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  • In the previous video, we discussed the idea of power and created a framework for thinking

  • about it.

  • I claimed that someone needed two fundamental ingredients to be powerful: a true understanding

  • of the world and the resources to shape it.

  • As promised, we're going to go over what I left out of the last video which was how

  • to obtain a truer understanding of the world.

  • I believe this essay will shine light on the fact that some ways of thinking are more useful

  • than others.

  • Out of all of the essays that I've ever written, this one is the most important.

  • Today, we'll be discussing how to think from first principles.

  • First principles are the fundamental building blocks of an idea; they are the most indivisible

  • parts that we know to be true and that we use to build more complex thoughts.

  • I know this sounds a little abstract right now but let me give you some history, an analogy,

  • and an example.

  • Thinking from first principles isn't a new or groundbreaking idea.

  • In fact, it's been the dominant mode of thinking among all great scientists and philosophers

  • for awhile now; it's probably the single most consistent factor among great thinkers.

  • Although there have been many practitioners of this way of thinking, I'd like to zoom

  • in on one that you may have heard about: Aristotle.

  • He was a prolific organizer who believed that everything could be divided into categories

  • and subcategories.

  • The smallest subcategory in any domain is what we would call a first principle.

  • He was also one of the earliest empiricists that we know about.

  • [3, 5, 7, 8]

  • Empiricist: someone who believes that all knowledge is achieved through experience.

  • As one of the earliest major contributors to the study of biology, it makes sense that

  • Aristotle was a first principles thinker.

  • He would dissect animals to gain real world knowledge and then use his capacity for reason

  • to organize and categorize this information.

  • This cycle of seeking knowledge through experience and using reason to give it structure is how

  • one comes to know the first principles of a subject.

  • Aristotle believed that we couldn't possess true knowledge unless we understood these

  • principles.

  • [7]

  • we do not think we know a thing until we are acquainted with its primary conditions

  • or first principles, and have carried our analysis as far as its simplest elements.

  • - Aristotle [3]

  • Now that you have a slight understanding of the history, let me give you an analogy about

  • thinking from first principles.

  • Imagine your knowledge in a specific domain as a tree.

  • Someone who thinks from first principles - an unconventional thinker - will understand that

  • body of knowledge from the fruit all the way down to the root.

  • The fruit is what we see in front of us: it's the unearned knowledge that we can obtain,

  • experience, and repeat right away.

  • We can look at an apple tree, say that it's just a thing that produces apples, and call

  • it a day.

  • It's a very shallow understanding of the tree but it's not untrue.

  • On the other hand , a first principles thinker will want to know how this creation really

  • came to be.

  • They will see that the apple is connected to a branch.

  • Every branch is a subset of a greater whole called the trunk.

  • Finally, they see that the root is the most fundamental part of the tree which gives rise

  • to the fruit.

  • They have gathered multiple pieces of information about the tree through experience but they

  • have also organized the pieces of information in relation to each other.

  • These free-floating facts have been transformed into an organized body of knowledge.

  • The conventional thinker will believe that they can put the apple seeds anywhere and

  • grow delicious apples; they lack true understanding.

  • Upon examining the roots, the first principles thinker will see that a delicious fruit starts

  • with good soil; they have a nuanced understanding.

  • The conventional thinker is the guy at the cocktail party who has all of the interesting

  • facts: his knowledge consists solely of fruit that he can display.

  • On the contrary, the unconventional thinker is consistently focused on building trees

  • of knowledge.

  • Like Aristotle, he or she goes back and forth between experience and reason to build an

  • organized and structured body of knowledge.

  • A tree planted in good soil will have strong and healthy roots and thus produce delicious

  • fruit.

  • Likewise, an idea that blooms from true and beautiful first principles will itself be

  • beautiful and true.

  • Naturally, if the simple parts that make up a complex whole are good and true, then the

  • complex whole must be good and true as well.

  • This is important because, as we discussed in the last video, a true understanding of

  • the world is necessary to obtain power.

  • Any complex beliefs we hold can only be true if the parts that make it up are true.

  • To make this more concrete, let's think about the process of writing an essay from

  • first principles.

  • A well-written essay is like a delicious fruit: it's enjoyable to consume and difficult

  • to produce without understanding its fundamentals.

  • We can identify its fundamentals by breaking it down into its component parts.

  • An essay is a collection of paragraphs.

  • Well, a paragraph is a collection of sentences.

  • A sentence is a collection of words.

  • Words are a collection of letters and letters are the fundamental building blocks of an

  • essay.

  • Once the components of an essay are understood, we can look at improving each one from the

  • simplest to the complex.

  • If we can make each individual component remarkable then the totality should be remarkable and

  • that is the art of first principles thinking.

  • Now, let's talk about the benefits.

  • Several benefits come from understanding an idea down to its fundamental components.

  • Once you understand the fundamentals of an idea, you can rearrange them, change them,

  • or put them together differently to create a new idea or product.

  • In our writing example, we could have created another layer above the essay: we could call

  • a collection of essays a book.

  • We have now invented something new.

  • A fundamental component can be changed in order to improve an idea or a product.

  • For example, once we knew the fundamental components of the essay, we could put each

  • of them under scrutiny to see how each component could be its best.

  • But, without knowing these components, it's impossible to make any sort of improvement.

  • Once you understand the foundational components of an idea, it becomes a lot easier to integrate

  • new knowledge into your understanding.

  • For example, once you know how to write letters it becomes easier to make words.

  • Once you know how to write words you can make sentences.

  • Once you can make sentences, you can make paragraphs, then essays, then books, then

  • entire libraries.

  • Understanding the foundational components of an idea makes it easier to transfer that

  • complex idea to another person.

  • You can start with the simplest component and build up the idea from there; this is

  • exactly what we try to do in schools.

  • We teach kids how to write the alphabet, then words, and so on.

  • First principle thinkers are better teachers because they can determine the exact level

  • where a student's understanding falls apart.

  • So, you see the benefits but how can someone become a first principle thinker?

  • How Can Someone Think from First Principles?

  • Thinking from first principles is simple, but not easy.

  • I just have one piece of actionable advice and it's inspired by Aristotle: create hierarchies

  • (like what we did with the essay example).

  • Most ideas are nested inside or outside one another and it's the job of a first principles

  • thinker to map out how these ideas are linked.

  • As Aristotle, like all empiricists, would say, knowledge begins with experience.

  • The world is presenting fruit all around you: amazing and complex acts of creation.

  • Discovering the roots of these creations starts with questions such as why or how.

  • The ultimate truth-seeker must not be satisfied with fruit, yet they realize that the search

  • for roots is never ending.

  • Once they've reduced an idea down to the smallest fundamentals that they can conceive

  • of, they have arrived at the first principles.

  • These fundamentals can be used to innovate, optimize, learn more complex ideas, or to

  • teach others.

  • One of the best ways to discover these fundamentals is by actually writing down and organizing

  • the information in a subject that you're interested in by using a hierarchy or a mind

  • map like how we did with the essay.

  • So, that concludes my little mini-series on power.

  • I put forth a framework for power in the last video and discussed the idea of being valuable

  • to obtain it.

  • In this video, I put forth a common mode of thought for the truth-seeker.

  • In the next video, I plan to discuss something that might catch you by surprise: the /danger/

  • of being a first principles thinker.

In the previous video, we discussed the idea of power and created a framework for thinking

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The Most Powerful Way to Think | First Principles

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    Summer posted on 2021/03/19
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