First Principles Reasoning

Recently I joked with one friend from Microsoft about some funny findings during the work - some developers don’t really understand what the commands they are running are doing, just copy&paste the commands into the terminal and expect them to run as what the document states. We made fun of this by naming them the “Blackbox Developers” and also bantered on the famous sentence in IT - “It works in my computer”.

While if happening in real daily work, there will be no fun at all and it is a disaster to the project. When I came back home and suddenly recalled a TED talk from Elon Musk, I remembered that he had given some ideas about how should one deal with unknown affairs.

Here is what he said in the original text,

“Well, I do think there’s a good framework for thinking. It is physics. You know, the sort of first principles reasoning. Generally I think there are – what I mean by that is, boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy. Through most of our life, we get through life by reasoning by analogy, which essentially means copying what other people do with slight variations. And you have to do that. Otherwise, mentally, you wouldn’t be able to get through the day. But when you want to do something new, you have to apply the physics approach. Physics is really figuring out how to discover new things that are counterintuitive, like quantum mechanics. It’s really counterintuitive. So I think that’s an important thing to do, and then also to really pay attention to negative feedback, and solicit it, particularly from friends. This may sound like simple advice, but hardly anyone does that, and it’s incredibly helpful. “

If there would be anything that I could add, I think the principle is not just be for the new things, it is for anything that relates to engineering.

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