If Great Minds Really Did Think Alike, We’d Be Living in a Dystopia

A world in which great minds thought alike would be a dystopia.

If Great Minds Really Did Think Alike, We’d Be Living in a Dystopia

"Great minds think alike."


No they don't, and it would be a horrible state of affairs if they did. In fact, it is the dissimilarity between human minds that is the source of our progress and success as a species. 

Now, this phrase is usually employed jocularly, as in the case of two friends having the same idea at the same time. But its prevalence means that it rings true for some, and that is a problem.

The notable feature of great mindswhat, in fact, makes them greatis that they do not think alike to any other minds, great or otherwise. It is the ability to consider independently and originally that makes thinkers powerful and important.

In addition to its jocular use, I have also heard the phrase being seriously defended on the evidence of the history of great ideas being thought up at once and by different people.

Thomas Paine: "I do not believe that any two men, on what are called doctrinal points, think alike who think at all. It is only those who have not thought that appear to agree."

Consider, for example, Leibniz's and Newton's seemingly simultaneous invention of calculus. It does seem like a case of great minds thinking alike. But, other factors precipitated the need for calculus at that time (and their respective finished products weren't all that similar anyway). In other words, the alike thought was caused by something other than respectively great minds.

It is much easier, day to day, to agree than to disagree. When minds seem to think alike, it is usually a result of intellectual complacency, and of a prioritizing of harmony over rightness, not a result of genius. That is the explanation that, to me anyway, makes this platitude, used in jest or not, so wrongfully attractive; "Wouldn't it be nice," users of the phrase tacitly and hopefully ask, "if exemplary human minds reached the same conclusions?" "Wouldn't that mean that the work of collaboration and coexistence, the very (hard) work for which intelligence exists, were done for us?"

I say no.

Consider this refutation of "great minds think alike" by none other than philosopher, founding father, and great mind Thomas Paine: "I do not believe that any two men, on what are called doctrinal points, think alike who think at all. It is only those who have not thought that appear to agree."

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman says that the ego-clashes we tend to excuse among high-achievers can be counterproductive when it comes to collaborating. 

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

Enormous galactic wind from 13.1 billion years ago detected

Researchers discovered a galactic wind from a supermassive black hole that sheds light on the evolution of galaxies.

A galactic wind driven by a supermassive black hole located in the center of a galaxy (artist's impression).

Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds the oldest galactic wind yet detected, from 13.1 billion years ago.
  • The research confirms the theory that black holes and galaxies evolve together.
  • The galactic wind was spotted using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array in Chile.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Are you following the rules of life?

    Life is governed by unspoken rules. How do you know you're following them correctly?

    Credit: ARMEND NIMANI via Getty Images
    Personal Growth
    • Most parts of everyday life involve accepting and applying various rules, from the words we speak to the cultural norms we insist on.
    • These rules are learned largely by observation of others and are very rarely taught explicitly.
    • Saul Kripke asks us how it is that we can ever be sure that we're following the rules correctly? And does it matter?
    Keep reading Show less
    Technology & Innovation

    Will AI replace mathematicians?

    If computers can beat us at chess, maybe they could beat us at math, too.

    Quantcast