I started this post weeks ago with the quote, “The age of information is not the age of understanding.” Unfortunately, it has been sitting in my drafts folder for so long that I can’t remember what motivated it, but on the positive side several interesting situations have come to light that make this quote a good starting point for exploring the complex relationship between information and understanding.
The first situation was the widely publicized interview of Elon Musk by Joe Rogan. If you haven’t heard of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, you might be surprised to know that it has been running weekly since 2009, it is on Apple’s Top 5 list, and the almost three hour Musk interview was episode 1169. Despite its popularity, 99% of the press has highlighted the controversy over Elon Musk smoking marijuana and drinking whiskey on the show.
To get you hooked on watching this fascinating, but long interview with one minute of pot smoking, here are five of my favorite sections.
- On Artificial Intelligence – It is becoming a new “third part” of the brain where the it will help support the role of the brain’s cortex (“thinking brain”) making the limbic system (“primitive brain”) happy.
- Simulation (aka advanced “Video Games”) – Musk believes that simulation is a distillation of the most interesting parts of reality and that “most likely, and this is just probability, there are many, many simulations. These simulations, you might as well call them reality.” This is similar to how a movie can be a two hour distillation of what people find interesting in life. You just have to watch this part for it to make sense.
- Tesla Automobiles – Teslas are designed with the explicit intent of being enjoyable. “I think a Tesla is possibly the most fun thing you could buy, ever. It’s not actually a car, it’s a thing to maximize enjoyment, maximum fun.”
- The Boring Company – Musk’s idea to revolutionize transportation is based on boring underground tunnels because despite the fact that “Earth is a giant ball of lava with a thin crust on the top,” tunneling 10,000 feet down is “not a big deal” so it’s possible to have hundreds of three dimensional levels of tunnels.
- Musk Goes 100% Engineer when he explains why flying cars are a terrible idea. To summarize, too noisy and too much airflow, but the long version includes a wonderful description of “the fundamental momentum exchange with the air.”
So how does this interview relate to the quote at the beginning of this article? In my opinion, Elon Musk is a great example of a person with a highly developed ability to utilize information, but with a less developed sense of understanding. He can harness the power of science, engineering, and manufacturing to do amazing things, but at what cost to himself? Even when he explains that his favorite feeling is, “doing something useful for other people,” he soon follows that by admitting that his mind is like “a never-ending explosion [of ideas].” Even Elon Musk admits that it is difficult to be Elon Musk!
The next part of this post will begin to explore the social damage that results from information being out of balance with understanding. The creator of Linux, which powers almost 40% of the websites on the Internet, is experiencing this firsthand at the moment and it has created quite a heated discussion in tech circles.