Elon Musk, known for Tesla Motors, PayPal and SpaceX, once said “First Principles is a kind of physics, a way of looking at the world. You boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, ‘What are we sure is true?’ … and then reason up from there.”
First Principles can be scientific or personal, individual or global, and can be challenged whenever we go through upheaval or change. Losing sight of them is losing sight of Musk’s “fundamental truths.”
Making a long-term decision based on a short-term issue keeps us myopic, putting our First Principles at risk. It’s a small step from there to narrowness and single-mindedness, leaving us vulnerable to persuasion and demagoguery as individuals or as a species.
Musk asks us to think about what we are sure is true. History has shown us that “divide and conquer” does not work in the long term; physics tells us there is no “them.” Empathy develops from both – if we let it.
The trajectory of history and the mechanics of physics pull us closer to one empathic truth: there’s only us, one people, one consciousness, one humanity.
First Principles when guided by history, physics and empathy weave our human fabric into openness, flexibility and progress; without that guidance, our principles close us down, keeping us weak, vulnerable and isolated.
Evolution tells us choosing between the two must be an ongoing process.