What’s Our Problem? – Tim Urban Book Summary

What’s Our Problem? – Tim Urban | Free Book Summary

What’s Our Problem? – Tim Urban

What’s Our Problem? by Tim Urban is a book that introduces a new framework for thinking about our chaotic political environment. The book examines the core issues that drive our current divisions, from immigration to climate change, and offers a fresh perspective on how we can move forward as a society.

The book also explores the dynamics between our two mindsets—the High Mind and the Low Mind—and how we can use them to create more productive conversations and more meaningful progress.

By using this new framework, Urban argues that we can bridge the gaps between us, find common ground, and make a real difference in the world.

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Ladder Emergence: Genies

The brain is a network of 86 billion neurons, and language is important because it allows individual brains to connect and form a communal brain.

A diversity of biases helps the communal brain reduce blind spots, resulting in a multi-mind thinking system that is superior at learning and separating truth from fiction.

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This thinking system is called a genie.

  • Collaboration in a genie does not come at the expense of the individual, as genies flourish when their members are independent thinkers.
  • In a genie, individuals can simultaneously thrive as free thinkers and as smaller pieces of a larger system.
  • The civilization we live in today, with all its incredible technology, was not created by humans alone.
  • Humans are not smart enough to do that.

The amazing world around us was created by genies.


Golems are emergent properties of human obedience, resulting from humans acting like ants. They are certain of themselves, unable to learn or change their minds, and worse at thinking than the average human.

Golems rely on confirmation bias tricks like cherry-picking, motivated skepticism, and motivated reasoning, benefiting hugely from economies of scale, as the snappiest and most convincing articulations of the sacred ideas spread quickly through the system.

Individual biases scale up to make the golem’s ultra-biased macro-mind, and the social pressure of Echo Chamber culture keeps the giant as a whole steadfast in its beliefs.

Golems prefer the Us vs. Them mindset and rely on conformity, anchored by its members’ steadfast belief in its guiding narrative.

If golems are on the rise, it’s not because people have changed biologically – it’s because something has changed about the environment.

The problem of Golems and what we can do

Golems have infected the societies’ vital organs – their institutions – impeding their ability to function properly and causing a mass crisis of trust.

The Solution:

  • To get out of a downward spiral of confusion and fear, a society needs an upward spiral of awareness and courage. In a super high-tech era like ours, entering the “bad times” phase of the merry-go-round is a scary prospect.
  • We live in a time of magical technology, and the power of the human species grows more godlike every year.
  • This power is a double-edged sword, paving one road to utopia and another to dystopia.
  • As we move into the deeply uncertain future, there’s never been a more critical time to have our wits about us.
  • Exponential technology has given us countless gifts, but in the frenzy, we’re forgetting the most important lesson of all: the worst of our nature never lies far beneath the surface.
  • We can’t afford to get ourselves from foolish to wise the usual way, via bad times.
  • Somehow, we have to figure out how to become wise people directly.

Inner Self Project: Awareness

The first step to improving ourselves is awareness, which requires humility.

We must remember that our rational and moral thinking is limited by the Primitive Mind, an ancient survival tool.

By acknowledging this, we can tap into our wisest selves and reach our full potential.

Awareness Contd.

The first call to action is to prioritize our own needs before helping others.

Conduct a self-audit to identify where the Primitive Mind controls your life.

  • What triggers its activation and leaves you in a fog?
  • On the other hand, when do you perform at your best?
  • What gives your Higher Mind the advantage in those moments?

Try to replicate these conditions in other areas of your life.

The Why Game

Examine your beliefs by playing the “why” game.

When did you adopt these ideas?

Were they imposed by others or influenced by groupthink?

If they are genuinely your own, when did you last update them?

Remember that your beliefs are hypotheses, not sacred objects carved in stone.

If you aim for the high rungs, be prepared to use the eraser.

The Why Game Part 2: Values

Evaluate your values. If a political party or movement no longer represents your values, don’t stick with it out of tribal loyalty. Stick with your own values instead. People might accuse you of “leaving” the party or movement, but in reality, it left you. Stay true to yourself.

Consider the beliefs of those you disagree with. Are there any valid points? Can you articulate their views in a way that they would agree with? If not, you don’t really understand their position. Remember that everyone believes they are fighting for a good cause.

Your identity is not defined by a political label. Don’t let yourself be defined by these categories, as they limit your personal growth and exploration.

No hate towards other people

Don’t hate people or groups. Try to empathize with them by picturing the details of their lives. Remember that everyone is just trying to be happy.

  • Alternatively, contemplate the vastness of the universe and how petty hatred seems in comparison.
  • Try to think outside yourself and consider other people’s unique life experiences.
  • Think “vertically” about society, industries, cultures, and politics.
  • Evaluate where high-rung or low-rung psychology is playing out.

Remember that we are all works in progress. While we can never fully eliminate low-rung thinking, we can increase the time spent on high-rung thinking. This should be our intellectual goal.

Outer Self Project: Courage

Awareness alone is not enough. To improve the world, we also need courage. Courage is about becoming part of the high-rung immune system instead of enabling the low-rung virus.

When we find the courage to share our ideas, they can spread and build awareness in others.

  • Start with the first level of courage: stop saying things that you know aren’t true. Don’t contribute to misinformation or falsehoods, even if they support your political views.
  • The second level of courage is to speak up when something is wrong. Don’t be afraid to challenge authority or social norms when they are harmful.
  • The third level of courage is to take action. Don’t just talk about change, but actively work towards it. This requires bravery and perseverance.
  • Finally, remember that courage is contagious. When we find the courage to act, we inspire others to do the same.

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