[Question] Babble challenge: 50 ways of sending something to the moon

This is an ex­er­cise, and as such is a bit differ­ent from your or­di­nary ques­tion post...


Come up with 50 ways of send­ing some­thing to the moon. In less than 1 hour.

I don’t care how stupid they are. My own list in­cluded “Sling­shot”, “Mas­sive tram­poline” and “Bird with space­suit”.

What mat­ters is that you ac­tu­ally hit 50. I want you to have the ex­pe­rience of think­ing that you’re out of ideas, but nonethe­less de­cid­ing to push your­self, and find­ing your best idea thus far.

This reg­u­larly hap­pens to me when I do this ex­er­cise. I’ll feel stuck. I’ll feel like giv­ing up. But I force my­self to say three more stupid things… “mega tall tree”, “su­per boomerang”, “rail­gun” … and, all of sud­den, I have a fourth idea that’s ac­tu­ally not that shabby.

Why do this?

1) Be­com­ing more cre­ative.

Com­ing up with ideas is a bot­tle­neck for me per­son­ally. I want to be­come stronger.

I have a very sim­ple model for how to im­prove. My brain will start gen­er­at­ing more ideas if I A) force my­self to have ideas, even if they’re bad, and B) re­ward my­self for hav­ing them.

The act of fil­ter­ing for ac­tu­ally good ideas is a sec­ond, differ­ent step. First you bab­ble. And only then you prune. I claim that you can train each of those “mus­cles” sep­a­rately.

I think that in the past my cre­ativity has been held back by ex­ces­sive self-crit­i­cism. I now think it should be pos­si­ble to im­prove by sep­a­rat­ing the cre­ative and the eval­u­a­tive step—at least for prac­tice pur­poses.

2) Build­ing a cul­ture of prac­tice on LessWrong

LessWrong cur­rently feels like an un­usu­ally in­tel­lec­tual bar. You pop in and grab a drink; in­stead of watch­ing a stand-up co­me­dian some­one does a Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion; and the en­su­ing con­ver­sa­tion is great. That’s a fine thing.

But what if part of LessWrong was more like a gym? Or a dojo?

You come in, bow to the sen­sei, and then you start prac­tic­ing. To­gether. Each of you fo­cus­ing all your at­ten­tion on your move­ments, push­ing your­selves to your limits, and try­ing de­liber­ately to be­come stronger.

I want us to have that, but for ra­tio­nal­ity.


  • 50 an­swers or noth­ing.

That’s the bab­ble challenge. We’re here to work hard.

  • Post your an­swers in­side of spoiler tags! (How do I do that?)

  • Cel­e­brate other’s an­swers.

This is re­ally im­por­tant. Shar­ing bab­ble in pub­lic is a scary ex­pe­rience. I don’t want peo­ple to leave this hav­ing back-chained the ex­pe­rience “If I am cre­ative, peo­ple will look down on me”. So be gen­er­ous with those up­votes.

If you com­ment on some­one else’s post, fo­cus on mak­ing ex­cit­ing, novel ideas work—in­stead of tear­ing apart worse ideas.

Re­ward peo­ple for bab­bling—don’t pun­ish them for not prun­ing.

I might re­move com­ments that break this rule.

  • Not all your ideas have to work.

Man, I barely know any­thing about go­ing to the moon. Yet I did come up with 50 ideas.

“Bird with space­suit” is fine. I have some in­tu­ition where mak­ing these ideas ac­tu­ally helps me be­come cre­ative. I try to track that in­tu­ition.

  • My main tip: when you’re stuck, say some­thing stupid.

If you spend 5 min ag­o­nis­ing over not hav­ing any­thing to say, you’re do­ing it wrong. You’re be­ing too crit­i­cal. Just lower your stan­dards and say some­thing, any­thing. Soon enough you’ll be back on track.

This is re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant. It’s the only way I’m able to com­plete these ex­er­cises (and I’ve done a few of them in the last few days).


Now, go forth and bab­ble! 50 ways of send­ing some­thing to the moon!