On understanding everything from first principles (and a bashful confession)

I read a post on Waitbutwhy.com a while back, where Tim Urban brought up the importance of understanding things from first principles. This sort of means looking at the world with a skeptical eye, and not accepting common sense statements as the truth until you’ve been able to deconstruct and follow the whole reasoning process from the ground up. I agree with this idea 100%: Cementing down the common “trunk” that’ll lead you to all the knowledge you’ll ever need to use sounds like a splendid idea. If you develop mastery of the few basic rules and axioms that underlie a field of knowledge, you can work your way to any concept, without (yay, extra bonus!) having to waste your effort and precious hard drive space on memorization. You’ll never have to memorize the exact coordinates or distances of any place if you just learn how to really understand the road signs. I have so much respect for people who are fully devoted to the whole “I’m figuring this all out, and I won’t take your word for anything, old professor sir” motto, because those that could really pull it off are geniuses to me. I also don’t doubt for one second that it’s people like these who really push the frontiers of science and innovation forward. Honestly, I’d love to join you on your endeavors to attach all knowledge to a common tree, but I frankly don’t think I’m capable enough (LOL).

I complained a lot about my neuroscience class last semester because I felt like I was being forced to painfully memorize a bunch of stand-alone facts and names without knowing why they’re true, or how I could apply them. So I howled with discontent. I wanted to figure out how the world REALLY works! Great, I said to myself, now this should tell me something about me and my learning preferences. I waltzed into chemistry lecture the next day, eager for something more STEMy and the professor says “the boiling point of water is 100 degrees Celsius– but you cant just take my word for it just because I said so and I’m the professor and the professor is always right!” *proceeded to furiously write out two chalkboards full of derivation math using thermodynamic principles as I slowly rotted in my chair*

Ok, that made me eat my words from before. I admit, I was impressed by his proof that literally all of chemistry could be traced back to the same basic laws. Nice– You got me– I believe you now! But seriously though, I still don’t know a rats ass about what kinda devilish math you just did there on those two chalkboards. And sadly, *sniffles* ( I felt pretty defeated and bashful upon realizing my hypocrisy), deep down I wished you could have just cut the shit about proving water’s boiling point and just moved on with the lesson assuming that it’s true. AGH Gloria… things would be so much easier for you in life if you could just pick a position and be consistent with it…

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Writer, Cog-Neuro Research Assistant @ Yale. Presenting my thoughts about self-development and life as a former college student || gloriawfeng.com

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