“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you watch any congressional hearing, at some point you’ll inevitably hear a congressman ask the person on the stand, “What’s your answer sir, Yes or No?” The person receiving this question is immediately placed in a bind. Either way they respond, affirmative or negative, compels them to accept the questioner’s viewpoint: namely, that the world is without nuance, that it consists of extremes, of polar opposites, of confident yeses and definitive no’s. This simplistic paradigm, however, flies in the face of what we all know in our hearts — namely, that life is a big, complicated mess. More often than not, we hold multiple thoughts and feelings in our minds, sometimes agreeing but often in direct opposition with each other.

As I sit in my seat of the “Big Shot,” high atop the Stratosphere Hotel on Las Vegas Boulevard, ready to be shot 160 feet in the air at 45 miles per hour, my brain isn’t particularly retaining the ability to function. Far from it! One part of me is thinking, “This is the coolest thing ever! Woo hoo!” while another part of me saying, “I hate heights! I am going to die!” It’s the ultimate, mixed-feeling moment. Luckily, my friend sitting next to me, Elise, isn’t a Congressperson. If she were to ask me just then, “How you feeling, Dave?” I’m guessing my response would be something like, “Arghhhhh.”

Opening in 1996, the Big Shot exemplifies the concept of “perceived danger.” The fact is, there are much bigger drop towers out there. Take, for example, the Zumanjaro Drop of Doom at Six Flags New Jersey, rising a majestic 456 feet from ground to apex. Or the Orlando Freefall at 430 feet. The Big Shot at the Strat is a baby in comparison. “160 feet. Pshaw, that’s nothing, right?” Not so fast. Although the Big Shot is a barely a third as tall as its competition, it makes up for by sitting atop a 921-foot casino. By the time you reach the summit of your journey, you are over a 1,000 feet above the ground, your feet dangling helplessly as a warm wind blows off the great dusty expanse of the Las Vegas Valley laid out before you. Interestingly, the actual drop isn’t the terrifying part – it’s the feeling that, after arriving at the platform, you could keep going, 1,000 feet, all the way to the ground. For me, it’s the perceived danger that leads to my simultaneous ideation: “This is dangerous. No it’s not. I’m terrified. I’m excited. I’d do this again. Not on your life!”

It’s a Wow sensation at a Wow time at a Wow place. A rare triple Wow that makes me feel, well, like something of a big shot.

(We’re brought up to believe that we need to be decisive in life, that decisiveness = strength. And it’s true that sometimes, in moments of peril, assertive decision-making can be a life-or-death proposition. But more often than not, we feel conflicted about things. We see both viewpoints as valid. And then what happens? We have a considered discussion with others, looking at multiple perspectives and carefully deciding the best course of action. That’s not how Jason Statham or the Rock would do it in an action movie, but they’re paid to represent 1-dimensional killing machines. Back here in the civilized world, however, we see things in shades of grey. We see things with nuance. The world is better for it.)