Generating and testing crazy ideas

What this passage means is that you shouldn’t say that an idea is boring when it comes from someone who is smart and thoughtful (like my dad is), unless you can prove it’s wrong. If Dad proposes an idea, and I don’t understand it, I shouldn’t say it’s stupid. I should ask him if he can explain it to me. You shouldn’t poke your finger in the air, in the way you did when you crossed out the words of the pledge of allegiance on your hand, and declare that you believe it’s stupid without understanding what he means. That way leads to trouble.

Wise people don’t dismiss new ideas because they are afraid they will look stupid if the idea becomes popular. They think carefully about what the new idea means before deciding whether it is right or wrong. If you are a wise person, you will not dismiss an idea just because it sounds weird. If you are a wise person, you will not dismiss an idea just because it is proposed by an expert. The expert is an expert because he or she knows more about that subject than you do.

The most important thing is to be able to recognize when an expert is proposing something implausible. You can tell by the way they talk. They’re not just saying “That will never work.” They’re saying it in a way that suggests they know it will never work and are trying to convince you anyway. This is a sign that they’re either foolish or wise, depending on whether they’re right or wrong. If they’re right, you should be wary of them. If they’re wrong, you should be very welcome to them.

If you can recognize this when an expert talks, then when you hear an idea that sounds implausible, you’ll know what to do. You’ll ask yourself “Why would a reasonable person say something so implausible?” That’s the kind of question that’s worth asking. It’s the kind of question that can lead to interesting answers. I think on average they do. I think if you bet on the entire set of implausible-sounding ideas proposed by reasonable domain experts, you’d end up net ahead.

The reason is that everyone is too conservative. The word “paradigm” is overused, but this is a case where it’s warranted. Everyone is too much in the grip of the current paradigm. Even the people who have the new ideas undervalue them initially. This means that before they reach the stage of proposing them publicly, they’ve already subjected them to an excessively strict filter.

The wise response to such an idea is not to make statements, but to ask questions, because there’s a real mystery here. Why has this smart and reasonable person proposed an idea that seems so wrong? Are they mistaken, or are you? One of you has to be. If you’re the one who’s mistaken, that would be good to know, because it means there’s a hole in your model of the world. But even if they’re mistaken, it should be interesting to learn why. A trap that an expert falls into is one you have to worry about too.

This all seems pretty obvious. And yet there are clearly a lot of people who don’t share my fear of dismissing new ideas. Why do they do it? Why risk looking like a jerk now and a fool later, instead of just reserving judgment?
One reason they do it is envy. If you propose a radically new idea and it succeeds, your reputation (and perhaps also your wealth) will increase the proportion.

But probably the best way to get new ideas is to discuss them with people you don’t know well. If you socialize, someone in the room will say something right out. Given the chance, plenty of sane people can speculate freely in circles about weird things they’ve never heard of. They’ll see what’s the general consensus. They’ll find new opinions.

Is it BS? Perhaps not, if a face-to-face conversation is the best way to get started. You might even be able to begin sharing ideas with people you trust enough about your beliefs that they’d try to understand them if they did get them wrong. That’s desirable, especially if you’re trying to help everyone else. People are asking the wrong people big questions about logical principles. You can play responding to multiple points of view by generating quotes of yourself or others shepherding you to network partners about the length of your apparently more familiar theory of nature.

Just make sure not to get your new ideas down on paper, whose great virtue is that no two people agree on everything it relates to what you have proposed because that’s just how it got there.