What is the first principle method

The first principle is a basic logical inference that cannot be derived from any other inference or assumption.

Aristotle used the method of the first principle. The philosopher called it the first cause, the basis on which our knowledge of things is built. Scientists in various fields are still using this method to help them get rid of bias in research. To do this, they ask themselves different questions, such as: “What has been proven?” and “What are we absolutely sure of?”

First principles thinking forces us to dig deeper and seek the truth. Rene Descartes used it simultaneously with the method of Cartesian doubt, which pushed the philosopher to constantly doubt everything. Thus, the French thinker strove to leave in his mind only undeniable truths.

In today’s world, we do not need to delve into the depths to understand the essence of the problems we face. It is enough to dive one or two levels deeper than usual, and on each of them we will find different new solutions. How one can apply the method of the first principle in everyday life is well illustrated by a thought experiment.

Imagine that you have a motorboat towing a water skier, a bulldozer and a bicycle. You take it all apart, and now you have a lot of parts from which you can put together something completely new. For example, a snowmobile. It will consist of skis, a boat engine, a bicycle handlebar, bulldozer tracks, and so on. This is how the first principle method works. First you deconstruct the situation, take it apart into small parts, and then you reconstruct, put them together, creating something better.

The effectiveness of the first principle method can be seen in the example of Elon Musk. He analyzes reality in terms of bare facts, not intuition.

Elon Musk

Entrepreneur, engineer, billionaire.

I think people’s thinking is too constrained by conventions and analogies with past experience. We must learn to build reasoning from scratch – from first principles, as physicists say. It is important to look at the fundamentals and build your reasoning around them, and then analyze what conclusion they lead to, whether it works or not. It doesn’t matter how similar or different it is to what people have done before.

It seems to us that we know a lot, although in fact it is not so at all. Research showthat we are much better at making decisions when we stick to strategies. So, relying on intuition while thinking about complex problems is not worth it.

Musk’s thinking is completely different from the thinking of an ordinary person. He starts by choosing a goal, like building a rocket, and then dives into the first principles of the problem. Rockets are expensive. And this is one of the difficulties that the entrepreneur faced when he decided to send people to Mars. Since Musk couldn’t afford to buy the rocket, he asked himself, “What is it made of?” And he found the answer: carbon fiber, copper, aluminum alloys and titanium.

Then he wondered, “How much do these materials cost?” It turned out that about 2% of the cost of the rocket. Then why are rockets so expensive? Musk began to study rocket science and realized that the reason is that people do not follow the method of the first principle. Then the entrepreneur created SpaceX to see if he could build rockets from scratch.

Elon Musk

Entrepreneur, engineer, billionaire.

I I thinkthat it is important to think in terms of first principles, not analogies… The first principle is a view of the world from the point of view of physics. You reduce everything to fundamental truths and say: “OK, what are we sure about the truth? ..” And you start building new conclusions based on this information.

Why the first principle method is useful

To understand a situation or solve a problem, most people resort to traditional thinking. It involves the use of intuition and analogies. And this, as it turned out, is a rather dubious way.

Another factor to keep in mind is that analogies can never replace understanding. Yes, it’s easier to reason by analogy, but you’ll find much more useful answers if you apply the first principle method. Here are its main benefits.

Helps to think outside the box

The method of the first principle allows you to go beyond the generally accepted, historically established view of the world and discover new opportunities. When you understand the hidden principles of any process, everything makes sense.

The first principle method is useful to apply:

  • When you are trying to find a solution to a complex problem.
  • You are doing something for the first time.
  • You want to understand a difficult topic.

In these situations, don’t make assumptions and let others formulate and solve problems for you. We tend to believe that creativity is an innate trait that either exists or it doesn’t. Research provedthat is not true.

Each of us is creative. However, constantly busy parents and teachers can eradicate this quality in us even in our childhood. When we become adults, we begin to think traditionally, because it is easier. When you learn to apply the method of the first principle, you will understand that everything is possible.

Suitable for solving personal problems

The first principle method is useful not only for rocket science or solving complex problems in physics, but also in order to deal with life’s difficulties. Let’s look at two examples.

Assumption: I need a lot of money to develop my business.

First principle solution: What does it take to grow a business? Provide services and provide service to more customers. Does this require more money? Not necessarily, but you will have to look for budgetary ways to attract customers. Who will help to expand the clientele without serious financial investments? Partners who are already working with the right clients and will agree to cooperate and then share the profits.

Assumption: I need to spend a lot of time and energy to become a successful writer.

First principle solution: What does it take to create good content and make money as a writer? Clients and audience who will appreciate your work and be ready to buy your articles or books. How to expand the circle of readers? Learn the most effective marketing techniques, and start by focusing on selling content that will make the reader’s life better. This will help you reach your goal.

How to Apply the First Principle Method to Your Life

1. Recognize assumptions

We all make assumptions in different areas of our lives. For example, we may assume that we don’t have enough time to work on a complex project, or that we need special tools and techniques to be more productive.

The next time you are faced with a difficult problem, write down every such judgment that comes to mind. You will be impressed with the results of the exercise.

2. Break down problems into components

As we have seen, first principles are the foundational elements of truth. To find them, you need to ask yourself the right questions. Here is a great example that Elon Musk used in one of his interview.

Elon Musk

Entrepreneur, engineer, billionaire.

Some might say, “Batteries are very expensive and will always be. It cost $600 per kilowatt hour in the past and is unlikely to get much cheaper in the future.” Using first principles thinking, I say, “What materials are batteries made of? What is their market value?

The production of batteries requires cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon electrodes, polymers and a sealed container. I break everything down to its basic components and say: “If we bought all the elements separately on the London Metal Exchange, what would be the total amount? $80 per kilowatt hour.

So, you just need to figure out how to combine these materials into a battery cell that will cost much, much less than anyone thinks.

You don’t have to use traditional thinking to get things done. Thinking outside the box is much more effective.

3. Find new solutions

Once you have captured and parsed your assumptions into basic truths, it’s time to come up with solutions to problems. Here is a simple example.

Assumption: I don’t have time to exercise and improve my health.

First principle solution: What does it take to keep the body healthy? Exercise 5 hours a week, or an hour a day. Can you reach your goal by exercising less frequently? Of course! For example, give your body 15 minutes 3 times a week, but do high-intensity interval training.

On the way to the goal, many problems will await you, and consciousness will always throw up more and more new assumptions. The method of the first principle, namely the deconstruction of assumptions and the search for hidden truths, will help to find a solution to any problem, even when it seems impossible.