From Alan Watts' The Wisdom of Insecurity:
"Man seems to be unable to live without myth, without the belief that the routine and drudgery, the pain and fear of this life have some meaning and goal in the future.
[...] These myths give the individual a certain sense of meaning by making him part of a vast social effort, in which he loses something of his own emptiness and loneliness. Yet the very violence of these political religions betrays the anxiety beneath them - for they are but men huddling together and shouting to give themselves courage in the dark."
During my walk to work this morning, I listened to an old Freakonomics podcast. Stephen Dubner was chatting with Takeru Kobayashi, the waifish Japanese competitive eater who can consume 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
Dubner and Kobayashi talked about how a 5-foot-8, 130-pound dude who eats predominantly fish and fruit could become a world champion eater. For Kobe, the answer was pretty simple, actually. Most competitive hot-dog eaters had treated the contest as an extension of eating a normal meal. They played with the mindset of "Let me just eat how I normally do, but faster."
Kobayashi reframed the problem- the question for him was: How can I make it easier to consume one hot dog? "Rapid hot dog consumption" became less about "eating" and more about scientifically putting food into the body.
Through obsessive experimentation, he came up with the right mix of discipline and strategy to blow the previous world record out of the water.
And only through absolutely destroying the previous standard of what was possible did people take notice:
"I think people have to have a reason to rethink what could be wrong if ... people only see someone eating 25 is the limit then someone who can eat 20 might think wow, if I just eat five more I could actually do that and no one would think anything else can be done. But if you see someone suddenly come and eat 50 then everyone knows that there must be a different approach to the problem. And until something like that happens, people don’t question."
In the first quote I dropped in here, Alan Watts discussed the human need for myth. These myths appear everywhere - in religion, in politics, in business, you name it. They often act as ways to tame our insecurities. They give us the freedom to believe certain things that normalize the world in some important way.
These myths also tend to limit our own personal capabilities.
In environments where myths reign supreme, everyone seems to talk and act the same way, humming and circling in the same set of ritualized words and practices. This all really exists to help these cult members feel less insecure about the opinions they hold about the world. And in the process, they likely oppress the brilliance of their brightest minds. In most mythologies, the "tallest poppies have their heads cut off."
It is easier to hold a static view of the world, where much of its uncertainty/mystery has already been solved. Kobayashi could have very justifiably told himself that there's no way someone of his size could eat that many hot dogs. In the domain of technology, there's no reason why Elon Musk should be doing what he's doing with Tesla and SpaceX.
Often, our limitations are not self-imposed; they are imposed upon us by others, and then we are made to think that we ourselves are the ones who are crazy and self-defeating.
I don't think we in our natural state care too much about what others think of our interests- we just become conditioned to be that way.