According to philosopher Francesc Torralba Roselló
You have heard of your intelligence quotient (IQ) and about how emotional intelligence is measured. But have you ever wondered about your spiritual intelligence is like? In this conversation with Aleteia, Francesc Torralba teaches us what spiritual intelligence is. Torralba, an expert on the topic and an advisor of the Pontifical Council for Culture, has condensed his knowledge into the book Spiritual Intelligence (“Inteligencia espiritual”), published by Plataforma.
Is life worth living?
This question, which can be formulated in various ways—“Does life have meaning?” “What can I hope for?”—makes explicit the mysterious nature of the human person.
Human beings are always searching for something.
Human beings, by virtue of their spiritual intelligence, are capable of asking questions regarding the meaning of their existence; they have the ability to ask what really will give meaning to their time in this world.
In higher mammals, we can detect—in varying degrees—forms of linguistic, emotional, and interpersonal intelligence, but the spiritual form of intelligence is exclusive to human beings.
The ultimate question
What kinds of questions are the product of spiritual intelligence? Here are some examples: Why am I in the world? What is the meaning of my existence? What can I hope for after death? What meaning is there in the world? Why is there suffering? Why should I strive? What makes life worth living?
We don’t have obvious answers to such questions, but the ultimate question, the quest for purpose, has been a driving force behind humanity’s philosophical, scientific, and technological progress.
Spiritual intelligence isn’t satisfied with how, nor with why. It needs to know what for.
The ability to step back
Spiritual intelligence gives us the power to step back from the world around us, and also from ourselves.
Stepping back shouldn’t be understood here in a physical way. Spiritual intelligence allows us to distance ourselves from the world, and from our own body, but this action is only mental.
It consists, then, in separating ourselves, without ceasing to exist or leaving the world behind.
Distancing ourselves is, paradoxically, the only way to really understand something. In order to appreciate the texture and quality of a connection, a relationship, or a friendship, it is essential that we distance ourselves, and then—from a place where we have our passions and emotions contained—we can evaluate with equanimity.
Transcending means going beyond—not being content with what we are, with what we have, or with what we know. Transcending expresses a lack of something, but also hope.
Beyond the religious meaning of the word transcendence, our ability to transcend isn’t the exclusive domain of religious people: it is proper to every human being, because every person aspires to overcome some sort of limit.
Existence is one thing; being aware of your existence is something completely different. Plants exist, occupy a place in space, and have a certain lifespan, but plants don’t know they exist. They are not surprised by their own existence, and do not experience the vertigo of the passing of time.
Amazement requires physical distance. In order to admire a painting, a landscape, a starry sky, or a beautiful body, you have to move away, and see it from a distance.
When we realize that we exist, while we could have not existed, we feel surprised, and this surprise leads us to love life and to enjoy it intensely—to turn our being-in-the-world into a project.
Spiritual intelligence makes it possible for us to voyage along that infinite path that leads to self-knowledge.
The greatest teachers throughout human history, from Socrates to Confucius, have shown that the primary objective of education is self-knowledge.
When we cultivate our self-knowledge, we acquire the ability to distinguish between the way a person presents himself, and the person’s being; between representation and essence. Then, we can detach ourselves from what some authors call the ego, and open ourselves to the transcendent dimension they call Self.
The ability to make moral evaluations
The task of making moral evaluations is unavoidably human, and turns human beings into ethical agents. The foundation of ethical experience is spiritual intelligence. We are beings capable of having an ethical experience, because we have the ability to step back and make moral evaluations.
Only human beings are capable of building their own pyramid of values (axiological pyramid) and living accordingly.
A spiritually sensitive being finds enjoyment in natural beauty, in artistic expression, and in the simplicity of little things.
The aesthetic experience is specific to human beings: it is a peculiarity of their being-in-the-world that has not been detected in any other being.
Animals hunt their prey, and when they have it within reach, they attack. Human beings are capable of distancing themselves from their primal impulses, of restraining those impulses and channeling them conveniently. They are not content with merely living; they desire kindness, goodness, unity, beauty, and—above all—to live a meaningful life.
A sense of mystery
Human beings are surrounded with mysteries. A mystery is something unfathomable, beyond what is unknown or poorly known. Strictly speaking, it means what is hidden—what cannot be perceived with the senses nor clarified through reason.
Human beings, throughout history, have constantly felt called to clarify the mystery of the world and of the human person.
Spiritual intelligence permits us to ask questions. A profound person learns to live with the ultimate questions.
The search for wisdom
Scientific knowledge isn’t enough for human beings. Every person yearns for orientation that will allow him or her to live a happy life.
Spiritual intelligence enables us to work to bring our knowledge together, in order to get a comprehensive view. The fact that there are no conclusive answers on a scientific level, doesn’t mean that there are no intelligent answers in a full sense.