Naval: Going even further, it’s not just science.
When we look at innovation, technology and building—for example, everything that Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla did—this came from trial and error, which is creative guesses and trying things out. If you look at how evolution works through variation and then natural selection, it tries a lot of random mutations and filters out the ones that didn’t work.
This seems to be a general model through which all complex systems improve themselves over time: They make bold guesses and then they weed out the things that didn’t work.
There’s a beautiful symmetry to it across all knowledge creation. It’s ultimately an act of creativity. We don’t know where it comes from. It’s not just a mechanical extrapolation of observations.
I’ll close with the most famous example of this. We talked about black swans and boiling water, but the fun and easy one is the turkey.
You have a turkey that’s being fed very well every single day and fattened up. The turkey thinks that it lives in a benevolent household—until Thanksgiving arrives. Then, it’s in for a very rude awakening. That shows you the limits of induction.
Brett: Precisely. Now, the theories have to be guessed.
All of our great scientists have always made noises similar to this. It’s only the philosophers and certain mathematicians who think that science is this inductive trend-seeking way of extrapolating from past observations into the future.
Einstein said that he wasn’t necessarily brighter than most other people; it’s that he was passionately interested in particular problems. And he had a curiosity and an imagination. Imagination was key for him. He needed to imagine what could possibly explain these things.
Einstein wasn’t looking at past phenomena in order to come up with general relativity. He was seeking to explain certain problems that existed in physics. Induction wasn’t a part of it.
Naval: Good explanations rely on creativity. They are testable and falsifiable, of course, and they’re also hard to vary and to make risky and narrow predictions. That’s a good guiding point for anybody who is trying to figure out how they can incorporate these concepts in their everyday life.
Your best theories are going to be creative guesses, not simple extrapolations.