Why Tesla will not change the world
Original article published by Tim Urban, on June 2, 2015 – link. Tim is not aware of these comments, so please keep it a secret as I don’t want to hurt his feelings.
My comments are in blockquotes like these paragraphs. There might be a pdf of the document some time in the future as well. The comments are divided into three categories: General, Silly, and Serious. Some comments are not exhausted by a single category and are indicated as Combo. You won’t know which it is until you click it (I don’t know how to do that). Occasionally the comments are made in-text and are indicated in a red colour.
Some statistics – the original article is roughly 25.000 words, the comments are roughly 17.000. Given I don’t blab pointlessly (except in the silly comments), the overall material to read ahead is quite extensive, so take some time if you want to read this through (bookmark, or download the pdf
when/if it comes out).
This is Part 2 of a four-part series on Elon Musk’s companies. For an explanation of why this series is happening and how Musk is involved, start with Part 1.
General: I did, but I really don’t care about Elon Musk as a person much. To his credit, he doesn’t care about others knowing about him as a person much either, so I respect him a little more (which means, I respect him, as I didn’t really know anything about the guy before that).
A Wait But Why post can be a few different things. One type of WBW post is the “let’s just take this whole topic and really actually get to the bottom of it so we can all completely get it from here forward.”
Silly: Yes! That’s my favourite approach to research in general as well. Though I am not really sure about ‘all’ and ‘completely’ – let’s face it, some of ‘us’ are a little slow (myself included).
The ideal topic for that kind of post is one that’s really important to our lives, and that tends to come up a lot, but that’s also hugely complex and confusing, often controversial with differing information coming out of different mouths, and that ends up leaving a lot of people feeling like they don’t totally get it as well as they “should.”
The way I approach a post like that is I’ll start with the surface of the topic and ask myself what I don’t fully get—I look for those foggy spots in the story where when someone mentions it or it comes up in an article I’m reading, my mind kind of glazes over with a combination of “ugh it’s that icky term again nah go away” and “ew the adults are saying that adult thing again and I’m seven so I don’t actually understand what they’re talking about.” Then I’ll get reading about those foggy spots—but as I clear away fog from the surface, I often find more fog underneath. So then I research that new fog, and again, often come across other fog even further down. My perfectionism kicks in and I end up refusing to stop going down the rabbit hole until I hit the floor.
General: Method is very important, but please get to the point of telling us dimwits what the actual method is.
On a more serious note – the method is also somewhat flawed: if you are doing your research properly, the rabbit hole never hits the floor – I know you know this! There is simply a moment where you have to say: enough! The more problematic aspect of the method is its randomness: if you start with the foggy bits, you miss why they are foggy in the first place. The starting point should be a general introduction into the topic (while keeping note of the foggy bits). But now I am nitpicking, sorry.
For example, I kind of got the Iraq situation, but there was a lot of fog there too—so when I wrote a post about it, one fog-clearing rabbit hole took me all the way back to Muhammad in 570AD. That was the floor. Digging into another part of the story brought me to the end of World War I. Another brought me to the founding of ISIS.
Hitting the floor is a great feeling and makes me realize that the adults weren’t actually saying anything that complicated or icky after all. And when I come across that topic again, it’s fun now, because I get it and I can nod with a serious face on and be like, “Yes, interest rates are problematic” like a real person.
Silly: There you go making us nitwits feeling awkward again; I am a real person too even though I don’t know anything about Muhammad or ISIS (I know a great deal about WWI).
I’ve heard people compare knowledge of a topic to a tree. If you don’t fully get it, it’s like a tree in your head with no trunk—and without a trunk, when you learn something new about the topic—a new branch or leaf of the tree—there’s nothing for it to hang onto, so it just falls away. By clearing out fog all the way to the bottom, I build a tree trunk in my head, and from then on, all new information can hold on, which makes that topic forever more interesting and productive to learn about. And what I usually find is that so many of the topics I’ve pegged as “boring” in my head are actually just foggy to me—like watching episode 17 of a great show, which would be boring if you didn’t have the tree trunk of the back story and characters in place.
General: Great metaphor, but a very bad comparison to knowledge. The reason I say that is because knowledge (of a topic) then depends on some particular other knowledge (i.e. the trunk). Given the trunk can never be fully visible (more branches are added all the time), we cannot ever know anything (fully?).