If you took all the typical features of blogging and inverted them, you would end up with Wait But Why. The posts are infrequent, varying between once a week and once a month. They are long — 2,000 words or more. And a lot of preparation goes into them. Tim Urban, the resident writer, says he discusses a topic for 50 or 100 hours with his publisher, Andrew Finn, before sitting down at the keyboard. (Urban also provides the cartoon illustrations, usually involving stick figures evoking Randall Munroe’s xkcd.)
The result is, happily and rightly, also the opposite of most blogging: a huge commercial success. I write in ignorance of the actual numbers, but with 2 million unique visitors each month and more than 100,000 newsletter subscribers, Wait But Why has got to be one of the most profitable blogs on the internet.
Wait But Why does popular science crossed with behavioural psychology and shot through with rationalism; self-help meets science fiction. But its secret sauce is, I think, optimism. A better world is available to us if only we can do the math. We want Pareto efficiency and we want it now.
When you or I look at kids, we see small, dumb, cute people. When Musk looks at his five kids, he sees five of his favorite computers. When he looks at you, he sees a computer. And when he looks in the mirror, he sees a computer — his computer.
The Musk posts are a banquet. You may not want to consume them all at once; you may want to acquaint yourself with the chef before committing. If so, for an amuse-bouche, in which you can sample Urban’s non-judgmental logic, his capacity for granular research and his optimism not merely about what life has to bring, but also about what death has to bring, I recommend this excursion into cryonics, the freezing of bodies and brains at the time of death in the hope of reviving at least the brains when science permits.
In technical terms cryonics may be a long-odds bet, but in logical terms, says Urban, it is, as it were, a no-brainer:
Barring some hilariously bad scenario where you’re revived into a world of eternal virtual torture with no ability to end it—which really makes no sense—cryonics is a risk-free venture. It has an undo button—just kill yourself and it’s as if it never happened. If you’re not into it, your journey ends here. Otherwise, move on to the next step.
That thought alone is worth the click.
Robert Cottrell is editor of The Browser, which recommends five or six pieces of exceptional writing available online each day. He was previously a staff writer for The Economist and the Financial Times.