Gravity works, whether we believe it exists or not. Gravity works, even though we cannot see it. Gravity works, whether we understand it or not.

You may remember from high school math that axioms are statements that are known, for sure, to be true. Axioms are First Principles. First Principles are things that are known, for sure, to be true, but they extend far beyond math.

Gravity is a First Principle. Gravity is invisible. We can’t see it, or hear it, or smell it, or touch it, but we all experience it, all the time. Gravity is constant, from birth until death. Our belief in it is irrelevant. We are bound by it, nonetheless. If you jump off a mountain, your falling is determined by the physics of gravity, not your belief in it. First Principles are those things that are always true, no matter what.

Speaking of gravity, for most of history, we humans believed the Sun orbited around the Earth. That’s what it looked like, from our vantage point. We stay still and the Sun rises and sets, rises and sets, round and round. But when we zoom out and see the bigger picture, we see that the Earth orbits around the Sun. Even though it does not seem like it, from our point of view, the planets orbiting around the Sun is a First Principle.

We’re all going to die! Another First Principle is mortality. This one we don’t like to think about. We might not like it, but we can’t change it. The good news is that life expectancy has doubled in the past century. In the United States, life expectancy is now 78.93 years. The longest any person has ever lived is supposedly 122.45 years, although the details of her case are suspect. But there are many documented cases of people living past 117 years. The combination of medical science and a safer world and improved lifestyles will continue to extend lifespans. But even if we are able to double it again, lifespan is finite.  

Thinking about lifespan and health span leads us to some other First Principles:   

The human body needs nutrients. We are blessed in the United States to have zillions of food choices. But the First Principle is that our bodies need nutrients, not just calories. And our bodies need hydration. We need water to survive and the right amount to thrive. And our bodies need sleep to survive and the right amount to thrive. And our bodies need warmth. Temperature, like gravity, is invisible. We can’t see it, or hear it, or smell it, or touch it, but we can only survive within a narrow range of temperature, and only thrive in a narrower range. And the most urgent of all First Principles is our need for oxygen. Again, we can’t see it, or hear it, or smell it, or touch it, but we can only survive for a few minutes without it. First Principles are not always obvious – often invisible – but they are reliable and dependable.

It is hard to know what is true. And it seems like it is harder now than it has ever been, with 24-hour news and social media spinning and contorting the details – with fake news and flimsy fact-checking. But for most of human history there was no journalism and no science. Now, if we are discerning, we can determine what is true. And digging down to First Principles is an excellent way to do it.

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