Black and white portrait of Ray Dalio: Narrator and Creator of Life Principles

Principles are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life.

Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs, cites principles as his key to success.

Life Principle

Look to nature to learn how reality works.

All the laws of reality were given to us by nature. Man didn’t create these laws, but by understanding them we can use them to foster our own evolution and achieve our goals. For example, our ability to fly or to send cell phone signals around the world came from understanding and applying the existing rules of reality—the physical laws or principles that govern the natural world.

I’ve found it both interesting and valuable to observe which laws we humans have in common with the rest of nature and which differentiate us. Doing that has had a big impact on my approach to life.

When trying to understand anything—economies, markets, the weather, whatever—one can approach the subject with two perspectives:

  1. Top down: By trying to find the one code/law that drives them all. For example, in the case of markets, one could study universal laws like supply and demand that affect all economies and markets. In the case of species, one could focus on learning how the genetic code (DNA) works for all species.
  2. Bottom up: By studying each specific case and the codes/laws that are true for them, for example, the codes or laws particular to the market for wheat or the DNA sequences that make ducks different from other species.

Seeing things from the top down is the best way to understand ourselves and the laws of reality within the context of overarching universal laws. That’s not to say it’s not worth having a bottom-up perspective. In fact, to understand the world accurately you need both. By taking a bottom-up perspective that looks at each individual case, we can see how it lines up with our theories about the laws that we expect to govern it. When they line up, we’re good.

By looking at nature from the top down, we can see that much of what we call human nature is really animal nature. That’s because the human brain is programmed with millions of years of genetic learning that we share with other species. These laws that we have in common are the most overarching ones. They wouldn’t be apparent to us if we just looked at ourselves.

If you just looked at one species—ducks, for example—to try to understand the universal laws, you’d fail. Similarly, if you just looked at mankind to understand the universal laws, you’d fail. Man is just one of ten million species and just one of the billions of manifestations of the forces that bring together and take apart atoms through time. Yet most people are like ants focused only on themselves and their own anthill; they believe the universe revolves around people and don’t pay attention to the universal laws that are true for all species.

To try to figure out the universal laws of reality and principles for dealing with it, I’ve found it helpful to try to look at things from nature’s perspective. While mankind is very intelligent in relation to other species, we have the intelligence of moss growing on a rock compared to nature as a whole. We are incapable of designing and building a mosquito, let alone all the species and most of the other things in the universe. So I start from the premise that nature is smarter than I am and try to let nature teach me how reality works.

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