Life Is A Branching Stream of Probabilities

Below is a video of an interview with Elon Musk at TED 2017:

(If you’re short of time, fast forward to the 34 minute mark and watch until the end.)

In the interview, they discuss several projects Musk is working on from reducing traffic congestion by digging tunnels to building a large city on Mars. At around the 34:45 minute mark, Chris Anderson asks Musk the following question: “Why do we need to build a city on Mars with a million people on it?”

Musk replies…

“It’s important to have a future that is inspiring and appealing. There have to be reasons why you get up in the morning and you want to live. Why do you want to live? What’s the point? What inspires you? What do you love about the future? If the future doesn’t include us being out there among the stars and being a multi-planet species, it is incredibly depressing if that’s not the future we’re going to have.”

Anderson follows by saying:

“People want to position this as an either / or and there are so many desperate things happening from climate to poverty and this (space travel) feels like a distraction. You shouldn’t be thinking about this. You should be solving what is here and now. Why not just do that?”

To which Musk hesitates and then answers:

I look at the future from the standpoint of probabilities. It’s like a branching stream of probabilities and there are actions we can take that effect those probabilities or we can accelerate one thing or slow down another thing. We can introduce something new to the probability stream. Sustainable energy will happen no matter what. Even without Tesla. It would have to happen out of necessity. The laws of economics will drive civilization towards sustainable energy inevitably. The fundamental value of a company like Tesla is the degree to which it accelerates the advent of sustainable energy faster than it would otherwise occur.

When it comes to becoming a multi-planet species and space civilization… this is NOT inevitable. It is important to appreciate this is not inevitable. The sustainable energy for the future is largely inevitable, but space civilization is definitely not inevitable.

Must is trying to effect the future stream of probabilities by taking action today. He wants to make space travel an inevitable probability. This is obviously some BIG thinking, which is incredibly inspirational. However, I think we can and should apply Musk’s thinking to our own lives.

The first step is to create a future for ourselves that is inspiring and appealing. We’ve got to have a dream to pursue. This dream gives us reasons why we get up each morning and fight the fight we fight. This dream makes us want to live. The dream must inspire and motivate us.

Looking back at my life, I can easily see the most productive period was when I was pursuing a big dream. I wanted this particular dream so badly that I was willing to do just about anything to get it. I had detailed plans for how to accomplish my dream and I followed through like a maniac. I took BIG risks and stepped way out of my comfort zone.

As I was about to step on home base and accomplish my dream, I got called out by the referee. The referee in my game was the real estate market crash of 2008. When I got called out at home plate, I let the dream go. Today I’m a little wiser and this prior dream has lost it’s appeal with me. In other words, I don’t the dream I previously pursued.

But the truth is I haven’t been very motivated since this BIG dream period of my life. I’m not willing to take the same risks I once accepted. I’m not willing to work as much as I once worked.

So I think Musk is 100% correct. We need to have a inspiring dream for a better future. If you feel stuck in your life, it may be because you don’t have a big dream to pursue. Not someone else’s dream. Your dream.

Now let’s move on to the second idea he shared….life is a branching stream of probabilities. Some of these probabilities are inevitable and some are not inevitable.

If we don’t make any significant changes in our current actions, our future will be similar to our present. Or our future may actually be worse than our present and this is because we won’t be adapting to changes in our environment.

What are some inevitable probabilities we face?

– We are going to age and die.
– Inflation will continue to make money less valuable increasing the actual cost of what we buy in the future.
– Technology will continue eliminating more manual labor jobs while creating new specialized job opportunities.

No matter what we do, we will not be able to change these probabilities and that’s because they’re inevitable.

What are some non-inevitable probabilities we face?

– Next year will be similar to this year.
– We won’t have enough money to retire.
– As we age, we will get weaker and develop new medical conditions.
– If our children become like the average adult, they may struggle financially.
– There is a strong likelihood that we will become obese.

Since these probabilities are not inevitable, we can introduce something to impact the future. We can take actions today to effect these probabilities in the future. We can take actions to accelerate one probability and different actions to slow down another probability.

For example, we can make more money this year and use it to save for our retirements to effect the future probability of not having enough money in retirement. We can also exercise and eat better consistently to slow down the physical challenges of aging.

I’ve never thought about the future as a stream of probabilities and Musk’s comments have really made me think. Not only does Musk think outside the box regarding future probabilities, but he also takes massive action to effect those probabilities he believes he can improve. He is on another level when compared to the average person.

When I compare myself to him, I realize that I’m not thinking big enough.

He’s working hard to build a city on Mars.
I’m working hard to…

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