The quote “Great minds think alike” first appeared at the beginning of the 17th century. It is thought to date back to 1618 where it started as “good wits doe jumpe” with “jumpe” meaning ‘agree with’. It is believed that the earliest example of this phrase in print may have appeared in Carl Theodor von Unlanski’s 1816 biography, ‘The Woful History of the Unfortunate Eudoxia’. It is a humorous expression that is used when two people think alike at the same time and thus suggests that both people must be very intelligent. Less well known is the second half of the quote, “Great minds think alike, but fools seldom differ”. The second part painfully reminds us that people who come to the same conclusion are not so smart after all.
In his book “Thinking fast, thinking slow”, Noble Prize Winner Daniël Kahneman explains the danger of the concept WYSIATI: What you see is all there is. . In order to believe a story, people do not need completeness, but rather consistency and logic. Our brain tells the best stories that it can from the information available, even when the information is sparse or unreliable. And that makes stories that are based on very different qualities of evidence equally compelling.
Kahneman gives in his book this example of WYSIATI: A person describes his neighbour as follows: “Steve is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful, but with little interest in people or in what is happening in the world. He is gentle and orderly, with a need for structure and regularity and a passion for detail”. Is Steve more of a librarian or a blue-collar worker? Like most people, you probably think that Steve is a librarian because the description fits the characteristics of a bookworm better than that of a blue-collar worker. Except that there are many more blue-collar workers than librarians so the statistical probability that Steve is a blue-collar worker is much higher.