What’s Our Problem? Book Summary - What’s Our Problem? Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro

What’s Our Problem? summary

Tim Urban

A Self-Help Book for Societies

4.4 (440 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

What’s Our Problem? by Tim Urban is a thought-provoking book that explores some of the biggest issues facing humanity. From climate change to political polarization, Urban argues that our biggest problems require collective action and a willingness to confront uncomfortable truths.

Table of Contents

    What’s Our Problem?
    Summary of 5 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 5

    The Ladder of Thinking

    Have you ever seen a moth flying uselessly into a light? Stupid moth, right? Well, what’s causing the moth to do that is its primitive instincts – an urge to fly toward the light of the moon. Unfortunately for the moth, its instincts haven’t caught up with changes in the world – the relatively recent introduction of many nonmoon lights.

    In a way, we’re all not much different from a moth. We all have a primitive mind, concerned with our primitive and immediate urges – eating, reproducing, and surviving. This mind has always been there, and it’s done a pretty good job of keeping us alive up until now.

    But due to the evolutionarily recent explosion of literacy and technology, we’ve created a world that this primitive mind isn’t really made for. This is where the higher mind comes in. Our higher minds control our ability to think objectively, analyze the world, and learn from experience.

    Your primitive mind wants you to eat the whole bag of Skittles. Your higher mind tells you that it’s probably a bad idea.

    These two minds are constantly in conflict, and whichever is winning out decides the way that you think; how you make your decisions and form your beliefs. Think of it as a four-runged ladder.

    When you’re on the top rung, your higher mind is in complete control. Here, you logically observe evidence and reach conclusions with a clear desire to find the truth –no matter what it is. Let’s call this “thinking like a scientist.” The central piece to being a scientist is being open to experimenting and changing beliefs, not identifying strictly with your own.

    Go down to the next rung on the ladder and your higher mind is still in control but your primitive mind is having a bit more of a say. Let’s think of this as “thinking like a sports fan” – you know and respect the rules of the game, but you really want your team to win. You're no longer impartial and you’re subject to the confirmation biases that a first-rung thinker would avoid.

    The third rung is where problems start. Here your primitive mind has a much greater influence. Now you're "thinking like an attorney." You’ll argue or defend a point no matter how truthful or logical it is. You’re not just motivated to be right, you’re obligated. On this rung, you'll see people claiming that the earth is flat or the CIA is after them, with no amount of evidence changing their minds.

    Finally, on the fourth and bottom rung, your primitive mind is in full control and you’re "thinking like a zealot.” Your ideas and beliefs are your baby and no one can tell you that they’re not perfect. You don't need to do any research to prove that you're right, you just know you are. Any agreement is accepted unconditionally, and any challenge is seen as a personal attack.

    When you apply this ladder to the world, you can start looking at divisive problems in terms of how people think, instead of what they think. Whether the issue is climate change, abortion, or whatever drama is going on in politics, if you look at it in terms of what rung the person is operating on, things start to make a lot more sense.

    And let’s be clear, everyone is both a low and high-rung thinker, it's not just one particular group or type of person. Certain movements can be low-rung in tendency, sure, but it’s crucial to remember that it's not an identity, just a spectrum that societies ebb and flow towards and away from.

    Unfortunately, in today’s world, there’s been a huge rise in people working from the bottom two rungs – what Tim Urban calls “low-rung thinking.”

    Keep this ladder in mind; we’ll refer to it in the next sections as we look at the causes and implications of this troubling trend.

    Want to see all full key ideas from What’s Our Problem??

    Key ideas in What’s Our Problem?

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is What’s Our Problem? about?

    What’s Our Problem (2023) offers a fun and unique perspective on the strange state of the modern world in which we live. Using the author’s iconic comedic style, it draws on observations from political theory, psychology, history, and modern-day events to explain what is going on in our society, and what we can potentially do to fix it.

    What’s Our Problem? Review

    What's Our Problem? (2022) by Tim Urban is a thought-provoking exploration of the biggest challenges facing humanity today and why we struggle to address them. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers insightful analysis and thought experiments that shed light on complex issues like climate change and inequality, making them more understandable and relatable.
    • Through compelling storytelling and relatable examples, it presents the problems in a way that captures our attention and compels us to take action.
    • By combining rigorous research with Tim Urban's distinctive humor and wit, the book manages to be both informative and entertaining, ensuring that it is anything but boring.

    Who should read What’s Our Problem??

    • Followers of Tim Urban and his blog, Wait But Why
    • The socially-minded looking for clear and clever explanations of complex problems
    • Anyone confused and overwhelmed by the crazy state of the world

    About the Author

    Tim Urban is a writer, blogger, and internet sensation. His well-loved blog Wait But Why is characterized by simple cartoons, wry humor, and insightful observations about technology, life, and the world.

    Categories with What’s Our Problem?

    Book summaries like What’s Our Problem?

    People ❤️ Blinkist 
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked these summaries

    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    31 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    10+ years
    Experience igniting personal growth
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial

    What’s Our Problem? FAQs 

    What is the main message of What’s Our Problem??

    Understanding and solving the big problems facing humanity is crucial for our collective future.

    How long does it take to read What’s Our Problem??

    The estimated reading time for What’s Our Problem? is several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is What’s Our Problem? a good book? Is it worth reading?

    What’s Our Problem? is worth reading as it explores complex societal issues with depth and humor, offering valuable insights into our shared challenges.

    Who is the author of What’s Our Problem??

    The author of What’s Our Problem? is Tim Urban.

    What to read after What’s Our Problem??

    If you're wondering what to read next after What’s Our Problem?, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Python Crash Course by Eric Matthes
    • Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday
    • Build by Tony Fadell
    • The Art of Clear Thinking by Hasard Lee
    • On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
    • Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams
    • Marketing Artificial Intelligence by Paul Roetzer & Mike Kaput
    • When the Body Says No by Gabor Maté
    • Marketing 5.0 by Philip Kotler & Hermawan Kartajaya & Iwan Setiawan
    • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius