building a house on a stone foundation

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“Study failure and you’ll be prepared to fail. Study success, and when the time comes, you’ll be ready to succeed.”

- Hamming

I came across this transcript of a speech Richard Hamming did Paul Graham’s blog and decided to watch the video. It’s chock full of actionable insights. Let’s hone in on this one

“Study failure and you’ll be prepared to fail. Study success, and when the time comes, you’ll be ready to succeed.”

There are countless ways to fail and a lot less ways to succeed. the ways to fail overwhelmingly outnumber the ways to succeed. With 7 billion people in the world, you’d likely study someone average if you picked at random. So study the successes of successful people. Their habits, their influences. This will get you to stop comparing yourself to average people. 

When I started to study the people like Elon Musk and Naval Ravikant, I learned a new way of reasoning. Reasoning from first principles vs reasoning by analogy. 

What is reasoning from first principles? In short:

“First principles is kind of a physics way of looking at the world. You boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, “What are we sure is true?” … and then reason up from there.”

- Elon musk

We could spend a lot more time on first principles, but that’s for another day. If you feel like your education has prepared you to be an over-performing member of society, you can stop here. For the rest of us, here’s one more quote:

“I think learning should be about learning the basics in all the fields and learning them really well over and over. Life is mostly about applying the basics and only doing the advanced stuff in the things that you truly love and where you understand the basics inside out. That’s not how our system is built.”

- Naval Ravikant

If we put together these three ideas, we can create our own curriculum by successful people, their influences, and the foundational concepts. Striving for higher quality thought--which has been my goal for the past 6 months--converges on the truth. The more fundamental the insight you come to, the stronger your foundation is. And when you live in a society that is incubating sheep and cogs in the machine, you don’t get that foundation by default. I want to be able to make the best decisions and that requires the best knowledge base that’s readily indexable.

A voracious reader will read 3000 books in their lifetime, so I’m here to help you choose wisely.

You can find reading lists by Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Naval Ravikant, Nassim Taleb…I find Naval’s topic list helpful, and this book list. Everyone’s foundations will be personalized. I’ve taken some time to figure out what topics are important to me and collecting what books to devour:

  • money, probability & statistics, physics, computers

  • people: neuroscience, psychology, persuasion, information theory

  • game theory, logic, pattern recognition

  • studying the greats by reading biographies, etc.

    • Einstein, Ben Franklin, Da Vinci, Nikola Tesla

    • Elon Musk, Steve Jobs,

    • Adam Smith, Karl Marx

    • Richard Feynman, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud

    • Marcus Aurelius, Confucius

Let’s start a book club.