Great Minds

“Great minds think alike.”    Don’t we love that statement?  In the annals of self-congratulation, it stands tall, much like “what a team we make!” and “Look at what I did!”  Phrases we all like to use when it’s time to pat ourselves on the back.

But is the first one true?   Do great minds think alike?   

Time to head for the library.   The idea was to make a list of ‘great minds’ and follow it up with some serious examination into how and what they thought. With luck, the research would reveal if similarity in thought characterizes great minds.

Alas, it was not to be so.

What resulted is pretty amazing, especially if you keep in mind that history is a concoction of fact and fiction anyway, that the real truth of anything will always be elusive.  The best we can hope for is that something is on ‘good authority’. The following is on good authority.  Don’t ask me what constitutes a ‘good authority’.

Selecting a list of great minds was easier than you would think, at least when it comes to famous dead people.   The field is limited – most famous dead people are either kings, queens, politicians, or generals and, as we all know, there aren’t many great minds in that group.  I also eschewed live great minds mostly because I don’t know very many and most of them live quietly and unheralded in this grotesque age of self-promotion and spin doctoring.  The only people I seriously considered were Umberto Eco and Noam Chomsky but I demurred out of respect; why would they want to be thrown in with a bunch of dead people?

Anyway, I picked some obvious great minds – Einstein, Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Dante Alighieri, Galileo and Isaac Newton.  Bohr, Kepler, Archimedes, and Marconi were added to the list.  I arbitrarily excluded ancient great minds like Aristotle, Plato, Confucius, and – dare I say it? – Jesus.  No good reason for this other than their works tend to get candy-coated by centuries of various interpretations and I couldn’t trust the veracity of everything that was attributed to them. No doubt that what they said was actually said.  But by whom?  And when?  (I also passed on Marie Curie because you have to wonder about someone who worked their entire lives with something they knew would kill them.  Did you know that to this day, her notebooks are too toxic to handle without protective clothing?)

I then added some not-so-obvious great minds:  Rosalind Franklin, the brilliant scientist whose work was quashed then cribbed by Crick and Watson; Orson Welles, just because; Beethoven; Benjamin Franklin; and Emily Carr (how many successful painter-writers do you know?) because I needed another female.   This raises the interesting question as to why more brilliant women were not handed down to us from history.  Male domination?  Mysogynistic historians? Probably.

So, did all these ‘great minds’ think alike?    

Not a bit.   Half of them said they preferred to do their ‘great’ thinking in the morning, leaving ‘everyday’ thinking (Should I eat that second leg of ox?) to the remainder of the day, while the other half were the reverse. Two said they’d established a routine in which they thought one day and communed with nature the next.  One laughed at this, saying the closest he ever got to nature was a visit to the outhouse.  Another said he couldn’t take a day off because he had three mortgages and four ex-wives.  Five eyed him enviously, two with pity.

Some said they liked to entertain great thoughts while enjoying a glass or two or more of schnapps (or its equivalent) while others thought it too early in the day for that but, if the muse of inspiration were to skedaddle, they’d reconsider.  Three professed to be believe that Socrates might have passed up the opportunity to drink hemlock if only Xanthippe had been nicer to him, while others said he got what he deserved for marrying someone forty years his junior.    

Four announced that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush but the rest laughed and said the saying made no sense as an analogy and, at best, was a ‘regional’ aphorism that should have stayed in the region. Sixty per cent said they believed in God but differed widely on how He/She might look like.  The remaining forty percent refused to answer on the grounds it could cost them their jobs.   They all agreed that Ptolemy was wrong but three said he should be admired for trying to figure things out at a time when people worshipped beetles. 

Five thought King David could have been a boffo song-writer on Tin Pan Alley (“Right up there with Berlin and Paul Anka!”crowed one)  but others thought his talents lay more in the area of giant-killing and wife-stealing.  And one thought the 1927 Yankees were a better team than the 1964 Cardinals.   The rest said “Don’t you have better things to think about?”   Upon hearing a description of life in the western world in the 21stcentury, five said “You must be joking”, while the others simply shook their heads (One made the sign of the cross but refused to explain).  Eighty per cent agreed with Thomas Hobbes when he said life is ‘mean, brutish, nasty, and short’. The twenty per cent claimed it didn’t have to be that way if you had enough money.

Finally, eight believed Johnny Fever should not have lost his job in LA for saying ‘booger’ on air, while the rest claimed not to have any familiarity with the word, ‘booger’.

There was unanimity on a couple of subjects.  Honesty is the best policy.  Bigger is not better.   Wearing white after Labor Day seemed to work for the Romans. And, a good sleep is elusive. That’s it.

But, on balance, they don’t think alike.   The saying is, as they say, bogus.

But what about Not-So-Great minds?  Little minds.  Do theythink alike?    Surprisingly, there is also considerable research on this subject.  Not to mention a sharp uptick in candidates.  

Little minds agree on a lot of things.   Ricky Nelson was a good singer.  If you didn’t like to think about things too strenuously, the bible’s zillion and one quotes could provide a handy summation for any argument.    Life is short, but not necessarily, if you’re college-educated, live in the western world, and have enough money to retire to a gated community.  Special effects improve a movie.

There is strength in numbers but not when it comes to arithmetic.  Kentucky Fried Chicken is okay once a week.  Wal-Mart is your friend. An apple a day will keep the doctor away but be careful if you happen to really need a doctor. Truth will probably set you free but it’s hard to know what’s really true.  Television, especially in the daytime, is a great educator.  Winning is the only thing that matters – except when it eludes you.   Truth and opinion are two different things but you can get a real headache if you want to form a clear opinion on the matter.   Love doesn’t conquer all; it’s not even in the running.  You can lead a horse to water but you can’t put a fish in a barn.   People aren’t really funny but kids do say the darndest things.  Breaking up is hard to do.

And, finally, while there was no agreement on the truth of these statements, almost everyone agreed they sounded familiar and were enticing.  The statements are attributed to the late, great James Boren:

When in charge, ponder; 

When in trouble, delegate; 

When in doubt, mumble.  

Truisms, perhaps, that straddle both worlds.

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