Why Errors Dominate Everything

The Idea

Edited and curated by @philhagspiel

Errors are the default. It is more likely that things go wrong than right.


Life has three certainties: death, taxes, and the fact you will screw things up sometimes.

Errors are the default.

Life is a game of chance and the odds of doing things right are stacked against us. And the less we pay attention, the more these unfavorable odds will play out over time. In other words, there are many more ways to make mistakes than to succeed.

For example, the easy-peasy ten-piece jigsaw puzzle you used to play with as a 3-year-old has exactly one solution — but millions of ways of doing it wrong (google it if you doubt the math).

Now, while there are quite a few different ways in which things in your life can go right (personally and professionally), there are still almost infinitely more ways for them to go wrong.

Now, guess which discipline of science has a lot to do with all of this? Hardcore physics. A quick (optional) excursion:

The Second Law Of Thermodynamics states that there is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state. In simple terms, this means that things naturally tend towards decay and chaos (from a macro perspective). The reason is that from all possible configurations of elements in a system, the number of configurations that create a chaotic state is a lot larger than the number of configurations that create an ordered state. When things are left alone (i.e. no energy is used to make them orderly), they tend to become more chaotic over time automatically.

The main implication of this fundamental feature of reality is that we have to make an effort to put things into place and to create structure and order. If left to chance, things will likely go wrong in some way.

No matter how great it sounds as a quote on a coffee mug, we can’t count on things to just work out in the end. Without us actually making an effort, they’ll likely go to shit at some point.

“It is possible to fail in many ways (for evil belongs to the class of the unlimited (...) and good to that of the limited), while to succeed is possible only in one way.”

— Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics (Book 2)


A few further resources you might like if you find the above idea interesting: