Truth from First Principles


A lot of time is spent on trying to figure out what is right, or true, or just. Usually, this is done when, in the course of human events, some exigency arises which hasn’t happened before or provides some insight which serves to question the validity of an assumption. However it happens, the result is that the path forward isn’t immediately clear, and time must be spent resolving the particular obstacle in order to clear the way to continue in a similar though varyingly altered capacity.

This approach has worked very well in the fields of law, science, and even common affairs. But it certainly has limitations. By only questioning obstacles as they are encountered and then correcting course only as much as appears to be immediately necessary, great divergence from the actual truth can accrue over time. How can one even be sure that one’s general direction is correct? As with a greedy algorithm, it could be that locally ideal decisions are globally wasteful or even catastrophic: consider financial deregulation ahead of the 2008 crash, or the climatalogical effects of burning petrochemicals made affordable mainly due to existing infrastructure.

How much better would it be to approach the uncertainties of life from the other direction? Rather than continue clumsily down the path one appears to be on, why not first consider what path one should actually follow? But which path is that, and how to tell?

Here I believe a mathematical approach will do quite well. Under such an approach, one begins by making as small a set of basic and reasonable assumptions as possible. These assumptions should be so basic that they cannot be explained as the composition of other, more basic assumptions. These ‘first principles’ should be as nearly unassailable as possible so that they can be assumed to be true. Then they can be composed together in logical, unassailable steps to draw conclusions which must themselves also be true. In so doing, one may build up an entire map of prescriptive behaviour that can be consulted at all events to determine where one is and where they should go.

What are the First Principles?

I aim to be capable of answering any question in any context, so the set of these first principles must be small and it must be generic. Most importantly, each first principle must be totally unassailable so that no one may question relying upon them. Unfortunately, I believe there is only one totally irrefutable fact of existence, so I have only a single first principle!

Descartes expressed it well: “I think, therefore I am.” Speaking for myself, this is the only thing which I know is true. Regardless of any other details, the fact that I appear to be self-aware almost circularly implies that I, the self of which to be aware, exist; contrapositively, it is difficult to imagine that I am not, and yet that I think. Any other insight seems to be a conclusion contingent upon that first principle. (If you have any observations which you think are true independent from this one, please let me know.)

It might seem that there isn’t very much to work with there, and that’s probably true. So the task which lies ahead is to extract whatever can be extracted from that single fact and associate with it a degree of plausibility. Indeed, what it means to be plausible is itself something which should be derived from first principles! We shall see that this is actually a workable approach to outline a highly robust model of the world that accomplishes the aim of determining what is real and what is imagined. We can only benefit from such a tool.

Progress so far

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