Before progressing, where to begin?
Moving forward with First Principles is the plan, but before those firsts comes Zero.
This zero is a variation from the classical definition. In this sense it does not imply nothingness, nor is it a mandate to abandon all worldly attachments and reach perfected silent meditation. Rather, zero here means mindset. Even starting at the coordinates 0,0 in the grid, everyone has their attributes, traits, and skills that they will bring to the fore.
Our working definition of zero (in the context of first principles) is the representation of core axioms and laws that fundamentally structure the measurement of progress. While first principles may serve to measure progress, zeros are the unnoticed discoveries that are present and possible all the time. They are potential revelations that you can use in your own understanding to inspire and push forward change.
Lex Fridman: “So just to clarify, when you say zero you’re speaking about a truly revolutionary idea.”
Bryan Johnson: “Yes, something that is currently not a building block of our shared conscious existence.”
Keep in mind on your journey to improve you will find massive value in a first-principle based practice. In fact, most of your time will be spent on improving your own systems approach with measurable differences in your application of principles. But leave breathing space for the unknown–for inspiration, imagination, thought experiments and the profound to grow.
“For there are ‘made’ laws, ‘discovered’ laws, but also laws–a truth for all time. These are more or less hidden in reality which surrounds us and do not change. Not only science but art also, shows us that reality, at first incomprehensible, gradually reveals itself, by the mutual relations that are inherent in things.”Piet Mondrian, Figurative Art and Nonfigurative Art (1937)
While you may not discover the next paradigm in the forward march of humanity, the discovery of your own zero-based laws can reduce your blind spots, break down your biases, and fuel your bliss in seeking change and growth.
Zeros combat the frustration that may creep in with failure.
Zeros remind us that–in fact–failure is normal.
With the undiscovered, failure is the norm.And as Piet Mondrian tells us, we can still progress without fully comprehending our reality, but as we keep going we hone in on those points and values from which other things pivot.
What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Fortune of the Republic (1878)
Training to failure produces growth, so keep going.
Let zero remind you to be kind when failure comes.
Part 2 – Many more beginnings
Bryan Johnson: “Life constraints favor first-principles thinking, because it enables faster action with higher probability of success. Pursuing zeroth principle optionality is expensive and uncertain, and so in a society constrained by resources—time, money, and desire for social status, accomplishments, etc—it minimizes zeroth principle thinking, but the reason I think zeroth principle thinking should be a staple of our shared cognitive infrastructure, is if you look at the history, the past couple thousand of years, and we subjectively tried to assess what is a zeroth-level idea, and we say how many have occurred on what timescales, and what were the contextual settings for it? I would argue that if you look at AlphaGo when it played Go, ‘from another dimension’. The human Go players when it saw AlphaGo’s moves it attributed it to playing with an alien. So if you say computational intelligence has an attribute of introducing zero-like insights, then if you say what is going to be the occurrence of zeroths in society going forward? You could reasonably say, ‘Probably a lot more than have occurred… And probably more at a faster pace.’ So then if you say, ‘What happens if you have this computational intelligence throughout society that the manufacturing, design and distribution of intelligence is heading towards zero, you have an increased number of zeroths being produced with a tight connection between humans and computers—that’s when I got to a point and said, ‘We cannot predict the future with first-principles thinking.’ That can not be our imagination set. I can’t be our sole anchor in this situation. Basically that the future of our conscious existence in 20, 30, 40, 50 years is probably a zero.’”
Computational Thinking and Artificial Intelligence will accelerate the pace of fundamental discoveries on both scales, in humanity and in yourself. Two quick examples underscore this–and if you have a sense of being overwhelmed by the pace of AI you are in good company. Even leaders in the space at places like Khan Academy and Wolfram Research have felt that pressure. As Sal Khan said in his April 2023 presentation, “I didn’t sleep for two weeks when I first had access to GPT-4 back in August . But we quickly realized to actually make it magical–there was a lot of work behind the scenes to make that happen.”
In that time Khan Academy developed its AI tutor and teaching assistant, Khanmigo, at scale and speeds they had not achieved prior. By working alongside GPT-4 in both Khanmigo’s development and delivery they shifted into their own answer for Bloom’s 2 Sigma problem–a realm of higher achievement than an untutored or non-coached control, as Bloom states from his 1980s study: ‘the average tutored student was above 98% of the students in the control class.’ In Bloom’s time however he left it as a problem unsolved since, one-to-one tutoring is “too costly for most societies to bear on a large scale”.
Similarly, Wolfram Research saw the need to accelerate its interoperability, and working with OpenAI did so in record time. From Stephen Wolfram: “Early in January I wrote about the possibility of connecting ChatGPT to Wolfram|Alpha. And today—just two and a half months later—I’m excited to announce that it’s happened! Thanks to some heroic software engineering by our team and by OpenAI, ChatGPT can now call on Wolfram|Alpha—and Wolfram Language as well—to give it what we might think of as “computational superpowers”. It’s still very early days for all of this, but it’s already very impressive—and one can begin to see how amazingly powerful (and perhaps even revolutionary) what we can call “ChatGPT + Wolfram” can be.”
In his article, “Zero Based Principles – How To Think Beyond First Principles” Iman Olya expands on this in-hand work with AI:
Adopting a traditional approach to solving problems may hinder this process, and given I think humans are hardwired to repeat or look to the past, we must rely on something alien.
Technology can be taught to learn in a way that is different from us. As Johnson states better than I could:
“Our co-evolutionary future with AI will introduce a record-breaking number of Zero-like building blocks, which will in turn level up our aspirations.”
He gives the example of Andrej Karpathy’s Software 2.0 vision which purposely uses human unfriendly language that people would not be able to write. And the value in this is the ability to unlock further potential.“Zero Based Principles – How To Think Beyond First Principles” Iman Olya
Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was pushed to the wayside for decades, and only with the further development of black-hole science were we able to understand his theories in a new light; something Einstein did not expect, nor understand during his time.
Apart from AI navigating a world unknown to us, it will also serve as a spotting partner as we strain under our own cognitive load. Change won’t be easy, but that strain is what hard is supposed to feel like. We are supposed to struggle under ideas and weights as we attempt to grasp more of both. Muscles and synapses trained to failure, grow. And AI can bring us a helping hand as an ever present tutor.
Professional learning coach Justin Sung expresses the intersection of learning and AI this way, “Most learners, because they’re not used to desirable difficulty and veer away from that, most learners are going to have study systems that do not have higher order learning as part of that. If you don’t have a system that has higher order learning integrated in it, there’s no way for you to leverage AI to facilitate it. There’s nothing to facilitate. So it’s important to first, have a system of learning that allows you to use higher order processes, and then leverage AI to do that faster and more easily.”
So how do you get from now to your future? How do you do that faster and more easily?
Take stock of where you are beginning. Three free assessments can give you ample insight into meaningful progression from your own 0,0. They are:
- The Attributes
Coupled with AI as your one-on-one assistant you can take hold of what was once just the hope of researchers decades before: profound, measurable and repeatable positive change.
- Start with YOUR beginning: Ikigai | PrinciplesYou | The Attributes
- We’ll move forward from there.
In the meantime, it never hurts to get some insights into the future from Ghost in the Shell:
Yeah! And do you remember that ‘existence of God’ thing I had so much trouble understanding? Well, guess what!? I think I’m starting to grasp it now. Here’s my theory, maybe–just maybe–it’s a concept similar to zero in mathematics. In other words, it’s a symbol that denies the absence of meaning–the meaning that is necessitated by the delineation from one system to another. In analog that’s God. In digital it’s zero. What do you think? What I’m getting at is this, the basis of our design and construction is digital, right? So for the time being regardless of how much data we accumulate, none of us will ever have a ghost. But for analog-based people like you Mr. Batou, no matter how many digital components you add on through cyberization or prosthetics your ghost will never diminish. Plus, since you have a ghost you can even die. You’re so lucky! Tell me, what’s it feel like to have a ghost?