A simple way to reason from First Principles
2 min read

A simple way to reason from First Principles

When was the last time you truly used your brain?
No, I really mean intentionally use your thinking capacity to reason about something (as opposed to going through your life on auto-pilot).

You might have heard of the "First principles" concept, but if you haven't, here's a great article by Farnam Street. It's quite long, so here's a 2-minute version of it. I wrote this for myself, but it could be useful to you.

Not knowledge, but understanding

The gist is: we are lazy by default. Our brain is designed to save energy. So, if we want to think creatively—to think out of the box—we  have to start truly using our brain. We have to be intentional about it.  This means:

  • Asking ourselves more questions.
  • Reflecting on our experiences.
  • Not being content with the usual way of doing things. "Because it's how it always have been done", "Because I said so", "Because that's just the way it is", etc. All these kind of sentences should be rejected forcefully.
  • Seeking understanding instead of knowledge.
  • Finding what is true—as opposed to what we wish to be true—and start building from there.

Using your brain where it matters

Basically, this means to stop being a lazy ass and actively use your brain, the right way.

Too many of us, including me, use the major part of our brain cells for wishful or compulsive thinking. You know, when you wish things were different, or when you are caught in a loop, thinking about a bad experience you had this week. Often, it is to comfort our biases and please our ego. To feed on paranoia or scarcity mentality. To stress over imaginary scenarios, or fight against reality, because it doesn't fit our worldview.

When we're doing that, all we're doing is running hard in a hamster wheel. Try as hard as you may, you're not getting anywhere. So the basis of First Principles is to deal with reality. With what is, and what we can do with it.

Not what you want. Not what I want. Not what would be cool, or nice, or fair. Not what you think is, but what is. Just what is true.
Then build from it.

That's it.

I suggest reading Ray Dalio's Principles to learn how to embrace reality. And if you're interested in delving in the topic, feel free to check out the Farnam Street link at the beginning of this article. It does explain First Principles a lot better and in more detail that what I just did.