Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ever Tried, Ever Failed...

The man himself.
There's a quote that's been bouncing around in my head for the past few weeks. It comes from Samuel Beckett's novella Worstward Ho, and it goes like this:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Seems a bit gloomy at first, doesn't it? What a pessimistic outlook, to believe you're in a constant state of failure. The common saying goes, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again"—the implication being that eventually, you will.

Beckett's quote makes no such promise. If you try again, you'll fail again. But it's the last bit that's really stuck with me.
Fail better.
That two-word sentence, to me, crystallizes the essence of what makes us human. We're such tremendous failures, the human race. We still have no idea what we're doing, broadly speaking. We're puny, fragile, ignorant things. And yet we keep trundling along. We make mistakes... and eventually, we fail better.

It's not just the human race. It's the essence of science, of how we unlock the world around us. Our understanding of the universe has been built up incrementally, painstakingly over millennia.

There was a time when we thought the seat of our consciousness was in the heart and not the brain. What a spectacular failure. Today we know the specific functions of most parts of the brain, yet we still don't have a clue how they come together to create a "self." We've failed again—but better. Success is not in the nature of science. We don't set out to prove things, but rather to create flawed yet increasingly accurate models of the world.

And it's not just humanity or science. It's the essence of me. I fail constantly. I failed today. I'll fail tomorrow. And when I do, I will pick myself up, dust myself off and say:
No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.


  1. Hi Tim,
    This blog is so inspiring! Is it possible to contact you privately as someone who seems to be living through the same hardships?


    1. Anon,

      I appreciate it! You can contact me at if you want to talk.

  2. Just a thought:

    THIS IS THEN ENTIRE DEFINITION OF EVOLUTION IN THREE SENTENCES, FOLKS. (I'm not counting the first) It even includes Darwinian natural selection. DNA is nothing more than a record of the failures that lead to the current version which will inevitably fail.

    Jerry Pournelle gave us a similar sentiment with his justifiably famous: "Think of it as evolution in action."