A quotation by F. Scott Fitzgerald maintains that “A test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
According to this quotation, a person with a first-rate intelligence can maintain opposing beliefs in their mind and not have to sit down, drink a glass of water and fan themselves till their equilibrium returns. They can simply do it, and go on with their lives. The top of their head doesn’t blow off, or anything.
By this standard, which I take seriously, because a respected “Man of Letters” maintains it’s the case, I hereby make this public confession:
I have a second-rate intelligence. (And possibly lower.)
Hard as I’ve tried, I cannot hold opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. Any effort to do so makes me dizzy, and I have to sit down. The water and the fanning myself are usually unnecessary, but I am really not in good shape.
I can’t help myself. If I’m partial to one idea, the opposing idea will find no room at the inn of my consciousness. (In my unconsciousness, all bets are off.) I do occasionally change the idea that I hold in my second-rate mind. But for me, it’s a matter of being a monogamous (albeit serially monogamous) believer. I can only believe one thing at a time.
This second-rate inflexibility is not a result of advancing age. I was always like that. An example. (Regular readers will not be surprised to find it coming from western movies. My world of experience doesn’t enjoy an enormous range.)
A rider gallops in on his horse. A shot rings out. The horse collapses, throwing the rider to the ground. The horse gets up and trots away…
Okay, we’ll stop right there. You see the problem? I do, and did when I was a kid watching the movie. My head spins just thinking about it.
A shot rings out, and the horse collapses to the ground. What does that mean?
The horse was shot.
The horse gets up and trots away. What does that mean?
The horse was not shot.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is two opposing ideas.
Idea Number One: The horse is shot and collapses to the ground.
So far, so good. But then comes…
Idea Number Two: The horse gets up and trots away.
My temples are beginning to throb.
Maybe there’s an answer I haven’t considered. Let’s see. If the horse was not shot, what then could be the reason for its collapsing to the ground?
Did the horse suddenly feel tired? Did the first shot make it decide to elude injury by deliberately dropping below the line of fire? Was it nursing a grudge against the rider, owing, perhaps, to some unjustified spurring, and it decided to repay this abuse by suddenly collapsing to the ground and throwing its rider…
At the precise moment the shot rang out?
I’d say, “Unlikely.”
What’s more likely is this. If the horse collapses, it was shot. If the horse gets up and trots away, it wasn’t shot. But it has to be one or the other. It can’t possibly be both.
The problem is your own eyes are telling you, it is. What we see on the screen is the horse collapsing – meaning it was shot – then getting up and trotting away – meaning it wasn’t.
Against all the known precepts of common sense, the horse appears to have been shot and not shot at the same time.
I would mention this perplexing conundrum to my ten year-old friends. And they would stare at me, often adding the word,
In a tone reflecting confusion, disbelief, and a soupcon of pity.
Apparently, my friends were all blessed with first-rate intelligences, and I was cursed with a second-rate one. Why they included me in their lofty company, I have no idea. And at moments like those, neither, I suspect, did they.
My friends instinctively understood that the moviemakers did not want audiences thinking that horses were injured or killed during the making of that picture. (Though in fact, many horses were, due to invisible “trip wires”, the “movie magic” reason for their collapsing to the ground.)
It’s exciting to see a horse fall down, and it’s a relief to see them get up and trot away. The moviemakers satisfied the audience in both regards. It just didn’t make any sense.
To a person with a second-rate intelligence.
The curse persists to this very day. A random example. (I’m sure I’ll think of a better one after I publish.)
There are people who believe that man (and woman) is inherently evil. Yet they oppose controlling their business practices with regulations. Leaving inherently evil people uncontrolled by regulations. Some people have no trouble holding these opposing beliefs. I can’t help myself. I do.
I guess you just never grow out of it.