3 min read

What a problem is

The anatomy of all problems

August 15, 2023

In the Oxford English Dictionary used by Google, a problem is defined as “a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome”, and if I were to ask you to define it right now, you would likely say something similar.

Though this can be true of problems, this definition is simply too subjective and loose for such an unavoidable aspect of existence.

Quite literally from the moment we are born and constantly each day we live, we overcome problems for ourselves and others, yet defining it on a fundamental level appears to be a problem we have yet to solve.

So what makes a problem a problem?

In pursuit of the answer to this question, I spent 2 years decomposing problems down to the atomic ingredients they all share to produce this novel definition:

A problem is when a sentient entity desires a thing to transition from a current state to a new state against resistance.

...and this is what one looks like.

Diagram of a Problem

Sentient Entity

A sentient entity is one or more conscious life forms.

The sentient entity in a problem is often oneself, another human, or a group of humans like a team or an organization, but this can also be another animal, such as a cat, or a group of animals like a flock of birds.

All problems require at least one sentient entity to exist.


A desire is a wanting for a thing to have a specific state.


A thing is a concrete object or abstract idea.

A concrete object is a thing that can be perceived by our senses, like oneself, someone else, or a book, while an abstract idea is a thing that can not be perceived by our senses, like our personality or a book’s idea.


A state is a concrete or abstract characteristic or circumstance of a thing.

A characteristic is an inherit feature of a thing with a circumstance being an external condition in which a thing exists.

A concrete characteristic or circumstance exists outside of the mind and can be directly observed or measured, like the concrete characteristic of a book’s color or the concrete circumstance of its location.

Comparatively, an abstract characteristic or circumstance only exists inside the mind and can only be inferred through analysis, interpretation, or conceptualization, like the abstract characteristic of a book’s meaning or the abstract circumstance of its historical context.

Every thing has many current states and potential new states all the time, but it takes a sentient entity to desire a specific new state for a problem to exist.


A transition is a thing’s change from one state to another.


Resistance is the level of effort required for a thing to transition from one state to another.

If you want a drink of water and you have a glass of water in your hand, the effort required to transition yourself from a current state of being thirsty to a desired state of being quenched is significantly less than if you were in a desert with no water at all.

To clear high resistance problems, one must either discover a solution that decreases its resistance to a clearable level or decompose it down into multiple lower resistance problems to clear one after another.

This is because only problems with low levels of resistance can be cleared.

This problem anatomy serves as the foundation for my research, discoveries, and problem-solving techniques, and it has personally changed my life and how I interpret the world.

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