Bigger, Better, More Interesting Problems

excerpted from PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia

Is there anything more dangerous than getting up in the morning and having nothing to worry about, no problems to solve, no friction to heat you up? That state can be a threat to your health, because if untreated it incites an unconscious yearning for any old dumb trouble that might rouse some excitement.


Acquiring problems is a fundamental human need. It's as crucial to your well-being as getting food, air, water, sleep, and love. You define yourself--indeed, you make yourself--through the riddles you attract and solve. The most creative people on the planet are those who frame the biggest, hardest questions and then gather the resources necessary to find the answers.

Conventional wisdom implies that the best problems are those that place you under duress. There's supposedly no gain without pain. Stress is allegedly an incomparable spur for calling on resources that have been previously unavailable or dormant. Nietzsche's aphorism, “That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger,” has achieved the status of an ultimate truth.

We half-agree. But it's clear that stress also accompanies many mediocre problems that have little power to make us smarter. Pain frequently generates no gain. We're all prone to become habituated, even addicted, to nagging vexations that go on and on without rousing any of our sleeping genius.

There is, furthermore, another class of difficulty--let's call it the delightful dilemma--that neither feeds on angst nor generates it. On the contrary, it's fun and invigorating, and usually blooms when you're feeling a profound sense of being at home in the world. The problem of writing my book is a good example. I've had a good time handling the perplexing challenges with which it has confronted me.

Imagine a life in which at least half of your quandaries match this profile. Act as if you're most likely to attract useful problems when joy is your predominant state of mind. Consider the possibility that being in unsettling circumstances may shrink your capacity to dream up the riddles you need most; that maybe it's hard to ask the best questions when you're preoccupied fighting rearguard battles against boring or demeaning annoyances that have plagued you for many moons.

Prediction: As an aspiring lover of pronoia, you will have a growing knack for gravitating toward wilder, wetter, more interesting problems. More and more, you will be drawn to the kind of gain that doesn't require pain. You'll be so alive and awake that you'll cheerfully push yourself out of your comfort zone in the direction of your personal frontier well before you're forced to do so by divine kicks in the ass.


The definition of “happiness” in the Beauty and Truth Laboratory's “Outlaw Dictionary of Pronoiac Memes” is “the state of mind that results from cultivating interesting, useful problems.”


"The most important and enjoyable thing in life is doing something that's a complicated, tricky problem for you that you don't know how to solve.” --William Vollman


When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” is composed of two characters. One represents danger, the other opportunity. There has been no English equivalent until now.

The Beauty and Truth Laboratory has retooled an English term to convey a similar meaning: “kairos.” Originally borrowed from Greek, “kairos” has traditionally meant “time of destiny, critical turning point, propitious moment for decision or action.” In its most precise usage, it refers to a special season that is charged with significance and is outside of normal time; its opposite is the Greek chronos, which refers to the drone of the daily rhythm.

These meanings provide the root of our new definition of the word. As of now, when used in the context of a discussion of pronoia, “kairos” will have the sense of “a good crisis, rich problem, productive difficulty.”


“We should feel excited about the problems we confront and our ability to deal with them,” says Robert Anton Wilson. “Solving problems is one of the highest and most sensual of all our brain functions.”


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