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First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge

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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IDEA EXTRACTED FROM:

First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge

First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge

https://fs.blog/2018/04/first-principles/#

fs.blog

6

Key Ideas

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. 

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.

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?)

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. 

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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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

First Principles Thinking
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 he...

Elon Musk
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.”

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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Don't flow with the mainstream
Don't flow with the mainstream

Moving away from analogy = Removing iterative steps based on other or older experiences and biases and prejudices

Keeping Yourself Motivated

Determination. Do something that you have willingly chosen to do. Have a sense of autonomy and self-empowerment.

Bring on companions. Shared memories and experiences are far stronger motivating factors.

Be impatient. achieve your goals as quickly as you can.

Stay curious. Do not just dream, but see the benefits for yourself.

Avoidance. Make the most out of your time and win the final pay off.

Applying the First Principles Thinking

Identify the Problem

What is something that I want to change in my life?

Deconstruct the Problem

What are the causes of my problems? How does it affect my life?

Solve the Problem

Start creating your new framework. You could think of multiple ways to achieve your goals easily.

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Practical ways to use First Principles Thinking
  • If you’re starting a business, use first principles to build a product or service that’s fundamentally better than the competition.
  • If your day is too busy, first princip...