“First principles” is a physics way of looking at the world…what that really means is that you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there…that takes a lot more mental energy — Elon Musk
Aristotle defined a first principle as “the first basis from which a thing is known.
A First Principle is a basic, essential, foundational truth that is “known by nature.” It is not an assumption or deduction based on another theory or supposition. A key element of First Principle thinking is that just because something is “known by nature” or true in the universe does not mean it has ever been articulated and described by humans.
In practice, you don’t have to simplify every problem down to the atomic level to get the benefits of first principles thinking. You just need to go one or two levels deeper than most people.
Our usual way of thinking is called as “thinking by analogy” which is very easy. It can be helpful only when comparing past or current concepts. Below is an example for thinking by analogy.
An analogy is a comparison in which an idea or a thing is compared to another thing that is quite different from it. Therefore, analogy is more extensive and elaborate than either a simile or a metaphor and relatively quick.
Here we miss the details of the unknowns associated with the problem.
In first principle theory that it’s reduced down to the core truth that you can say, “We know this is true.” First principles allow us to take any idea, no matter the complexity, and break it down into its parts and then break those down further, until you get to the core building blocks. This theory centers on deconstruction.
The very famous and genius problem solving, Elon Musk learned from Aristotle.
Elon Musk uses the battery pack as a perfect example: “Someone could — and people do — say battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be because that’s the way they have been in the past. They would say, ‘It’s going to cost $600 per kilowatt-hour. It’s not going to be much better than that in the future,” Musk said in his interview with Kevin Rose. But in First Principle thinking, you forget what has been, you erase what is assumed, and ask questions based on your desire for what is possible. In Musk’s words: “What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the spot market value of the material constituents? It has carbon, nickel, aluminum, and some polymers for separation, and a steel can. Break that down on a materials basis, if we bought that on a London Metal Exchange, what would each of these things cost?” Musk’s findings were that he could get those materials for $80 per kilowatt-hour, combine them into a battery cell shape of his choosing, and model modern innovation within the energy industry.
Even if you aren’t trying to develop innovative ideas, understanding the first principles of your field is a smart use of your time. Without a firm grasp of the basics, there is little chance of mastering the details that make the difference at elite levels of competition.