First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge - Deepstash
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Design Frameworks

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First-principles thinking

Breaking down complicated problems into basic elements and then reassemble them from the ground up.

It’s one of the best ways to learn to think for yourself, unlock your creative potential, and move from linear to non-linear results.

This approach was used by the philosopher Aristotle and is used now by Elon Musk and Charlie Munger. 

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A first principle

...is a foundational proposition or assumption that stands alone. We cannot deduce first principles from any other proposition or assumption.

Reasoning by first principles removes the impurity of assumptions and conventions. What remains is the essentials. 

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Cutting through the dogma

Cutting through the dogma

If we never learn to take something apart, test the assumptions, and reconstruct it, we end up trapped in what other people tell us.

We remain trapped in the way things have always been done. When the environment changes, we just continue as if things were the same.

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Socratic questioning to establish first principles

Socratic questioning to establish first principles

  • Clarifying your thinking and explaining the origins of your ideas (Why do I think this?);
  • Challenging assumptions (How do I know this is true?)
  • Looking for evidence (How can I back this up? )
  • Considering alternative perspectives (What might others think?)
  • Examining consequences and implications (What if I am wrong?)
  • Questioning the original questions (Why did I think that?)

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Analogies can’t replace understanding

Analogies are beneficial; they make complex problems easier to communicate and increase understanding. Using them, however, limits our beliefs about what’s possible and allows people to argue without ever exposing our (faulty) thinking.

It’s only when we step back, ask ourselves what’s possible, and cut through the flawed analogies that we see what is possible. 

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Reasoning by first principles is useful when:

  • Doing something for the first time.
  • Dealing with complexity.
  • Trying to understand a situation that you’re having problems with. 

In all of these areas, your thinking gets better when you stop making assumptions and you stop letting others frame the problem for you.

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