Back when Elon Musk was a moody teen growing up in Pretoria, South Africa, he went looking for the meaning of life in the work ofgrumpy philosophers.
It didn’t help.
“We happened to have some books by [Friedrich] Nietzsche and [Arthur] Schopenhauer in the house, which you should not read at age 14,” Musk told Fresh Dialogues. “It is bad; it’s really negative.”
Then he came upon “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” the interstellar romp by Douglas Adams.
It changed his whole perspective.
The book supplies that lesson in the form of a particularly absurd supercomputer called Deep Thought, which was built to figure out the Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
How long did the calculations take?
Just 7.5 million years.
And the answer, after all that waiting?
The number 42.
An unsatisfying answer, but one that’s illuminating in its own way.
The computer — which can talk — admitted that “the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”
The lesson stuck with Musk.
“If you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part,” he explained. “So, to the degree that we can better understand the universe, then we can better know what questions to ask.”
So if you ever have a meeting with Musk, don’t just come with answers. Bring questions.
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