The Misunderstanding of Elon Musk


Elon Musk’s appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast will go down in history and be rewatched forever by whatever form of humans/AI exist in the future. I love podcasts and have listened to thousands over the past dozen years, but this one may be my favorite yet. It’s better than the best science fiction movies because it’s not science fiction. High-speed maglev tunnels, self-driving electric cars, solar-powered roofs, AI brain interfaces, space exploration, Mars colonization, and VR simulations are the reality of our present and future.

If you haven’t watched/listened to the podcast in full, I suggest you do so before reading my thoughts and reactions. [] (Some quotes courtesy of

On the way Elon talks:

I like how he takes long pauses before answering a question. I tend to do the same thing. More people need to talk like that, as in stopping to think for a few moments before you decide what to say.

On the Boring Company:

“You can go further down with tunnels than you can go up with buildings. You can go 10,000 feet down if you want.” – Elon Musk

It’s easier to build down than up. Tunnels, Hyperloops, and magnetic levitation are the future of high-speed transportation, more so than air travel. Tunnels will be safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. There is a vast amount of untapped real estate underground.

On flamethrowers:

“Don’t buy it. That’s what I said. Still, people bought it.” – Elon Musk on flamethrowers

Some people overreact to the fact that his Boring Company is selling a “Not a Flamethrower,” but really, it’s just a fun form of fundraising for the company. Why not?

On artificial intelligence (AI):

“I tried to convince people to slow down AI, to regulate AI. This was futile.” – Elon Musk

As Rogan said, that line very well might be a scene in a future movie, looking back at this time. I wrote extensively about AI here. Elon’s taken a more fatalistic attitude of late, realizing that there’s no stopping AI. Which is probably true. The US government could possibly force US companies to regulate AI, but how do they stop Chinese companies or the Russian government from developing AI? As Musk said, the real threat isn’t robots taking over the world. It’s people using AI as a weapon against other people. Though he did express some hope…

On Neuralink:

“If you can’t beat it, join it.” – Elon Musk on AI

Merging with AI may be humanity’s best hope for the future and our ultimate destiny. Musk’s company, Neuralink, hopes to do just that: connect the human brain directly to a computer interface. Then we would have the power of AI while retaining our humanity. This may sound frightening to some, but as Elon says, “You are already a cyborg. That phone is an extension of yourself.” We currently outsource our memories to phones and computers. Neuralink will essentially be a natural progression of that, further connecting our brains to technology.

On social media:

“Some of the happiest seeming people actually are some of the saddest people in reality.” – Elon Musk

Elon made a great point about the negative effects of social media. It is tribalistic, leading people into echo chambers of confirmation bias. On Twitter, people will spew hate and negativity, saying vicious things they would never say to someone’s face. (Including things people said about Musk in this very interview. And of course, Musk himself is not immune to writing needlessly negative comments about others.) Even the more positive social media sites like Instagram are also problematic because people only present positive experiences, showing the highlights of their lives, causing others to believe their lives are worse in comparison. Musk insinuated that even his life as a billionaire isn’t as great as others may assume it is.

On the simulation theory:

“If we’re in a simulation, reality outside the simulation is probably pretty boring.” – Elon Musk

Elon equates it to a movie and how the making of the movie is boring compared to the movie itself. That may be the case with simulations. It makes sense when you think about life and evolution—how simple origins create such complexity. The universe at the time of the Big Bang is boring compared to what it expanded into, just as a single-celled microbe is boring compared to the human being it evolved into. Whether we’re in a simulation or not, it may be impossible for beings inside a simulation to know what reality is like outside of the simulation. I wrote much more about the simulation theory here.

On Tesla:

“I think a Tesla is the most fun thing you could possibly ever buy.” – Elon Musk

Electric cars are the future. They’re better than gasoline cars in just about every way: safer, cleaner, more efficient, and cost-effective. The only possible downside right now is the battery and upfront cost, but it can already handle a full day of driving for most people (300 miles to a charge), and the costs are gradually coming down. Eventually, the battery/cost ratio will reach a certain level that it would be foolish to buy a gasoline car over an electric car. It’s not just Tesla. Other car companies realize this and are all building their own electric models. This is not just an environmental issue. Electric cars are flat-out better.

Also, all cars in the future will be self-driving. Right now, Tesla has an autopilot feature, and the media overemphasizes the rare accidents it causes, but the truth is autopilot has prevented a lot more accidents than it’s caused. And it’s constantly improving. Eventually, self-driving cars will be so safe that it will be dangerous and irresponsible to let humans continue to drive at all. Again, it’s not just Tesla. Google, Uber, and just about every car company are working on self-driving technology.

On flying cars:

“If you want a flying car, just put some wheels on a helicopter.” – Elon Musk

Unfortunately, flying cars will probably not be a thing in the near future, as cool as they may seem on the surface (or above the surface). They’re overly noisy and require too much energy to defy gravity. It’s much easier for cars to go underground and travel through tunnels. Though Elon did mention electric planes that could take off vertically. That may be an option to replace airplanes in the future.

On climate change:

“The more carbon we take out of the ground and add to the atmosphere, the more dangerous it is… The scientific consensus is overwhelming. I don’t know any serious scientist who doesn’t think we have a serious climate risk that we’re facing.” – Elon Musk

It’s difficult to get people to change their ways and reduce fossil fuel consumption, especially when there are groups with vested interests peddling conspiracy theories that global warming is a hoax. The only way to get everybody on board is to provide a better option, both performance-wise and financially, which is what makes Tesla so important. When electric cars are better-performing and more cost-effective than gasoline cars, people will make the shift, regardless of what they believe about climate change. The same with solar power. All roofs built from now on should have solar tiles. Who wouldn’t want their home powered entirely for free by the sun?

On cannabis:

“I am not a regular smoker of weed… I don’t find weed is good for productivity.” – Elon Musk

People should be more concerned about the whiskey Elon drank than the weed he smoked. Alcohol is much more harmful than marijuana. Plus cannabis is legal in California (and should/will be legal everywhere). In fact, the tobacco in that blunt was more dangerous than the marijuana. Cigarettes cause 480,000 deaths per year, and alcohol causes 88,000, while cannabis causes zero. It’s such a benign substance (with scientifically-proven health and medical benefits) that it’s ludicrous it was ever criminalized in the first place. It was all the result of a propaganda smear campaign in the 1930s that apparently far too many people still believe in. The most talked about thing in the media is the fact Elon smoked weed, when that’s the least relevant moment from the 2.5-hour podcast.

On Elon’s mind:

“I have a million ideas, there’s no shortage… It’s very hard to turn it off… I don’t think you’d necessarily want to be me. I don’t think people would like it that much.” – Elon Musk

He talked about how his mind never turns off—it’s a constant outburst of ideas. My mind works much the same way. I am constantly getting ideas, except my ideas are for new movies and books instead of new technologies and businesses. I already have more story ideas than I can ever write in a lifetime, and I am constantly coming up with more. My struggle is finding the time to write them all. In previous interviews, Musk has expressed his love of science fiction, citing certain books and authors (Douglas Adams, Iain M. Banks) as inspiration for his career. I have no desire to be the next Elon Musk. I would rather write science fiction that inspires someone else to be the next Elon Musk.

On space exploration:

“My goal is to do useful things, maximize the probability that the future is good, and make the future exciting… There need to be things that make you look forward to waking up in the morning. A future where we are a space-faring civilization and out there among the stars. I think that’s a very exciting future. That’s a thing we want.” – Elon Musk

I’ve written about the importance of space exploration, not just as a backup plan for Earth, but also to spread conscious life throughout the galaxy and beyond. People worry about overpopulation on the planet, but that will not be a problem if we become a space-faring civilization. (News flash: the universe is pretty big.) With NASA’s space shuttle program now defunct, humanity is relying on Musk and SpaceX to take us off-world. #OccupyMars

On Love:

“Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume they’re good until proven otherwise. Most people are pretty good people… This may sound corny, but love is the answer. It wouldn’t hurt to have more love in the world… Be nicer to each other. Give more credit to others. It’s easy to demonize people, but you’re usually wrong about it. People are nicer than you think.” – Elon Musk

His final message is perhaps the most important, and of course it’s the least talked about by the media. This shows the problem with news today, which is becoming more and more tabloid-like, focusing only on negativity. Why watch/read/listen to a 2.5-minute hot take about Musk when you can hear the full 2.5-hour interview in full? Why resort to someone else’s interpretation and opinion about his words when you can hear his words, unedited and uncensored, and judge it yourself? (And yes, I realize the irony of me writing a blog post about his interview, but I feel the need to because so many people are misinterpreting it.) The media’s subsequent sensationalized overreaction to the interview only further reveals the irrelevance of traditional media. Long-form podcasts and video interviews are replacing old forms of media, and this event shows exactly why.

I’ve been trying to figure out why the public perception of Musk has turned negative over the past year. There are several reasons. First, visionaries far ahead of their time are often considered crazy by their contemporaries and prophetic geniuses by their successors (see Nikola Tesla). Many people are simply not intelligent enough to comprehend the concepts Musk talks about. As he said, he’s an engineer more so than a businessman—he’s a literal rocket scientist—so his technological expertise is far beyond that of the average citizen (or the average journalist for that matter). Though there are plenty of intelligent people who criticize him too. Which brings me to the second reason: politics.

People with certain political ideologies are looking for reasons to attack Musk (or anyone who doesn’t share their ideology), so they overreact to every little thing he says and does. The right is deluded by climate denial, thinking all environmentalists are evil, while the left is deluded by capitalism denial, thinking all billionaires are evil. Both liberals and conservatives criticize Musk, despite the fact he has done more for the environment than most people on the left and more for the economy than most people on the right. The left/right tribalism is so rampant that they will attack anyone who doesn’t buy into their ideology completely. “If you’re not 100% with us, you must be with them.” No. This is the wrong way to think.

Centrists and independent free-thinkers, who tend to be more libertarian, get attacked by both sides of the political spectrum, which is the problem with the country today and the tribal two-party system. Both sides need to move toward the middle and become more moderate/libertarian, but instead they’re moving further left/right and becoming more extreme, tribal, and irrational in their thinking. This is a massive problem.

There are few people doing more to improve the future of humanity than Elon Musk. Three of the biggest existential threats facing civilization are climate change, AI, and natural disasters (such as asteroids, super-volcanoes, and pandemics). Through his companies of Tesla, Neuralink, and SpaceX, Musk is doing his best to combat all three threats. What are his critics doing in that respect?

This is not to say Musk is perfect (no one is) or exempt from criticism (no one is). Elon has made plenty of mistakes (as we all have), and he should be held accountable when apt. But people need to keep things in perspective and not overreact to harmless Tweets or speculative gossip stories in the media. Elon Musk is one of our greatest living minds and has done so much to change the world for the better. The only sad thing is how many people are either too ignorant or blinded by bias to see his brilliance.

3 thoughts on “The Misunderstanding of Elon Musk

  1. Pingback: Overthinking is NOT the Problem | T.Z. Barry

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  3. Pingback: Science Fiction Books vs. Movies | TZ Barry

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