"God Rewards Fools"

by Czynski1 min read30th Apr 20206 comments


RitualSecular SolsticePetrov DayCommunity

In an otherwise gripping but misleading book about the history of cryptography called The Code Book, by Simon Singh, there is a quote from one of the two inventors of Diffie-Hellman key exchange which has stuck with me two decades later. (I've been unable to determine whether it was Diffie or Hellman; sources conflict and I no longer own the book.)

…the way to get to the top of the heap in terms of developing original research is to be a fool, because only fools keep trying.  You have idea number 1, you get excited, and it flops.  The you have idea number 2, you get excited, and it flops.  Then you have idea number 99, you get excited, and it flops.  Only a fool would be excited by the 100th idea, but it might take 100 ideas before one really pays off.  Unless you’re foolish enough to be continually excited, you won’t have the motivation, you won’t have the energy to carry it through.  God rewards fools.

I am a habitual naysayer, like many people in this community. Recently, I've been thinking about this in the context of holiday and ritual design, which is my primary preoccupation in terms of contributing to the rationalist project. As I've written about recently, this is an extremely high-risk, high-reward enterprise; the upside potential is substantial but the downside potential is enormous. Which means that many ideas are needed before you get something that's +EV to actually try and implement, and many of those attempts will be needed before you get something that's +EV to try and sustain. I'd guess that 1000 ideas : 100 fleshed-out ideas : 10 meatspace attempts : 1 sustainable result is about right.

This has a couple important consequences:

  • Most current holidays are probably not good enough.

Ray Arnold and others possess the incredibly vital capacity of actually doing things rather than waiting for something perfect. However, this is in accordance with the old Facebook motto: "Move fast and break things." They move fast, but they will, accordingly, break things. Which for Facebook meant "we will sometimes ship code that breaks the site" and here means "we will sometimes establish holidays and rituals which are not actually good for our community". Years of iteration have improved several MVPs which were probably -EV initially into fleshed-out versions which are solidly +EV. But they're still probably not good enough. I'd guess, based purely on a gut attempt to gauge what my aliefs are about it, that Solstice is good enough and everything else isn't, though I think everything that's still being tried is +EV overall, i.e. better than nothing.

  • "God rewards fools."

It does take enough ideas that only a fool would be excited, but you have to keep going before you get to one that really pays off.  "Unless you’re foolish enough to be continually excited, you won’t have the motivation, you won’t have the energy to carry it through." The filtering provided by naysayers is vital, because most of the ideas actually will flop, and when you're playing with alief inception, a flop is very dangerous. But we do need to keep trying, because the upside is, correspondingly, very large.

I suspect this also applies to pretty much any other endeavor in creating novel ideas, but I have no direct experience so I can't be at all sure.