A Story of Us, by Tim Urban
NOTES / An epic blog series about the current state of public discourse


2nd pass notes

  • VOCAB: A new vocabulary about how we communicate as individuals and in larger groups can help us see how we exist in a fractal of thinking that has grown ill.
  • Primitive mind = system 1
  • Higher mind = system 2
  • Psych spectrum = the balance of power between the struggle of our primitive and higher minds
  • Emergence tower = The fractal of society starting from cells, building up to organs, becoming individuals, and continuing to grow in complexity as teams, larger groups, communities, states, and nations. 
  • Individual
  • Inner self = The part of our selves that represents our own internal beliefs and the struggle between primitive and higher minds.
  • Outer self = The part of ourselves that can be seen by others and which contribute to the beliefs, thoughts, and personality of the larger group.
  • Human giant = collective of humans who think, express ideas, and have a personality larger than the individual. 
  • Idea spectrum = A 2D spectrum of opinions about a specific topic.
  • Thought pile = The distribution of individual opinions along an idea spectrum, showing where the most people think themselves to be (based on their inner self).
  • Speech curve = The thoughts expressed by our outer selves about a particular idea spectrum (based on their outer self). 
  • Thinking ladder = “How” you think about what you think, in terms of the struggle between the primitive and higher minds.
  • What is, what should be, how to get there = “What you think is real” vs “what you think should be real” vs “How you think we should get there”. Head, heart, and hands.
  • PERSONAL ANALYSIS: My take on this series’ main points.
  • The articulation of the emergence tower as it relates to speech curves is really interesting and provides some useful concepts that make it a lot easier to talk about how polarization happens at multiple levels of society. That’s what I see as the main concept threading this whole series together, and that’s a worthwhile contribution to the conversation. 
  • I think a whole lot more of this could be relegated to blue boxes that are linked off of the main series. I found a lot of the content to be repetitive and it would’ve been nice to skim over those more easily. But then again, it is probably helpful to review these concepts within the context of the argument… so I’m a bit torn on that still. 
  • I found myself surprised by how many of the ideas here are ideas that I also reached over the last couple years. The most striking one is the “What is, what should be, how to get there” concept introduced in Chapter 9. It’s pretty much 100% in sync with my own “head, heart, hands” distinction. And he comes to the same general conclusion that I do, which is that we should spend more time on the “how” and less on the other two. 

Series links

  • Part 1: The Power Game
  • Part 2: The Values Game
  • Part 3: Thinking in 3-D
  • Part 4: Politics in 3-D
  • Part 5: A Dangerous Trend