What do Descartes, Aristotle, and Elon Musk all have in common? They reason from first principles.
First principles are basic foundational propositions that cannot be derived from any other proposition or assumption.
The benefit of first principle thinking is that it leads to new solutions, more frequently, than reasoning by analogy.
When you reason by analogy, you accept all of the limitations, real or not, that another party has imposed. First principle thinking forces you to pare problems down to their essential parts, and to construct solutions to those problems from established science or facts.
It’s no wonder Elon Musk can bring things into existence that most people can only dream of. Most people reason by analogy–i.e. “if this is true for this person then it is likely to be true for me.”
At the heart of first principle thinking is thinking for yourself. It’s coming to your own conclusions about things rather than accepting the conventional wisdom.