Your brain encourages you to think in analogies, as this is the most efficient and safest way of thinking. So how do you break this programming, take a step back and start thinking in first principles?
For some people it comes more naturally than to others. In an article on Elon Musk on his blog, Tim Urban, makes an interesting analogy (sometimes thinking in analogies helps 🙂 ).
He compares people and how they behave to cooks and chefs. With a chef, he means a person who invents their own recipe, while a cook is someone who follows an already existing recipe.
Some people usually behave like cooks and follow recipes from a cookbook, while others prefer to come up with their own. However almost no one is a 100% cook or chef. That’s why Urban introduces a culinary spectrum, with some people being more on the cook side, while others more on the chef side.
A cook takes some ingredients and goes through a series of steps to come up with a standard dish. On the other hand, a chef might use those same ingredients, but mix them up in new and original ways and come up with a new dish. For both of these guys, the ingredients were the first principles, but the way they used them was different.
When I was reading the cooks vs. chefs part, it struck me how this analogy is similar to the NLP meta-program on options vs. procedures. If you remember a while back I wrote an article on why people talk and behave differently. One of the main reasons for this is that they have different meta-programs acting in their heads.
People who have a preference for the procedures meta-program, prefer to follow a standard way of doing things, while those more on the options side prefer to pick and choose from different choices and follow their own path. People on the procedures side are the cooks, and the ones on the options side the chefs.
As with any NLP meta-program, no one is 100% on either side and instead is most likely situated somewhere on a continuum. Whether you follow a standard procedure or take a bunch of options and come up with your own way of doing things can often depend on the situation.
Even if you are a procedures type of person, that doesn’t mean that you can’t change and start thinking more on the options side. How do you move away from being a cook and become a chef?
The Architect: “Elon, you have come to seek me?“
Elon: “Yes, I want to create a new function and then upload it into people.“
The Architect: “You want to update the operating systems?“
Elon: “Yes, essentially yes.“
Elon: “However, the original program is still useful in most cases. That’s why I just want to create a function that people could call up whenever they need it.”
The Architect: “That is possible. However some fundamental recoding will have to be done.“
Elon: “Cool. Now I go back to return to the Source.”
Have you ever wanted to know how Elon Musk thinks? The guy came up with some pretty cool ideas and has become a billionaire. What’s his secret? How can you replicate it? Well, I have the answer for you. However I am warning you, it’s going to be pretty heavy reading and you will need to really focus and maybe re-read it several times in order to get it. The first part will focus on giving an introduction to Musk’s way of looking at problems, as well as some common barriers that often prevent people from thinking that way. The second part will give you some techniques that will help you solve problems the way Musk does, while the third part will conclude by looking at some practical examples of first-principles thinking. Another series of articles will look at paradigm shifts and how scientific revolutions happen.
Supposedly we are living in the Matrix, a world that is hidden inside a computer simulation similar to the one depicted in the famous movie. This is a statement that was uttered recently by none other than Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla and Space-X.
This is what he had to say at a coding conference hosted by Recode:
“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale. So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.”
How did he come up with this? Whether the Matrix statement is crackpot or not doesn’t really matter at this point. Musk has a track record of some incredible successes (and some spectacular failures) and so when he says something, the world listens.
Neo from the Matrix: “Whoa, Elon! So you know we all stuck in the Matrix, too?”
Elon: “Yeah, Neo. I have been sensing it for a while. It just makes logical sense.“
Neo: “How come you still plugged in? Don’t you wanna break out?“
Elon: “Not really. I am pretty happy being plugged in. I have plans to go to Mars, create a hyperloop… Don’t really feel like partying with you in Zion.“
Neo: “But we have to destroy the program!“
Elon: “Nah, no need for that. We can just create a neural lace. This way we gain control, but the AI still serves us.“
Neo: “You think we could do that?“
Neo: “But you would give up on flying cool ships like the Nebuchadnezzar and battling those mechanical sperm-like looking thingies!“
Elon: “Don’t worry. I am building my own rockets.“
Neo: “How did you figure all this out anyways? When I was plugged in, I kept on detecting irregularities, but it was Morpheus who finally snapped me out of it.“
Elon: “First principles, Neo. First principles.“
Elon Musk has a very unique way of thinking that has helped him solve some really tough problems. At the basis of this is what he calls first-principles thinking.
This is an approach he borrowed from physics, where you start from a set of basic assumptions that you hold to be true and that cannot be broken down further and then reason up from there.
Let’s analyze a bit what Elon Musk means by first principles thinking:
“I also think it is important to reason from first principles, rather than, by analogy. So the normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. We’re doing this because it’s like something else that was done or like what other people are doing, iterations on a theme. It’s kinda mentally easier to reason by analogy rather than from first principles. First principles is kinda a physics way of looking at the world and what that really means is you kinda boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say okay, what are we sure is true? Or sure as possible is true? And then reason up from there. That takes a lot more mental energy.”
Musk states that there are two basic ways that people reason: through analogy or through first-principles. Using analogies is probably the most common way of thinking for the majority of people. It is much easier for a person to take something that they already know and apply it as an analogy on how things should work. This thing is tried and tested and so they think that that’s how things should be done.
However Musk believes that this is not the best way to think about problems. In his opinion, this type of thinking can often prevent people from coming up with the most optimal solution.
For him, if you want to come up with a truly innovative solution, you need to go back to the basics. In physics, the basic propositions of the field are called first principles.
A first principle is a basic foundational assumption that cannot be broken down further and that forms the basis of the thinking in its own particular field. All the other works in that field are based on this basic assumption being true and built up from there.
If you want to make progress you need to go back down to these first principles and look at what is really true based on them and what is in fact just a stubborn orthodoxy dependent on not being able to see beyond the way things are now.
“Somebody could say… in fact, people do… that battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they’ll always be, because that’s the way they’ve been in the past. Well, no, that’s pretty dumb, because if you applied that reasoning to anything new, then you would never be able to get to that new thing. You can’t say, oh, horses – nobody wants a car because horses are great and we’re used to them and they can eat grass and there’s lot of grass all over the place and you know, there’s no gasoline that people can buy, so people are never going to get cars. People did say that, you know.”
Most people are incremental thinkers and think within established paradigms. They take the reality of the world as given and can’t really fathom that other different ways of doing things are possible.
Musk gives the example of horse-drawn carriages. For hundreds or thousands of years, that was the way people would transport themselves from one place to another. During those times, if you would ask a person to think of transportation, that would be what they would think of.
Ask a person now what transportation is for them and they will say cars, trains, airplanes… That is the transportation paradigm for people in this age. I am sure that will change soon. 🙂
You see that transportation changed and horse-drawn carriages have almost completely disappeared. This is because someone went back to first principles and completely changed the fundamentals of transportation.
“And for batteries, they would say, oh, it’s going to cost – you know, historically it’s cost $600 per kWh and so, it’s not going to be much better than that in the future, and you say no, what are the batteries made of? So first principles mean you say okay, what are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the spot market value of the material constituents? So you can say, it’s got: cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon and some polymers for separation and a steel can. So break that down on a materials basis and say okay, if we bought that on the London metal exchange, what would each of those things cost? Like, oh, jeez, it’s like $80 per kWh. So clearly, you just have to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell. And you can have batteries that are much cheaper than anyone realizes.”
Musk gives an example on how you can challenge the common view on a certain subject by going back to first principles. He uses batteries to demonstrate this.
Most people assume that batteries are expensive and not much can be done to change that. That’s just the way things are. However Musk shows how he went down to the basic constituent parts of the batteries, the raw materials that make them up, and turned that impression upside down. Read More
You have no doubt heard the story of the Trojan War. The Illiad and the Oddysey are two of the most enduring and influential works of literature in the Western world.
They were created by Homer, an ancient Greek poet, most likely based on accounts passed down orally for generations. Even 3 thousand years after the supposed events took place, they remain well-known to myriads of people from around the world.
For a long time, it was thought that these stories were works of pure fiction. Yet there were always people who thought that they were based on real events, real people and real places. One of these believers was Heinrich Schliemann.
The Life of Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann was a true rags to riches story, a man of German origin who grew wealthy by being a shrewd businessman. However today he is most remembered as an archaeologist.
He was a real-life Indiana Jones, travelling the world, living through many adventures and discovering great ancient treasures.
As a kid, he grew up on stories of the Illiad and the Oddysey and the great adventures that the heroes of these tales had to go through. Unlike most other people who listened to these stories, he took them at their word. To him, Troy was a real place which was now buried somewhere on the Aegean coast of Turkey. He decided that he was going to find it.
What is not so well-known is that he was also a great linguist who managed to master many languages. Wherever he travelled, he tried to learn the local language. He would often write in his diary in different languages, which resulted in him keeping his diary in at least 12 languages.
What is most remarkable is that he managed to do this in a world without quick travel, without the internet and starting off as a poor errand boy.
Schliemann’s Language Learning Method
He simplified the process by developing a method that he applied consistently. Supposedly the system that he developed allowed him to learn any language in around 6 weeks.
He applied this method every time he was about to learn a new language. When he couldn’t find one of the elements of this method, he always came up with a work-around.
The main elements of the method consisted of constant writing in the target language, reading out loud in it, and trying to get as much native input as possible.
He was a self-directed learner and one of the main elements of this learning were books in the target language. The key to this was one little book: “The Adventures of Telemachus”.
This book talked of the adventures of Telemachus, the son of Oddyseus and his quest to find his father. Since it was set in the times of the Trojan Wars, the subject matter was very interesting to Schliemann and never grew old. He ended up memorizing the story in the book by heart.
When he would start learning a new language, he would always try to track down a copy of that book (or some other book that he had read previously in another language and knew the story well) in his target language.
That way, he could compare the two texts and learn new words and grammar structures by reading along in a new language, as well as in a language he already knew. Read More
Successful people are often used as examples for others. The message that you often hear is that if you do things like them, you too can become successful. Follow what they do, act like them and riches beyond your wildest imagination will come knocking at your door.
However one of the things that I have been thinking about lately is what lessons can you really learn from these types of cases. Are there relevant things that you can pick out and use them as blueprints for your life or is this just a case of survivor bias coming into play?
This question goes to the heart of self-improvement and any type of advice, in different kinds of fields (business, life, fitness).
There are many people who try to present themselves as gurus or authorities and convince people to do what they are saying. Many of these people don’t do it to help others, but instead just to line their own pockets or to increase their influence. Sometimes this advice can be downright dangerous.
Not everyone is out to get you though and some people do offer tips in order to genuinely help others. However even this has its own problems. Most successful people downplay the influence of luck and much of this advice does not take into account randomness, survivor bias or hindsight bias.
David McRaney (author of “You Are Not So Smart”) describes the magical, almost mystical pull of survivor bias in this way:
“Survivorship bias pulls you toward bestselling diet gurus, celebrity CEOs, and superstar athletes. It’s an unavoidable tick, the desire to deconstruct success like a thieving magpie and pull away the shimmering bits. You look to the successful for clues about the hidden, about how to better live your life, about how you too can survive similar forces against which you too struggle.“
What creative process do you need to go through in order to come up with an idea for a joke and then craft it in a funny way?
Watch the video below to see Jerry Seinfeld’s process:
A lot of humor is based on things happening around you, whether in the news or in your own life. These are the basic starting points of all jokes or funny stories. You just need to be able to capture that, process it and then deliver it in the right way.
You can write a simple story about your day, job, life and use a specific comedy formula to shape it in order to create laugh points that will make the audience start rolling in the aisles.
“Aside from velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe. You can’t see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upwards of seventy-five dollars per hour for it, without necessarily fixing anything.” Dave Barry
Edgar E. Willis (author of “How to be funny on purpose”) states that every joke has what is called an expressed idea and an inferred idea. The expressed idea is what the joke teller says in an explicit form, while the inferred idea is the idea that the listeners should get out of what he is saying.
So basically the joke is delivering two ideas simultenously, what is said literally and what those words are implying.
Since you have two basic ideas in a joke, you also have two main starting places for a joke: either think up the inferred idea (what you want the audience to draw out of what you say), or come up with the expressed idea (material that will lead audience to make inferred idea).
Listen again to Jerry Seinfeld’s description of his joke creation process. In the example he gives, he is starting out from the inferred idea: Pop Tarts are weird and food is crazy.
Once he has the message he wants to pass in his head, he goes about crafting the words that would deliver it.
Here is another Jerry Seinfeld clip which has as its inferred idea the craziness of the shopping experience. Notice the words he uses in order to show this:
How do you craft the words themselves? Even if the inferred idea is good, the actual words that you use can be the difference between the audience giving out a slight chuckle or breaking out in roaring laughter that makes half the people end up in the hospital due to the fact that they were cracking up so hard that they forgot to breathe.
One way to do this is visualization, describing in such a way as to paint a vivid picture in the head. Another good joke formula is the use of exaggerations, either overstatements or understatements in order to better convey your idea.
This can be done by combining metaphors or analogies with hyperboles. Your brain often thinks using metaphors and analogies and that’s why their use can really underline what you are saying.
These are very powerful ways of expressing an idea. Using these tropes in different contexts can often give a very different spin to your message.
A metaphor basically says that A is B. For example the “war on drugs” is saying that there is a war on drugs.
On the other hand, a simile compares two things that are similar in some way. A simile often states that A is “like” B. In order to tell apart a simile from a metaphor look for words like “like” or “as”. For example when Forrest Gump said that “life is like a box of chocolates” or when you say something is “as cute as a kitten“.
An analogy is essentially an extended, more elegant simile. For example this quote from the character Matt McGrath in the movie “Broken Hearts Club” is an analogy: “Dumb gorgeous people should not be allowed to use literature when competing in the pick-up pool. It’s like bald people wearing hats.” Read More
The Art of Learning: One Mindset Change That Redefined My Life
You learn to live life on the go. At birth, you are not given infinite wisdom, but instead you need to learn by trial and error. Some people are lucky and discover the right paths quite early, for some it takes longer, while the majority of people breeze through life without a clue.
Some people have the luck of getting a mentor who guides them on the right path, while others arrive there in other ways. One good thing about the current period is the explosion of knowledge that we have available at our finger tips.
If you don’t have a mentor, it is much easier now to embark on the path by yourself, aggregating information from different sources and building up a framework to guide you.
Books are one resource that you can use for this purpose. There are a small number of books that can give you a unique insight into your life and the best way to live it.
Reading them, not only do you gain a lot of knowledge to incorporate into your ever-growing mental library, but you also experience a few “aha” moments. It is during these moments when questions you have been asking yourself about life and how you should be living it suddenly appear clearer.
You are reading a certain passage and suddenly things click. At that moment you know what was that one mistake that you made that redefined your life. You realize what was that one mindset change that you should have made, but didn’t.
These books are the ones that end up having a powerful effect on the rest of your life. These “aha” moments that they provoke, give you a clearer perspective and an understanding of the things that you should be doing in order to be successful in life.
When you apply these little lessons in practice, your life suddenly becomes better, you start doing things differently and you finally start doing things in the right way.
The Art of Learning
One of the books that has had a huge impact on my mindset and the way I live and experience life has been “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin.
Josh is a remarkable character. As a kid he was a chess prodigy and the personality on whom the film “Searching for Bobby Fisher” was based on.
From early on, he was dominating his age groups in chess. He brought piercing focus and intensity to the game that catapulted him to the top.
He was on his way to becoming one of the top chess players in the world. However suddenly things changed and he refocused his life by switching disciplines completely.
He went from chess, a discipline of the mind, to martial arts, more particularly tai chi and push hands competitions, a discipline of the body. Remarkably, he was able to dominate there too.
Not only did he become the US National Champion in the martial art of push hands, he also became the World Champion, beating the Taiwanese on their home turf in their own national sport. This was a rare achievement, made even rarer by the fact that he had switched from a totally different discipline just a few years earlier.
How did he do it? He didn’t do it because he was naturally born to be a chess champion or a martial art champion. He did it because he was good at the art of learning. Read More
As an intermediate to lower advanced level learner, you face many challenges that can prevent you from rising to the next level. Many language learners reach a certain level, but then do not progress further. Once you can already have a conversation or better, how do you go from there?
Many times you lose the motivation to keep on going and your language learning dies as a result. You get stuck in the intermediate level purgatory. What you need to do is continue on learning the language by combining it with something else you love or want to know more about. That way you kill two birds with one stone and keep yourself motivated.
This is something that I have been applying to my own foreign language studies. Unfortunately, my motivation is not always that great, so I often skip doing those grammar exercises that I should be doing.
By using the technique described above, where I combine learning languages with doing something else that I am interested in, I do keep on progressing in my target languages. It sort of lets me bypass the problem of not having motivation and keeps me on the right path.
Learning Spanish by Reading About Gladiators
There are several examples of how I apply this strategy in practice. Last summer, I was in Spain for a few days and did what I always do, I found a local bookstore and went in to browse the books that they had available. I am really interested in ancient history and went over to the history section to check out the books. Since I was in Spain, all the books were in Spanish of course. 🙂
I was looking at the books, when I noticed one on gladiators. I was always interested in ancient sports and this topic caught my interest. Then it hit me, why not satisfy my curiosity by reading a book on gladiators, but do it in Spanish?
That way not only do I get to learn more about gladiators and how they lived, but I also get to practice my Spanish! I decided to buy the book.
When I returned from Spain, I opened up the book and started reading. My Spanish is at a B2 level and so I understand most of what I am reading, but I do come across some words or sentences that I don’t understand.
The key here is to do what I call active reading. While reading the book, I have Google Translate open (or a dictionary) and consult it whenever I don’t understand a word or phrase. I keep the words and their translations listed on screen and when I am finished with the chapter, I transfer them to Anki in order to review them later. That way any new words you learn will stick in your head better.
It’s been two years since I started this blog. During that time, I have undergone quite a journey and the blog has changed to reflect that.
I originally started this blog as a way to share my experiences and what I have learned on gaining weight and muscle. Everywhere, everyone was talking about losing weight and all that, but the fact that there are millions of people who have the opposite problem, that of being underweight, was not being talked about. I wanted to help those people out.
So I started the blog in a very particular niche (gaining weight). At the same time, I started other niche blogs as well, such as in language learning. I was working on several different blogs because that was the prevailing advice I was reading on the internet, start niche blogs… So I did.
However over time, it became quite challenging to update all the different blogs, especially with quality content. I also started blogging at a time when blogging was exploding and the internet was saturated with myriads of blogs in basically every niche imaginable, including all the niches I was blogging on.
How could I differentiate myself from all these other blogs? I decided to focus on my strengths and the unique things that I had developed over the years that very few people had.
I looked at all the different blogs and the people behind them. What I saw reflected the era of specialization that we currently live in. Many of the people running the different blogs were heavily specialized and lacked skills in other areas. The language bloggers were all usually out-of-shape, the fitness bloggers didn’t know much else besides fitness, and many of the social commentary bloggers were really out of touch with reality. Plus many of the big-name travel and lifestyle bloggers had bucket lists that were not that impressive (for some of them I had already done a majority of the things on their list).
The biggest eye-opener was that almost noone was combining all these different things. The people who you would describe as polymaths, those who combined a good body with different mental skills such as polyglottery, could be counted on the fingers of one hand. That is where I could make a great impact.
What was it that I could offer to the world that people would want to learn? My biggest strength was my multi-dimensionalness and the fact that I had actually managed to combine all these different skills. I spoke 6 languages fluently, I had reached elite fitness levels and had been a top track star in high school, I had a very deep knowledge of history (I scored a perfect 800 on the SAT2 World History without even studying back in high school), and I had a knack for learning new things.
I think people would want to know how to reach these high levels of achievement and become multi-dimensional. That’s why I decided to transform what was originally Gain Weight Journal, combine it with my other blogs, and focus on a wider variety of topics. The Renaissance Man Journal was born. Read More
Albert Einstein is remembered as one of the greatest minds of history. His name has become a synonym for the word “genius” and to be compared to Einstein is considered as the ultimate compliment. If someone says this to you, then that means that they regard you as being a rare creative intellectually brilliant thinker.
However Einstein faced many struggles towards becoming the genius that he later became. He failed several subjects in primary school and when he finished university, he was not accepted into any doctoral program. He also did not find any work in academia and instead had to get employment as a clerk in a patent office in Bern, Switzerland.
Einstein did not let these initial failures stop him. He was driven and in many ways was self-taught, continuously learning throughout his life.
He was also a family man who wanted his children to succeed. In one of his letters he shared his secret to learning almost anything with his oldest son, Hans Albert:
“I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal.“
His secret was to do things with such enjoyment that you forget the passage of time. You learn the most when you are enjoying what you are doing. His son took this advice to heart and became an accomplished expert in hydraulic engineering and the world’s foremost authority on sediment transport.
This simple, but powerful advice can serve as the cornerstone of your learning and self-development. By finding things that you enjoy or learning to find ways to enjoy learning different things, you tap into the unlimited potential of intrinsic motivation.
This type of motivation is the key factor that can drive you towards rising to the top of your field and becoming one of the greats.