Power Players

Why a science fiction writer is Elon Musk's 'favorite philosopher'

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Tesla Model Y crossover electric vehicle in Hawthorne, California, U.S., on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

While Elon Musk would like to take a trip to the moon and to Mars — "I think that would be quite fun," he recently told "CBS Sunday Morning" — he has more important reasons for his ambitious goals: He says SpaceX will help enable humans to become a multi-planetary species, and with electric car company Tesla, he aims to accelerate the global adoption of sustainable energy.

So what inspires and guides Musk?

At least in part, Musk says he is inspired by Douglas Adams, the author of the ultra-popular science-fiction novel, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

"My sort of philosophical foundation is in line with Douglas Adams," Musk told "CBS Sunday Morning," according to a transcript published Sunday. "Everyone has their sort of favorite philosopher, but my favorite philosopher is Douglas Adams."

Adams' iconic "Hitchhiker's Guide," first published in 1979, tells the tale of Arthur Dent. Dent is saved from the total destruction of Earth by Ford Prefect (an alien Dent at first thinks is human), who is working on a travel guide for intergalactic travelers. The science fiction novel approaches broad philosophical questions — about the meaning of life, the absurdity of life, the nature of intelligence and the nature of life — with humor.

Adams has "got great attitude, and he's a fun guy and a good sense of humor," Musk said. But more fundamentally: "What he was essentially saying is, 'The universe is the answer; what are the questions?'" Musk told "CBS Sunday Morning."

To ask the most prescient questions requires constantly expanding humanity's collective intelligence, according to Musk.

"If we expand the scope and scale of consciousness, then we are better able to understand what questions to ask. We'll learn more, we'll become more enlightened. And so we should try to do the things that expand the scope and scale of consciousness," he said.

Both SpaceX and Tesla can be, Musk believes, understood based on this theory.

"Becoming a multi-planet species and ensuring that we have a sustainable climate on Earth, these are very important to that overarching philosophy," Musk said. "So that's the philosophy I buy into."

When Elon Musk had an existential crisis at age 14, he read this book
When Elon Musk had an existential crisis at age 14, he read this book

Sunday was not the first time Musk has talked about his adoration for Adams' book. Musk has said the "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" helped him as a teenager.

"I guess when I was around 12 or 15…I had an existential crisis, and I was reading various books on trying to figure out the meaning of life and what does it all mean? It all seemed quite meaningless," Musk told journalist Alison van Diggelen in 2013.

Musk first read Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, but deemed them "really negative" (and said he wouldn't recommend them for young teenagers).

"So then I read 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,' which is quite positive, I think, and it highlighted an important point, which is that a lot of times the question is harder than the answer. And if you can properly phrase the question, then the answer is the easy part," Musk said.

"So, to the degree that we can better understand the universe, then we can better know what questions to ask, then whatever the question is that most approximates: What's the meaning of life? That's the question we can ultimately get closer to understanding. And so I thought to the degree that we can expand the scope and scale of consciousness and knowledge, then that would be a good thing."

See also:

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Elon Musk remembers the SpaceX of 10 years ago: ‘We couldn’t even reach orbit with little Falcon 1’
Elon Musk remembers the SpaceX of 10 years ago: ‘We couldn’t even reach orbit with little Falcon 1’