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First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge

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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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. 

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. 

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.

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.

2 more ideas

Albert Einstein

"If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minute..."

Albert Einstein
First Principles Thinking
We normally use existing methodologies and analogies to solve problems, which is essentially short-cut thinking.
Engaging in 'First Principles Thinking' makes us discard existing knowledge, and get down to the essentials, exploring on our own and questioning everything. This uncharted terrain takes us to the absolute truth which we call the First Principle. When we understand the core of the problem, we can build creative and unique solutions.
    Using The First Principles Thinking

    The First Principles Thinking can be applied in our daily life:

    • Starting a business requires first principles thinking to build a fundamentally better product or service.
    • On a busy day, first principles thinking makes us do what's essential while not being bogged down with time constraints.
    • Applying the first principles toward good health will make us feel considerably better than obeying some diet or exercise routine that we hate.

    one more idea

    First Principle
    First Principle

    Is a basic, foundational, self-evident proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.

    Elon Musk
    Elon Musk

    "… it's important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. We are doing this because it's like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. But with first principles, you boil things down to the most fundamental truths and then reason up from there."

    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...
    Elon Musk

    "Well, I do think there’s a good framework for thinking. It is physics. You know, the sort of first principles ..."

    Elon Musk
    First principle vs. analog thinking
    • First principles thinking: actively questioning every assumption you think you know about a given problem or scenario  and then creating new knowledge and solutions from scratch. 
    • Reasoning by analogy: building knowledge and solving problems based on prior assumptions, beliefs and widely held ‘best practices’ approved by majority of people.
    Elon Musk's 3 steps Principle Thinking
    1. Identify and define your current assumptions;
    2. Breakdown the problem into its fundamental principles;
    3. Create new solutions from scratch.

    one more idea

    Elon Musk

    "I tend to approach things from a physics framework. And physics teaches you to reason from first principles ra..."

    Elon Musk
    The Two Types of Thinking

    Comparison thinking: comes up with solutions based on pre-existing ideas. It is the way we normally think but it also limits the solutions to possible permutations of what already exists.

    First principles thinking: starts free of preconceptions by studying the fundamentals of something and then working your way to a new thing. This helps you understand complex problems.