The Absurdity of Life and the Power of First Principles


Hatched by Glasp

Jul 30, 2023

4 min read


The Absurdity of Life and the Power of First Principles

Life is a complex and mysterious journey, filled with countless questions and uncertainties. Many of us have spent years pondering the meaning of life, hoping to discover some grand purpose or explanation. However, after much contemplation, we come to a stark realization - life is absurd. It offers no inherent purpose or explanation. This revelation can be both anxiety-inducing and liberating.

We have always had this unconscious feeling that there must be something out there meant for us, something we just have to figure out in order to live a good life. But the truth is, the world is an absurd place. It is all made up, and there are no rules. We cannot "find" meaning; we can only invent it. Life has no essence until we commit to one.

The prevalent sense of meaninglessness in society stems from our collective belief that everyone has a life mission. However, more and more people are starting to reject the idea of a higher power or a predetermined purpose. We are realizing that the concept of God no longer holds sway in modern society. And without the existence of God, the possibility of finding objective values in an intelligible heaven disappears.

Existentialists find this absence of God deeply disturbing because it means there is no a priori good. There are no inherent moral rules to guide us. It is not written anywhere that we must be honest or that we must not lie. The responsibility falls on us to define and redefine our values. We are free, but this freedom comes with great responsibility.

Denying our freedom, as Sartre would argue, is living in bad faith. It means dismissing our ability to define ourselves and our values. It's scary to commit to something without knowing if it is the best choice for us. But by shutting the doors of possibility and committing to something, we make ourselves and our lives meaningful.

Living authentically, embracing the freedom to invent our own values, is the key to finding meaning in the face of life's absurdity. We must act in accordance with our best understanding of who we are and what we believe. Love, for example, is not an abstract concept but is manifested in the deeds of love. Genius is not some innate quality but is expressed through works of art.

To live a meaningful life, we must commit ourselves and take action. As the adage goes, "No hope is necessary to undertake anything." We must be proactive in defining our values and making choices that align with them. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of four concentration camps, attests to the power of human resilience and the ability to find meaning even in the worst conditions imaginable.

But how do we navigate the complexities of life and make decisions that align with our values? First-principles thinking can be a powerful tool in this endeavor. It involves breaking down complicated problems into basic elements and reconstructing them from the ground up. This approach allows us to think for ourselves, unleash our creative potential, and move from linear to non-linear results.

Reasoning by first principles helps us remove the impurity of assumptions and conventions. It allows us to see the essentials and avoid the pitfalls of analogical thinking. By starting with what is true and reasoning from there, we can gain a deeper understanding of reality and discover new possibilities.

Elon Musk is a prime example of someone who embraces first-principles thinking. He challenges conventional wisdom and seeks to understand the fundamental truths of a problem before coming to a conclusion. This approach has led him to groundbreaking innovations in electric vehicles and space exploration.

In our quest for knowledge, it's essential to grasp the fundamental principles before delving into the details. Understanding the trunk and big branches of the semantic tree allows us to build a solid foundation for our thinking. Socratic questioning can help us establish first principles through rigorous analysis, clarifying our thinking, challenging assumptions, and considering alternative perspectives.

Analogies can be helpful in certain situations, but they cannot replace true understanding. Thinking in first principles enables us to adapt to a changing environment, deal with reality, and seize opportunities that others may overlook. It allows us to break free from the confines of conventional thinking and unlock our creative potential.

In conclusion, life may be absurd and lacking in inherent meaning, but that does not mean we are doomed to a life of purposelessness. We have the power to invent our own meaning and define our values. By living authentically and embracing the freedom to make choices based on our best understanding of ourselves, we can find meaning in the face of life's absurdity.

Three actionable pieces of advice to take from these insights are:

  • 1. Embrace your freedom and take responsibility for defining your values. Don't wait for external sources to provide meaning in your life.
  • 2. Practice first-principles thinking and challenge assumptions. Break down complex problems into their basic elements and reason from there.
  • 3. Seek to understand the fundamental principles before delving into the details. Build a solid foundation of knowledge and question everything to ensure true understanding.

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