There's a good chance a Minnesotan will be crowned America's next Great Thinker


Four of America's leading eggheads will be in New York Mills later this month after being selected as finalists for the annual Great American Think-Off – and three of them are from Minnesota.

Each year, hundreds of "thinkers" from across the United States and around the world submit essay answers to a question posed by the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center.

According to the event's website, this year's question was, "Does Technology Free Us or Trap Us?"

To ensure fairness, the submissions were anonymized for judges, but in an unlikely event they still managed to pick four finalists who have previously won or been in the finals of the Great American Think-Off, the Bemidji Pioneer reports.

Arguing that "Technology Frees Us" will be:

  • David Lapakko, an associate professor of communication studies at Augsburg College in Minneapolis with B.A. qualifications from Macalaster College and M.A. and Ph.D qualifications from the University of Minnesota. He was a finalist in 2013 when he argued that being willing to compromise was more ethical than sticking with your principles.
  • David Eckel, who is from Clayton, North Carolina, and is thus the only non-Minnesotan in the final. He is a writer and philosopherm who won the Think-Off in 2010 when he argued that the wealthy don't have an obligation to help the poor. He also won in 2013 when he argued that sticking to principle was more ethical than compromise.

Arguing that "Technology Traps Us" will be:

  • Marsh Muirhead, a poet, writer, dentist and flight instructor living on the banks of the Mississippi River near Bemidji. He won the 2011 Think-Off arguing that "Poetry Matters" and was a finalist in 2012 when he argued that humankind was inherently good.
  • Paul Terry, the chief science officer at Staywell in St. Paul, who holds a doctorate in health education from the University of Minnesota and is a Senior Fulbright Scholar. He also won in 2013 alongside David Eckel, and in 2014 was a finalist arguing that fear motivates us more than love.

The debate will be held Saturday, June 13, at 7 p.m. at the James Mann Center for the Performing Arts at the New York Mills School, with a reception following at the Cultural Center.

Tickets cost $12, and can be purchased here.

According to, last year's winner was Jennifer Nelson of Morris, Minnesota, who won the debate and gold medal with her argument that love motivates more than fear – basing her case on her own personal experiences recovering from a car crash in 2004.

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