What’s Our Problem? Book Summary - What’s Our Problem? Book explained in key points
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What’s Our Problem? summary

Tim Urban

A Self-Help Book for Societies

4.5 (425 ratings)
18 mins
Table of Contents

    What’s Our Problem?
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    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 emotional detachment and a desire to find the truth –no matter what it is. Let’s call this “thinking like a scientist.”

    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 here we see the start of our problem as a society. Recently there’s been a huge rise in people working from the bottom two rungs – what Tim Urban calls “low-rung thinkers.”

    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.

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    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.

    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.

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