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What Is a Problem

wait, so what *is* a problem exactly?

Bram Adams
Bram Adams
3 min read
What Is a Problem

Table of Contents

Context Matters

First and foremost, problems are context dependent. Context matters with problems. Desire matters. When a thirty eight year old nurse decides to go on vacation, it is because he hypothesizes that a vacation will change the state of stress that he is in to a less stress inducing, more favorable one.

To his dismay, he might find when on some sandy shore in Costa Rica, that he can’t really give up work with a physical location change as his problem resides somewhere else in his mind. He must try another hypothesis, another potential solution.

There are multiple state changes one can take to maneuver to a solution, we can call these potential solution states.

A Solution in a Problem in a Solution

Secondly, to be considered a problem it also may be a solution. Let’s continue to examine the example above. Even though the nurse is using the vacation to escape the stress of the state of his work, he has burdened himself with a different problem for his credit card. This means that a solution can be a problem, and a problem can also be a solution.

A vivid example of this is opiate abuse. Something that for many starts out as a solution to an acute problem (the pain of a broken leg, for example) over time becomes an even greater problem itself (addiction) that requires a whole new host of solutions.

Self Imposed Limitations

Finally, to be considered a problem, an entity must be willing to expend energy to change it. Like a lion risking its life hunting a wildebeest, or me taking the effort to write this, a self-imposed cost must be entailed to change state.

The rain is not a problem, being caught in it is. Therefore, we expend extra energy (running or holding up an umbrella for an extended period of time) to change the unfavorable state to a more favorable one.

In more specific terms, to address a problem an entity needs some type of motivation either intrinsic or extrinsic to respond to a situation. To get the reward from the food, one must seek it out and chase it, or spend months growing it.


The oldest and by far most vast and root problem we living beings deal with on a daily is entropy. Why? Entropy is the natural consequence of the goings on of the universe. Have you been hungry today? Your cells actively convert food and oxygen into energy to be expelled. This process costs energy causing the tank to constantly need to be refilled. The lengths that living creatures go to to prevent the effects of entropy are fascinating. From developing cold blood to relax on rocks in the sun in reptiles to developing face creams and polar plunges in humans, we all have an active role in preventing or reversing the effects that entropy causes.

Aging itself, is a process that is built around accumulating damage to cells over a long period of time. Entropy – every time you breathe, every time your cells convert ATP – is literally making you older.

In (What Isn't a Problem) 202306212318, we determined that a problem needs to have one or greater potential solution states to be considered a problem. Does that mean enropy, a byproduct of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and therefore having no solution states to escape it (without breaking the laws of the universe) is not a problem?


Entropy, as in entropy itself is not a problem. You and I as living beings have a problem with our relationship to entropy, how it wreaks havoc to our bodies and minds. That is where the creativity of face creams comes in, and why there are so many types of face creams that all attempt to solve the same problem!

In Sum

So a problem:
1. can be a solution to another problem (but does not have to be)
2. has one or more states to try that will potentially be favorable
3. a entity is actively willing to expend energy and motivation to address the problem is a reader-supported published Zettelkasten. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.


Bram Adams

writer, programmer


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