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The Test of a First Rate Mind

Posted in Ambiguity, Current Affairs, Illusion, Internet, Quotes, Unlearn Strategy

PT-AO829A_Cover_D_20100604193223Two of my favorite writers and thinkers have recently released books. Clay Shirky has written a book entitled Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age in which he persuasively argues, among other things, that the Internet is making us smarter because it is allowing society to produce such knowledge accelerators as Wikipedia at virtually no cost.

On the other hand, Nicholas Carr has just released his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, in which he outlines his thesis for why the Internet is making us dumber. (In a nutshell, Carr convincingly argues that the Internet distracts us and makes prolonged thought more difficult. In the process, the Internet is literally rewiring our brain.)

Over the weekend, the two men outlined their respective arguments in the Wall Street Journal. (Shirky’s argument can be read here and Carr’s here.)

So who is right? Many people will be swayed by various arguments and place themselves firmly on one side of the debate or the other. In my humble opinion, however, both men are right. The world isn’t black or white, it is black and white as well as various shades of gray—all at the same time.

This can be a difficult concept to grasp but as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “The test of a first rate mind is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”


If you don’t believe this is true, just look at the optical illusion to the right. Does it say “true” or “false” or does it say both at the same time? Once you unlearn certainty and instead learn to embrace ambiguity, you will be one step closer to embracing the future.

2 thoughts on “The Test of a First Rate Mind”

  1. dnfisher says:

    If we were all ambiguous, we’d all end up… ummm… somewhere.

  2. Jack Uldrich says:

    Or somewhere closer to the truth … 🙂

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