Nick Ang profile picture

Nick Ang

Nothing seems obvious anymore

(This is #6 of 30 raw essays in 30 days.)

Is this fictional or autobiographical, you wonder? I ask in response: does it matter?

I used to be able to think on my feet, which is to say, when I find myself in a situation where my mind is quietly posing a question, I would be able to quietly answer it directly. I wouldn’t, instead, think of googling as my first instinct.

Everything used to be obvious. I’m not talking about how the world is becoming more complex, and therefore things are becoming more obfuscated. That may be true, but I feel I’ve degraded far beyond that in the Think For Yourself arena. I freakin’ google everything — even when I have a preliminary answer, I’d try to find someone on the internet that could confirm that I’m on the right track.

Everything used to be obvious in the sense that I would be able to think on my own.

Like how when I was a little kid, I wondered why adults had so much work to do. Was it because each adult needed more than what one other adult could provide? I considered how much my parents seemed to have required: food, a home, a car, a phone, occasionally a tour agency, an airplane, a haircut… and that led me to the first conclusion that some things can be provided to many by a single adult (e.g. a barber providing haircuts to tens of people a day), while others required a team to work (e.g. a group of engineers and businesspeople manufacturing a functional airplane).

A second conclusion I came to myself was that some work lay the foundation for future benefits, and therefore an adult can be busy for a while and then, in principle, be able to rest for a while. Like how an engineer at an airplane manufacturing company could help in building a plane and that plane can then shuttle hundreds of people (adults included) every single day, which should mean that the engineer has put in the initial work that has now created future benefit for humanity that should last on the overall longer than the work he and his team had collectively put in. Which means he should be given some rest days before needing to start contributing again.

A third conclusion was that trying to put it all together is possible but very hard because the equation had many variables that needed to be continually computed, each affecting some of the others:

  • collective time spent by adults producing a desired outcome
  • number of adults who benefits from the outcome
  • time needed for an outcome to reach other adults for use
  • … etc.

That kid, if armed with a computer and a programming manual, would probably have been capable of coming close to writing an decent economic model on a computer from scratch.

But that kid has now picked up a terrible habit of consulting the internet at every turn. Returning to the past with this habit, he would probably have googled “why adults work so much” and in return, read a bunch of posts written for no other reason other than search engine optimisation, and, depending on just how hastily those ranking posts were written, potentially be misled about not just the facts, but how to think in the first place.

These days, people call this kid’s ability first principles thinking.

I call it thinking for yourself.

Most things should be rather obvious, so consulting is optional. Thinking is mandatory.

Nick Ang profile picture
Husband, dad, and software engineer that writes. Big on learning something everyday and trying to have fun before the lights go out.
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