It’s kind of crazy to think just how much Elon Musk has affected my mental health in the last few years. My whole life I thought I was the only one who thinks like this and now the most successful person in the world is out there saying things that I’ve been saying my whole life and have been called crazy for. The basic concept of first principles: this idea that we should be directly looking at our actual goals instead of running around doing tangential things, pretending we are addressing our goals. Too much crime? We punish criminals harder instead of looking at the real reason they are committing crime. Fight with your girlfriend? Buy some flowers and make an empty gesture instead of addressing the real problem. Moral or family problems? We go to church and pray and ask God to sort things out for us. We fight racism by hiding from it or starting fights and promoting cancel culture instead of trying to understand it and addressing it. Wealth inequality? Let’s blame billionaires and just demand they pay more taxes, instead of taking the time to learn about how and why the system is actually broken or addressing the daily habits and values of the average consumer. Global warming? Let’s put up “climate action now” signs in our yard and support wildlife refuges and hope nature sorts itself out instead of investing in the large-scale technology and research we need to actually take charge of the problem and do something tangible to solve it.
Most people when faced with a problem turn to metaphors, religion, tradition, rules, imitating others, or simple emotional outbursts before they turn to learning or actual logical problem solving.
In my career as a software developer–I mean don’t get me wrong I’ve had a fantastic career–but we often address problems by throwing more processes and rules at it. We waste hours arguing about drop shadows and rounded corners when we have real bugs to deal with. We have planning meetings, grooming meetings, scrum meetings, retrospective meetings and on and on. My whole career I’ve spent half my time building features that users don’t actually care about, or entering data into over-engineered timeclocks. We claim our goal is developing a quality software product but we’re too concerned about unit tests, time tracking and other nonsense that we don’t truly focus on the product. That’s why Musk’s line of “The best part is no part. The best process is no process.” is so important and meaningful to engineers and developers like me.
Musk represents a new way of thinking that has always made sense to me. He gives his employees an unprecedented amount of freedom in how they solve problems and lets them take risks. To me that sounds like heaven compared to how most of the companies I have worked for do things.
I watched the interview he did with Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut on YouTube where they actually went through the Starship factory and showed him actually interacting with his employees: https://youtu.be/t705r8ICkRw. I know it’s 3 hours long and people outside the tech industry won’t really get it, but this interview was kind of magical for me. He brought a tiny dog to his spaceship factory and let it run around off leash. They don’t do that at NASA.
But I shouldn’t say this is about about Elon Musk. It’s not at all about Elon Musk. It’s about the mission he represents and the community of people that has sprung up around that mission. A community of people who think via first principles, who reason by logic rather than emotion, and who actually care about our future and want to do something directly to solve our problems instead of doing things tangentially. His community is not just revolutionizing cars and rockets. They are revolutionizing engineering and the way we build new things. Maybe even the way we think and solve problems in life.
Imagine what’s possible if we had a revolution like this in the medical industry.
I used to be so pessimistic about the human race. I believed that “humans are just a parasite” line and figured Skynet was right around the corner but now I see an unimaginably bright and amazing future as our most likely outcome.
I didn’t really realize until recently just how alone I used to feel in my way of looking at problem solving, and how differently I now look at life now that I know our way of thinking has been proven to work. People have always made fun of the way I look at things and go about life and I would have changed those habits a long time ago if they weren’t so darn effective.
Musk’s genius isn’t just in his engineering and understanding of the economy. It’s also about seeing the genius in others. In 2016 he put Gwynne Shotwell in charge of SpaceX, which is by far the most important thing in his life. Then two years later when he had the chance to take the company back he decided to leave her in charge and essentially admitted that she could run the company better than he could. That was one of the best choices he ever made. She is a huge part of why SpaceX has been so successful and I find it frustrating that we don’t hear more about her in mainsream media and feminist circles. In many ways she is just as amazing and inspiring as Musk and thinks very similarly to the way we do but is arguably more disciplined about it.
It’s weird that I don’t mention it much, but just the fact that we are finally making real progress toward making life multi-planetary has given me a massive boost to my mental-health. My whole life I’ve dreamed of going to space myself but it was always an outlandish dream, like wanting to be a superhero. But now everything is different. Now it really feels like it might actually happen in the next decade or two. My life turned out better than I ever could have imagined–partially because I didn’t realize just what a huge advantage I have in life because of the way I think–and everything just keeps getting better and better.
I didn’t know until recently just how deeply entwined my mental health is with the space industry. My whole life I’ve known that the only real purpose of humanity is to spread life to other worlds. Because no one else seemed to care about going to space, it felt like existence had no purpose beyond selfish pleasures. It seems overwhelmingly likely that we are the only creatures in the galaxy who can do this so we have a profound moral obligation to make life multi-planetary. There is no greater moral purpose that I can see. Everything else is just worrying about our short-term comfort, sense of fairness, or appreciation of beauty–not that those things aren’t important–but I want a higher purpose to being human. I want to know we are going somewhere and our existence has meaning.