- Elon Musk gave insight into his “motivating philosophy” during an interview at the TED conference.
- The billionaire said he finds purpose in questioning reality and the meaning of life.
- Musk also commented on how Asperger’s syndrome has contributed to his success.
The richest man in the world explained what motivates him in his work at Tesla and SpaceX during an interview on Thursday.
Elon Musk said he developed his “motivating philosophy” after reading Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” as a teen.
“Adams makes this point that it’s actually the question that is harder than the answer,” Musk said during an interview at the 2022 TED conference in Vancouver.
The science fiction novel approaches broad philosophical questions about the meaning of life with humor. Musk said the book helped provide relief from some of the “dark” German philosophers that he studied in his teenage years.
Ultimately, Musk said he finds his purpose in questioning reality and the meaning of life.
“My driving philosophy is to expand the scope and scale of consciousness that we may better understand the nature of the universe,” Musk said. “I have a sort of proposal for a worldview or motivating philosophy which is to understand what questions to ask about the answer that is the universe,” he added.
Finding ways to ‘expand the scope and scale of consciousness’
It’s not the first time that Musk has referenced “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” In 2019, the CEO told CBS Adam’s was his “favorite philosopher.” Musk said at the time that “becoming a multi-planet species and ensuring that we have a sustainable climate on Earth” are key to answering questions about the meaning of life.
Musk said he wants to “expand the scope and scale of consciousness, biological and digital” and learn how to better ask three questions: “Why we’re here?” “How we got here?” and “What the heck is going on?”
During the interview, Musk said a lot of his motivation stems from his teen years as he has always had a deep curiosity in the universe and what it means to exist in it. In past interviews, he’s even speculated whether life is a simulation.
“I think the ‘why’ of things is very important,” Musk said. “Young teens are quite depressed about the meaning of life and I was trying to sort of understand the meaning of life reading religious texts and reading books on philosophy.”
How Musk’s childhood shaped his business sensibility
Musk also commented on how Asperger’s syndrome — a condition on the Autism spectrum that impacts an individual’s ability to effectively socialize and communicate with others — has played into his success. The billionaire revealed he had the condition during his monologue on Saturday Night Live last year.
“Social clues were not intuitive” when Musk was growing up, he said, a factor that pushed him to focus more on reading and coding.
“I believe I didn’t have a sort of happy childhood. To be frank, it was quite, quite rough, but I read a lot of books,” Musk said. “I think there’s maybe some value also from a technology standpoint because I found it rewarding to spend all night programming computers just by myself. And I think maybe most people don’t enjoy typing strange symbols into a computer by themselves all night,” he added.
Musk also speculated that his condition might have played into his innate curiosity and drive to build Tesla and SpaceX.
“I was just absolutely obsessed with truth. I studied physics because physics attempts to understand the truth of the universe,” Musk said. “Nobody made me study it,” he added.
The billionaire also said he wants to build things that could improve the state of the world moving forward.
“We should fight for the things that make us excited about the future,” Musk said. “The future cannot be just about one miserable thing after another, solving one sad problem after another.”