Moonshots and the Rationality of Irrationality

Someone — I cannot recall who — once observed that if Mohandas Gandhi had soberly considered the odds of successfully forcing the British to withdraw from India, he would have never gotten started. There are many reasons for the appeal of his — and his country’s — story, not least of which is its David-versus-Goliath theme. Of course, all of the dreams and efforts that ended in failure tend to be less well remembered.

Life entails risk, even if livings things, in general, seek to minimize that risk. From simple genetic mutations to curiosity to imagination, there is a playfulness and adventuresomeness to the world which makes it clear that playing it safe is not enough. The world is ever-changing; old challenges fade away, new ones emerge, and there are ever opportunities to exploit.

Shooting for the moon is the human manifestation of the need to take risks. It can be ruthlessly punished, but sometimes, the rewards are big, so on balance, nature favors it. Not all people like to take risks, not all can dream big, not all ever have novel ideas. And those of us who inclined in those directions know that for every 100 tries, we can go through 99 failures.

We don’t care.

The passion for such adventures was bred into us. Being a little crazy serves a purpose. For if all we ever did was soberly calculate our odds of success, it is entirely possible that we might have gone extinct long ago. What a sobering thought!