This framework is the foundational mental model for decision making. It lays the groundwork for everything else.
Thinking from first principles is the process where you break down problems into fundamental elements so that you can creatively rearrange them from the ground up.
Rather than memorizing different topics with a shaky understanding, you go down to the basics and learn the foundational information well.
By doing this, you can identify gaps in your knowledge. The goal is to challenge your base assumptions, so that you find solutions to problems you didn’t think were solvable.
Richard Feynman is my favorite example — he loved to find simple solutions to complex problems. His famous technique: choose a concept, teach a 6th grader, identify gaps, then review & simplify.
He asked “why” for every answer, going all the way down to the fundamentals. It’s why he was a genius and a phenomenal teacher. You can’t teach well without first principles.
- What am I assuming that could be false? How can I test them?
- What are some alternative perspectives?
- What are pieces of evidence that back this up?
I think of this as a scientific process. You test hypotheses to find out which are correct and which are not. It’s difficult — it takes critical thinking, time, and energy. However, it’s worth the effort to adopt this framework.