First Principles

A first principle is the fundamental building block of an idea, the most indivisible part that we know to be true and that we can use to build more complex thoughts.

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First Principles: Not A New Idea

Thinking from first principles is not a new idea. It's actually the single most consistent factor among great thinkers.

For example, Aristotle believed that you could not possess true knowledge without first understanding the first principles. He thought that everything could be divided into categories and sub-categories (the smallest of them being the equivalent for first principles).

An empiricist is a person that believes all true knowledge is based and obtained through experience.

The process of seeking knowledge through experience and making use of reason to give it structure it how we can find the first principles of a subject.

  • Conventional thinkers: their knowledge consists of proof that is on display.
  • Unconventional thinkers: they use experience and reason to organize their knowledge; they ask questions and make analogies to get to the roots of am idea.
The Art Of First Principles Thinking

Once a first principle is understood, we can look and improve each component (from the simple to the more complex) of a subject or a product.

If every part is remarkable, then the total is remarkable.

  • Innovation: once you understand the fundamentals of an idea, you can change and rearrange them to create new ideas and products.
  • Optimization: a fundamental component could be changed, to improve and idea or product.
  • Integration: once you understand a foundational component of an idea, it becomes a lot easier to integrate new knowledge into your understanding.
  • Transfer: understanding first principles makes it easier to transfer complex ideas to other people.

Write down and organize information. Create hierarchies and mind maps.

Most ideas are nested outside or inside one another. You have to learn to map out how these ideas are linked.

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