Wait But Why: the wisdom ladder by Tim Urban

“Religion for the nonreligious”


Okay, don’t get put off!

I love this kind of writing. WARNING: navel gazing ahead. The idea that we are on a stepladder of consciousness, beginning on the one end, from one-celled, barely alive organisms, rising up through insects and up to chimpanzees and then Einstein-level humans, is interesting. And then, if we believe consciousness is a spectrum, are WE necessarily the top of that spectrum? Is there someone (or something) else above us?  And, on our human-level step of consciousness, what if there were several mini-steps? This is the premise of Tim Urban’s brilliant essay. He postulates (I will paraphrase here);

Step 1: FOG obscures everything. You’re terribly small minded because the ANIMALS (our ancestral hind-brains) are running the show, amok with emotion, and the fog is too thick, you can’t see the bigger picture.

Step 2: Using meditation, learning and active reflection to “thin out the fog” and begin to see context. It is like having a cashier at the store be rude to us. On step 1, we lash out, on step 2, we understand some context that it is “not about me” and that he/she may have had a bad day.


Step 3: When spending enough time in Step 2, occasionally you will have WHOA moments, when you are in “flow” or deeply thinking about context, and have an enlightened moment about how truly small we are, how briefly we are alive, how much else is OUT THERE, and how much we STILL DO NOT KNOW. For that cashier, we are amazed that, we are billions of cells collected together to form an ENTIRE CONSCIOUSNESS and that cashier is, amazingly, another collection of billions of cells that has also managed to achieve CONSCIOUSNESS. Whoa!


Step 4: The GREAT UNKNOWN. What is out there anyway? We make silly comments about how dumb humans from 2 centuries ago knew SO LITTLE ABOUT EVERYTHING, not seeing the HUGENESS that we still do not know.

I love this long read. Find some time, put it aside and read the whole thing. Entire books I have read, have not been this eloquent, about our human journey to seek knowledge and self-enlightenment.

This is by deep thinker Tim Urban.

Also, he has written and given a TED talk on his procrastination monkey. A worthwhile and thoughtful listen. Having just discovered his blog, I think I will be perusing his stuff for quite a while.

CMIO’s take? Seek out people who challenge your thinking. Learn something new. Think uncomfortable thoughts. Stretch your brain muscles. What happens next?

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

One thought on “Wait But Why: the wisdom ladder by Tim Urban”

  1. He makes an appearance on Tim Ferris’ podcast, “Tribe of Mentors,” and talks about his blog. Really enjoyed listening to it; his banter is pretty enjoyable and I needed a “big picture” reminder that day! I guess that’s why I was listening to a podcast called “Tribe of Mentors” though..🤣🤣

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