First Principles: Elon Musk on the Power of Thinking for Yourself - Deepstash
First Principles: Elon Musk on the Power of Thinking for Yourself

First Principles: Elon Musk on the Power of Thinking for Yourself

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First Principles: Elon Musk on the Power of Thinking for Yourself

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First Principles Thinking

Is the act of deconstructing something to the fundamental parts that you know are true and building up from there.

Also called reasoning from first principles, it effectively helps many great thinkers to break down complicated problems and generate original solutions while teaching how to think for oneself.

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Elon Musk

“Physics teaches you to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. So I said, okay, let’s look at the first principles. What is a rocket made of? Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, plus some titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. Then I asked, what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? It turned out that the materials cost of a rocket was around two percent of the typical price.”

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One Method, Different Solutions

Different solutions present themselves at different layers of abstraction. Depending on how deep and thorough is your breakdown of the situation, putting them all back together may yield different solutions.

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Cartesian Doubt

Method used by René Descartes in which he would “systematically doubt everything he could possibly doubt until he was left with what he saw as purely indubitable truths."

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Many groundbreaking ideas have been a result of boiling things down to the first principles and then substituting one of the key parts for a more effective solution.

The best solution is often not where everyone is already looking. After getting to the facts, first principle thinking helps you make a plan to improve each little piece, which often leads to exploring for better substitutes, even in other disciplines.

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The Challenge of Reasoning From First Principles

One of the primary obstacles to first principles thinking is our tendency to focus on making slight iterations on the same theme. The problem is that, old conventions and forms are often accepted without question and they set boundaries around creativity.

Optimize the function. Ignore the form. This is how you learn to think for yourself.

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Even if you aren't trying to develop innovative ideas, understanding the first principles of your field is a smart use of your time. Without a firm grasp of the basics, there is little chance of mastering the details that make the difference at elite levels of competition.

Every innovation, including the most groundbreaking ones, requires a long period of iteration and improvement.

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A first principle is a basic assumption that cannot be deduced any further. 

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Using First Principle Thinking in Practice

In theory, first principles thinking requires you to dig deeper and deeper until you are left with only the foundational truths of a situation.

In practice, you don't have to go down to the atomic level to benefit from first principles thinking. Just going one or two levels deeper than most people is often enough. 

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