Thinking wrongly

What is the philosophy of the man who helped create Space X, Tesla and multiple other ambitious companies? Finally, we have an answer.

“Should prob articulate philosophy underlying my actions. It’s pretty simple & mostly influenced by Douglas Adams & Isaac Asimov.”

The reaction to Musk’s philosophical confession ranged across a wide spectrum. Some applauded. Some believed it offered insight into Musk’s transhumanism. Others were, uhh, sceptical. Myself? I can sense the problems associated with a philosophy based on those ideas, if only because such a philosophy seems too simple and naive for such a complex world. However, the test of a philosophy is in the life it allows a person to lead, and it turns out that simple models often offer a better way to navigate the world than complicated ones.

But I digress. What this really got me thinking about was whether it’s okay for people to be wildly wrong.

I’ve developed a habit of clinging to the need for truth in all things. For example, if it was obvious to me that a person was wrong—not subjectively, but objectively—their wrongness would’ve been a continuous niggle in my brain that wouldn’t leave until they had changed their mind. I’ve loosened up now though. I’m less anxious about people being wrong because of “regression towards the mean”.

Regression towards the mean is a concept from statistics. An applied example: the Golden State Warriors. In the last four seasons, they’ve reached the NBA Finals four times and won the championship three times. Thus, they can probably be assigned the status of a “dynasty”. Which is where regression to the mean comes in.

Throughout history it has not been certain than empires will rise. What has been certain is that they will eventually fall. The same goes for sports dynasties. After winning one championship, the odds of winning a second are small. After winning two in a row, the odds of winning a third are smaller. After winning five, six, seven championships in a row? The odds of winning yet another are tiny.

You might be wondering how regression to the mean applies to an individual being right or wrong? It doesn’t. It applies to humanity as a collective being right or wrong.

Consider the dispersion of human knowledge throughout time. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that, as we’ve aged as a species, we’ve become more educated and knowledgeable about the world. Visualised:

what humanity knows

Simplified, human progress has been upwards as we’ve moved to the right. And the main reason for this progress? Certain times and certain cultures have allowed individuals to be drastically wrong and drastically right. Each shift in the cluster of human knowledge away from wrongness and towards rightness always involves, as a preliminary step, outliers thinking outlandish thoughts.

Which is why I’ve become more tolerant of those who are wrong, sincerely. The scientific process—which is concerned with more than just scientific knowledge—relies on falsification, the finding of irrefutable proof of wrongness. So, to continue trending upwards, we need people who, instead of thinking differently, are not afraid of thinking wrongly.