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Doublets: Intelligence Is the Ability to Hold Two Opposed Ideas at the Same Time

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still be able to function.

From the essay “The Crack-Up” (February 1936) by F. Scott Fitzgerald found in a collection of essays, letters, and poems, titled The Crack-up edited by legendary editor Edmund Wilson.. There are several variants of this quotations, such as “The truest sign of intelligence is the ability to entertain two contradictory ideas simultaneously” or “Intelligence has been described as the ability to entertain two apparently contradictory ideas in one’s head at the same time.” In the essay, Fitzgerald is discussing the trials and tribulations of life that make an impact on a person. He writes: “Of course all of life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work… don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within… Before I go on with this short history let me make a general observation: the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still be able to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the ‘impossible’ come true.”

“A broad-minded man, who can see both sides of the question and is ready to hold opposed truths while confessing that he cannot reconcile them, is at a manifest disadvantage with a narrow-minded man who sees but one side, sees it clearly, and is ready to interpret the whole Bible, or, if need be, the whole universe, in accordance with his formula.”

From Henry VIII and the Reformation (1962) by historian H. Maynard Smith. In this passage Smith is referring to William Tyndale, an English scholar who translated the Bible into English from Hebrew and Greek. Tyndale was also a key figure in the Protestant Reformation. Tyndale was imprisoned for being a heretic, teaching a doctrine that was inconsistent with Church teaching (he argued that the country’s king should be the head of the church rather than the Pope, which led to the Church of England to break from the Catholic Church). In October 1536 he was strangled and then his body was burned at the stake. His final words were “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

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For further reading: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45392/ulysses


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