defining role it already plays in shaping individual choices in a shifting social and moral order. He believes what is needed is a “new metaphysics” which acknowledges the existence of a spiritual center in each individual and provides mechanisms for accessing and understanding that center. Without that, individuals can only respond in confusion to the difficult moral choices raised by the spectacular achievements of science, especially in microbiology and the reproductive services. He therefore predicts that the new metaphysics is most likely to emerge as a necessity of bio-ethics. He hopes that his PSI may serve as a step in the right direction toward addressing the spiritual component in human nature without turning back the clock.

In chapter two, “A Personal View,” Dr. Wolman summarizes his own background in a Jewish family where memories of the holocaust were still fresh, raising many tortured questions in his young mind concerning inhumanity, suffering, and death. The urgency of these questions became critical for him through a series of untimely deaths of relatives, close mentors, and friends, yet the answers provided by organized religion were inadequate. “My nagging questions about evil and injustice in the world just wouldn't go away.” He turned to the study of psychology for answers, emerging into a career as a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of children. He married, started a family, opened a practice, and eventually became involved in a study of the effects of custody disputes on children. He concluded that the devastating effects of a broken home on an entire family call for the mobilization of personal resources which psychological counselling simply does not provide. These resources seem to be spiritual. Yet psychology, like most academic science, avoids this dimension of experience, thus failing to serve the needs of its patients, who, in therapy sessions, seem eager to talk about their spiritual feelings and struggles.

Meanwhile, the disparate range of spiritual understanding Dr. Wolman encountered among his patients disturbed him. At the same time he began to wonder if spirituality might not be a distinct branch of knowledge, a phenomenon which, after all, could be observed, described, and measured. Eventually, he developed the PSI, based on existing testing methods and technologies but created specifically to reveal patterns of spiritual understanding and development. Only after he had designed the PSI and begun using it in his practice did he begin to wonder if there was such a thing as spiritual intelligence—a specific human function reserved for the perception and processing of spiritual knowledge and events. If so, he hoped to find it in some kind of recognizable relationship to intelligence as it was already understood by his peers.

In Chapter Three, “Intelligence,” Dr. Wolman walks us through the existing theories of intelligence relevant to his inquiry. What interests him most in this survey is the work of those whose conceptions reach beyond the intellectual, measured by standardized IQ tests focussing on the ability to learn and process factual information. Little agreement has existed among various theorists about the nature and application of intelligence since modern inquiry began a century ago. But he cites the recent research on emotional intelligence done by Jack Mayer, Peter Solovey, David Caruso, and Daniel Goodman for their particular influence as a foundation for his own theories. And he reserves special consideration for the recent work of Howard Gardner, whose break-out of 8½ separate human intelligence functions provides Dr. Wolman with an opening for the consideration of his own findings.

Gardner's list of intelligences in some ways reads like a catalogue of personality types, with all humans possessing all the traits to one degree or another. For example, linguistic intelligence, present in all, is most exercised and developed by the writing and speaking classes. Spacial intelligence is most active in architects, designers, and explorers. But it is Gardner's number 8½—existential intelligence, or the mind's capacity to consider ultimate questions of life and death—which Dr. Wolman believes can be taken further, revealing an open field for his own special interest, spiritual intelligence.

For Gardner, the way in which these 8½ kinds of intelligence merge in an individual creates that person's unique profile of intelligence, a concept Dr. Wolman will later apply to spiritual intelligence alone to capture a spiritual profile, the PSI, for individual querents. He also references Gardner to insist that all intelligences are interconnected and indispensible to one another in any individual. Therefore, as none is superior, none inferior, value judgments are invalid. Even the numerical scoring of the PSI should not be construed as positive if high, negative if low, as the IQ has been traditionally interpreted, but simply as a neutral indicator of the level at which that particular department of an individual's mind functions.

Continuing to build a careful preparation for discussion of his own work, Dr. Wolman then summarizes the criteria used by earlier theorists for establishing emotional intelligence as a generally (though not universally) accepted equal partner with intellectual and other intelligences in the human make-up. For these researchers, an intelligence must reflect performance, i.e., motivate behavior; it must be demonstrably distinct from other intelligences; and it must demonstrate the capacity to change and grow with experience.

In addition, still allying himself with previously published research, Dr. Wolman agrees that an intelligence should exhibit some qualities of problem-solving. Typical problems spiritual intelligence addresses involve moral dilemmas and questions of an individual's relationship with a higher power.

Finally in this chapter, Dr. Wolman tackles the controversy among experts about whether an intelligence, to be considered authentic, must be genetically innate to humans rather than acquired primarily through environment and culture, which could suggest it is not a player in its own right but subordinate to another kind of intelligence. While admitting there is no agreement among theorists on this “nature vs. nurture” debate, he chooses a middle ground for his own views, postulating that spiritual intelligence—the faculty which asks the ultimate questions and experiences the ultimate interconnectivity—is a distinct and innate human function which is also capable of developing over the course of a lifetime.

Having completed his case for the authenticity of the spiritual as a distinct and operative intelligence, Dr. Wolman begins Chapter Four, “Spiritual Intelligence,” with a definition. “Spiritual intelligence,” he writes, “is the human capacity to ask ultimate questions about the meaning of life and to simultaneously experience the seamless connection between each of us and the world in which we live.” This process, he says, might be called “thinking with your soul.”

After reaffirming his conclusion that the human proclivity to religious thought and experience is both innate and nourished through learned behavior, Dr. Wolman challenges those (like Gardner) who hold the spiritual cannot be a fully authentic intelligence because it merely perceives but does not act. On the contrary, he argues, spiritual intelligence clearly informs and motivates action in an individual's consciously chosen way of being in the world.

However, Dr. Wolman understands that his subject does not conform to the same standards of objectivity as other intelligences, whose presence and level of activity can be measured, as with the standard IQ test. Because of the nature of spiritual problems, where accuracy and speed, to name two standard indicators of intelligent activity, may not apply or be relevant, as a scientist Dr. Wolman finds it compelling to fix on a reliable way to measure spiritual intelligence on its own terms.

To accomplish this, he distills a broad-based synthesis of many intelligence theories into an expanded definition of intelligence itself, which, he says, “adheres to the following sequence: noticing, knowing, understanding, action.” He then argues for the validity of each of these modes in the operation of what he's calling spiritual intelligence. That is, we are exercising our spiritual intelligence when we notice transcendental elements or events in our experience; we know, through processes cognitive as well as intuitive, that such experiences are spiritual as opposed to any other kind; we engage other processes, cognitive and intuitive, to understand the meaning of these experiences to ourselves; and in response to understanding we are motivated toward some form of action in our lives.

Yet just as some people have more native aptitude than others for music, mathematics, or gymnastics, so others, possessing heightened intuitive and extra-sensory functions, are more natively inclined toward the spiritual. General agreement upon an objective tool for measuring these natural functions could, among other uses, dispel the age-old confusion between mysticism and madness.

However, measurement introduces certain pitfalls Dr. Wolman wishes to avoid. Chief of these is the assumption that a “high” score on a spiritual intelligence test (i.e., the PSI) indicates a more virtuous moral or devotional character. He prefers to speak in terms of a “pattern of spirituality.” After all, psychopathic personalities who kill out of religious conviction are as likely to score high on the PSI as a Mother Theresa or Mahatma Ghandi. The real considerations here are 1) how much of our mental and emotional energy is invested in identifiably spiritual activities and 2) how that energy is distributed across the full spectrum of our experience. Dr. Wolman concludes that these questions can be answered by determining, through analysis of a pattern of responses to carefully constructed multiple-choice questions, not what a person thinks or believes but what that person actually does. People with a “high spiritual IQ” will act in ways which reflect a distinct emphasis on spiritual factors.

The design of a reliable test to measure spiritual IQ is the subject of Chapter Five, “Creating the PSI.” The first challenge of that project was determining what is spiritual and what is not. From pilot studies involving 714 individuals Dr. Wolman was able to isolate seven spiritual factors, a broad but concise inventory of what most people are likely to associate with the term “spiritual.”

Dr. Wolman's seven spiritual factors are: Divinity, the sense of awe before the recognition of a higher power or source; Mindfulness, or the practiced focus on specific processes of mind and body; Extrasensory Perception, or the experience of paranormal events ranging from curious coincidences to life-changing visions and revelations; Community, or social activities emphasizing charity and volunteerism; Intellectuality, or the desire to study as well as question religious teachings; Trauma, or the effects of serious illness or death of a loved one (tending to quicken spiritual responses); and Childhood Spirituality, or the degree to which an individual is introduced to religion and spiritual subjects early in life.

Based on these seven factors, Dr. Wolman compiled his PSI, a list of 80 statements describing various behaviors or activities, where each statement typifies an aspect of one of the spiritual factors. Factors are randomly distributed throughout the exercise. Querents are asked to evaluate whether they engage in these behaviors never, seldom, often, or almost always. For example:

1. I set aside time for contemplation and self-reflection.

12. I have witnessed serious illness in people close to me.

28. I feel that my life is directed by God.

41. I attended religious services as a child.

55. I sense the presence of loved ones who are no longer living.

80. I have memories of near-death experiences.

In his pivotal Chapter Six, “Taking the PSI,” Dr. Wolman provides the test for the reader to take, complete with a simple formula for scoring results. Succeeding chapters—Seven through Thirteen—provide detailed discussions of each of the spiritual factors, emphasizing especially the significance of high or low test scores for each factor but also including further evidence, enriched by anecdote, of its important occurrence in individuals' experience. Practical suggestions for applying test results to improve relationships, identify meaningful work, and provide other quality of life benefits are also offered.

For example, Chapter Ten—“Community”—establishes the spiritual nature of the group in its tendency to draw individuals into experiences in which they transcend themselves, typically engaging in compassionate behavior for the good of others. This happens quite observably during the holiday season, when the compassion generated at that time draws people together quite naturally to share unselfishly in a variety of community activities whose effects, most people would agree, have spiritual impact.

A high score on the community factor suggests that an individual feels distinct fulfillment and a sense of meaning working with and for others for some greater good. Group objectives are likely to override individual interests. Strong bonding within the family, especially in childhood, is likely.

A low score may suggest that an individual is more content to engage in solitary activities, but it does not necessarily suggest unsociability. A person scoring low on this factor may be very sociable, with many friends. But the purpose of those friendships is less charitable than cultural. Strong family ties may, too, exist, but family projects undertaken together are likely to be recreational or involve work around the house.

Whichever is the case, the knowledge provided by the PSI scores can help an individual better understand his/her deeper feelings about community. Dr. Wolman relates several anecdotes of the beneficial use of this understanding to resolve conflict, in one case providing the insight for a couple with greatly different needs concerning community to accept amicable divorce as appropriate for them.

In his final Chapter Fourteen—“Conclusion”—Dr. Wolman reiterates his conviction that spirituality, in its concerns with the central issues of life and death, is an obvious force in human existence, making “it possible for us to tolerate the anxiety of death and separation and establish the connections to the world and to each other that give life joy and purpose.” The PSI, with its seven spiritual factors, offers a way to describe each person's individual and unique expression of spirituality and provides a language for the discussion of spirituality in general, thus opening the way for its recognition as a human reality among society's consensus-makers. He hopes the PSI will provide “a promising methodology” for pursuing future research in the exciting new field of spiritual intelligence.

For those who wish to take the PSI and have the results scored and interpreted for them, the test is available for a small fee at Dr. Wolman's PsychoMatrix website,

This book is available from Click here for details!

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