Psychology of Things Unknown: First Principle Thinking

And Why We Must Question Everything

  • Analogical Thinking: A method of problem solving where we use information [or transfer knowledge] from one source to solve problems in another. it derives a conclusion from one’s experience in one or more similar situation. 
  • Fundamental Fixedness: The human a tendency to see objects as only working in a particular way, seen as a type of cognitive bias 
  • First Principle thinking: The first basis from which a thing is known. [Elon Musk further explains it as “[When] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths and then reason up from there”]

In maths class, it is demanded that you show your workings. This is so that the person is sure that you assimilated and can reproduce the matter you were taught when the teacher is not there to explain it.

The trouble though, at least with the schools I went to, is that no one was willing to answer the fundamental foundation questions like ‘how did these solutions come to be’, or ‘what were the constraints at the time these solutions were discovered and what has changed since then?’ were not part of the syllabus, so what we needed to do was practice this solution with different forms of the same questions until we could answer all of the forms.

This is what fundamental fixedness is. but sometimes, the questions are asked in exams in ways that we’re not familiar with or haven’t practised them in. A clever kid would rewrite the question in the way that they understood and then answer in the way that they have been taught. This is an example of a combination of fundamental fixedness and analytical thinking.

A person who can solve problems in their field of study, or life, would be referred to as an expert. The flaw in expert’s state of mind is that they have done this thing in the same way for so long that they now just know what to do, they don’t necessarily understand the foundation of their work. So if they were to come to a hurdle the person they outsourced their thinking to had not (or they were asked a question about the foundation they did not look deep into), they get stuck and can’t answer as they would if they had come to the solution themselves.

This is very common because every solution is limited by the restrictions set by the solver, these restrictions are subject to their environment, what information was available to them at the time and their minds. A sweet example is Adam Smith’s assumption that humans are rational, it because the foundation of many economic theories (no one asked how he came to this conclusion), economists only began to question it after the 2008 financial crash and they realised humans are not as rational as they originally thought (in 2008, the global market was growing, population was higher compared to Adam Smith’s time and banking had advanced).

If thought foundations are as fickle as the before mentioned, why do we, who have come after those solutions, take them as is and allow ourselves be restricted by the individuals mind? This is why we must come to our own conclusions, question the foundation of every solution. The questioning is referred to as the first principle thinking.

Kanye West has been on a twitter spiral about thinking for yourself lately, so it is only right that I use his tweets to back up my point. I don’t agree with everything Kanye has tweeted, ideologically and from a political standpoint, but philosophically, he makes good points. Kanye invites us to think for ourselves. His tweets remind us that the mere fact that we can question everything means that we should. That simply because something is how everyone else has said it ought to be, does not mean we should take it as so. We don’t have to agree with anything he says, but we have to understand why we disagree, and this is why first principle thinking should be added to everyone’s mental model.

It is easy to say but difficult to implement, especially in these times when the mere thought of questioning a common conception could scare you because there are a million people (who have borrowed their own ideals) waiting to eat you up for even thinking the idea could be wrong. But we have to remind ourselves that most of the thoughts are borrowed ideologies. That most people, although they seem well versed have most probably only improved upon someone else’s ideologies and there are core beliefs that may later be discovered to be false by someone questioning. But why wait for someone (who will defiantly have their own biases) to discover the cognitive errors in foundations when we can do it ourselves?

What we’d need to do to discover the answers to our questions, or know the questions to ask at least, is go back to basics, try to understand your definitions and where those definitions have come from, we need to compare our realities with those of the people who found these ideologies so that we may better understand them (and even discover ourselves in the process), we need to see if you can break the assumptions further down and come to your own conclusion.

The thing is you may end up with a similar, or the same solutions as the people who you have outsourced your thinking to in the past. But the difference is that you’d understand the core of our beliefs when all of society’s expectations of you, all the terms and definitions, all the intellectual discourse is taken away. You will be confident in the foundation of your beliefs.