17. The Foundations Are Math and Logic

If you understand mathematics and logic, you have the basis for understanding everything else.

The ultimate foundations are math and logic

Naval: Foundational things are principles, they’re algorithms, they’re deep seated logical understanding where you can defend it or attack it from any angle. And that’s why microeconomics is important because macroeconomics is a lot of memorization, a lot of macro bullshit.

As Nassim Taleb says, it is easier to macro bullshit than it is the micro bullshit. Because macroeconomics is voodoo-complex-science meets politics. You can’t find two macroeconomists to agree on anything these days, and different macroeconomists get used by different politicians to peddle their different pet theories.

There are even macroeconomists out there now peddling something called Modern Monetary Theory which basically says, hey, except for this pesky thing called inflation, we can just print all the money that we want. Yes, except for this pesky thing called inflation. That’s like saying, except for limited energy, we can fire rockets off into space all day long.

It’s just nonsense, but the fact that there are people who have “macroeconomist” in their title and are peddling Modern Monetary Theory just tells you that macroeconomics as a so-called science has been corrupted. It’s now a branch of politics.

So, you really want to focus on the foundations. The ultimate foundation are mathematics and logic. If you understand logic and mathematics, then you have the basis for understanding the scientific method. Once you understand the scientific method, then you can understand how to separate truth from falsehood in other fields and other things that you’re reading.

It’s better to read a great book really slowly than to fly through a hundred books quickly

So, be very careful about reading other people’s opinions and even be careful when reading facts because so-called facts are often just opinions with a veneer [of pseudoscience] around them.

What you are really looking for are algorithms. What you are really looking for is understanding. It’s better to go through a book really slowly and struggle and stumble and rewind, than it is to fly through it quickly and say, “Well, now I’ve read 20 books, I’ve read 30 books, I’ve read 50 books in the field.”

It’s like Bruce Lee said, “I don’t fear the man who knows a thousand kicks and a thousand punches, I fear the man who’s practiced one punch ten thousand times or one kick ten thousand times.” It’s that understanding that comes through repetition and through usage and through logic and foundations that really makes you a smart thinker.

Learn persuasion and programming

Nivi: To lay a foundation for learning for the rest of your life I think you need two things, if I was going to try and sum it up. One, practical persuasion and two, you need to go deep in some technical category, whether it’s abstract math, or you want to read Donald Knuth’s books on algorithms, or you want to read Feynman’s lectures on physics.

If you have practical persuasion and a deep understanding of some complex topic, I think you’ll have a great foundation for learning for the rest of your life.

Naval: Yeah. In fact let me expand that a little bit. I would say that the five most important skills are of course, reading, writing, arithmetic, and then as you’re adding in, persuasion, which is talking. And then finally, I would add computer programming just because it’s an applied form of arithmetic that just gets you so much leverage for free in any domain that you operate in.

If you’re good with computers, if you’re good at basic mathematics, if you’re good at writing, if you’re good at speaking, and if you like reading, you’re set for life.

Chapter 18 >>