Reality optimizes for the whole, not just you.

November 18, 2017

This one is fascinating to me. Someone I follow on Twitter liked a tweet someone else posted, and that tweet was a picture of Ray Dalio’s book called “Principles”. I had never heard of Ray Dalio before, but apparently he made Forbes’s 100 richest people (17 billion USD net worth) through an investment firm called Bridgewater Associates. Ray himself is an intellectual, and so far his book is extremely fascinating. He takes a very iterative and evolutionary approach to self-improvement.

The screenshot that got me interested in the book captured a passage that said:

Reality is optimizing for the whole—not for you. Contribute to the whole and you will likely be rewarded.

And that instantly blew my mind. Because this was an unresolved area in my life. Who does nature reward? Why do some people “make it” and others don’t? Does nature favor some over others? I never made any progress on these questions, and just hoped for the best.

But when I read that, it clicked—nature, or reality, or the universe, or god, or time, or whatever, optimizes for the whole, and not just me. I no longer had to wish to be lucky, or hope that nature chooses me as one of its favorites. No—all I have to do is essentially figure out what the world is optimizing for, and board that train. At that point, you’re in the hands of mathematics and market economics, and rewards are no longer this mysterious, prayer-based system.

This quote perfectly answers why reality chooses to reward some and not others. Basically, you have to ensure you’re not only contributing to the system, but contributing to the right problems. This understanding immediately closed the circle for me.

I’m not yet sure what practical implications this will have. On the one hand, I’m glad to be working on a problem that the world seems to be selecting for (privacy and thought-management). The scary part is keeping track of when reality changes what it's optimizing for. I imagine that once you’re already on one train going 100mph, it’s hard to get off and board another. Which explains why large companies are so susceptible to disruption.

The moral of the story seems to be: pay attention.