Playing with Principles

First Steps to Fun and Exploration

Happy Monday y'all!

It's another manic Monday. A brand new start. The kind of day that sets the tone for the week ahead.

The first day of the week is very important. Just like the first steps you take in any endeavour you embark upon. And more importantly the first principles you base your journey of learning upon. I was reminded of this when I spoke to young Rahul Garg, who's set himself the ambitious goal of revamping the education system.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's waltz down memory lane before we rocket into the future.

Do you remember the first steps you took as an infant? I don't. I don't remember the landmark leaps in my growth and evolution. Sitting up straight, crawling on all fours, even standing up on two feet. Not a single cognisable memory exists. And that's just locomotive development.

My hands are tools I can use to grip, grab, crush, break and... make. But I don't remember the first time I tried to use them thus. I began to mutter and mumble a few undecipherable phrases early enough but my earliest linguistic explorations aren't imprinted in my memory. By the age of 5, I could walk, talk and interact socially like every other human on the planet. And yet I remember none of it.

Build on Basics

You're probably wondering where we're going with this. Look at it this way. The most momentous achievements of your human life are so basic that you don’t care to remember them, yet have the potential to be epic.

Once I've learned to use my body, I can pursue mastery of it. Likewise once I've learned how to use my mind, I can pursue mastery of it. Here lies the sad truth, majority of humans have learned to use our bodies, but to be able to use our minds with equal ease is not as easy as getting a college education.

Note the use of the word 'easy'. Getting a college education is easy. Getting a real education in first principles is not. Just like I've forgotten and taken for granted my first steps as a child, in our quest for higher achievements, we've ironically forgotten first principles.

First Principle

Let's hear what Elon Musk, the poster child of first principle reasoning has to say.

“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”

With the COVID situation, our world is catapulted into a rate of change unplanned and unimagined. It's an ideal time to reflect, dissect and distill our systems down using first principals.

Find the foundational proposition or assumption that stands alone, independent of any other proposition or assumption.

Recipe for Reasoning

Reasoning by first principles isn't the same as reasoning by analogy. But maybe this is best illustrated with an analogy. Tim Urban likens this to the difference between the cook and the chef. The chef invents recipes. The cook, uses a recipe. One doesn't even need a recipe, while the other cannot function without one.

Socrates used a disciplined process to establish the truth, reveal assumptions, and separate knowledge from ignorance. He conducted his questioning in a systematic manner.

Play with Why

To me, the use of first principles offer the opportunity for play and creation, in a world obsessed with work and achievement. Let's take things apart, test assumptions, and reconstruct it when needed. Let's see the world of infinite possibilities through the lens of first principles.

Take the more scenic or playful route - just ask why!?

Try it. The next time you're stuck with a problem, unleash a series of nagging whys like the annoying brat that I was to my parents.

The next time you're confident that you can do no wrong, repeat the same. Just ask why. Why is a potent word that can work to distill and strip down a concept to the first principles, the basic building blocks.

Perhaps you're unlike me and want more than just the word 'why' to guide you. Then let Rahul Garg, Ayush Sharma and Sid Jha take you on a structured conducted tour guide of the world of first principles. Support them on Product Hunt.

The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Until tomorrow,
Shine on 💎