Definitions of Knowledge and Understanding

I like to give credit where credit is due. I was in coberst’s thread “Will understanding be extinct in 2050?” but I can’t give Chuck all the credit. I didn’t even answer his question. I was there because a bad habit I am trying to kick suggested “knowledge” and “understanding” should perhaps not be separated. I concurred but then after the second of my two replies another poster requested from coberst, definitions of “knowledge” and “understanding”. I considered offering my definitions there but more often than not my posts seem to end a thread. So I decided that rather than see my effort die at the end of coberst’s thread, if it is to, I should see it die at the beginning of my own. ILP works in mysterious ways.

I was never an epistimologist. I learned that word today by searching “knowledge” and clicking on Wikipedia. Had I been interested in epistimology 40 years ago, I would be still be occupied with it. There is a ton of leads which could be followed; and one of the entries stated nothing has been decided. My interest was in explaining life and a definition of knowledge was required by the definition of human nature I created to explain life. If you would like the complete context of my definition click “THE LAST WHY” in my signature and spend 10 min. reading it. Whatever, to make a slightly longer story shorter I settled on the definition we are a seamless integration of body/mind/spirit/ in reaction to the void. “body/mind/spirit” I contracted to “life” when I began my thread “Life:a reaction to the void”. Since this aspect of our nature is dealt with there I won’t elaborate further in a post about knowledge. Similarly I’ll leave “spirit” with the definition “light of life”. For body/mind I needed definitions that make us identical but individual; and that recognize the physical/mental continuum. So I decided to define body as the integration of realized potential physical capacity, physical activity, and physical knowledge; and mind I defined as the integration of realized potential mental capacity, mental activity and mental knowledge. The integration, maintained by a continuum of physical/mental activity, is identical for all of us while our capacities make us unique; but now I needed a definition of knowledge.

I began my definition by suggesting there is a continuum of knowledge from the entirely physical to the purely mental but acknowledging a physical brain is a prerequisite. The physical knowledge begins with that necessary to transform a single cell into an adult form and along the way we acquire the knowledge of how to use our arms, hands, legs, feet, bodies and senses. I hope for ease of understanding, I ‘put’ mental knowledge in a cube containing four equal cubes. Looking down at the large cube I ‘put’ factual knowledge in the upper left cube, theoretical knowledge in the lower right cube, sensory knowledge and emotional knowledge in the other two cubes respectively. Along the line that forms the inside corners of all four cubes I put concepts like the void, belief, faith and God that don’t fit into the cubes of knowledge. I imagine the sides the cubes share are at least porous.

Mental activity and to a certain extent the physical activity through our senses, fills the cubes. The capacity for association, memorization, interpretation, speculation, deduction, induction, extrapolation, question, rationalization, organization, categorization, analysis, recollection and… is innate but can be expanded. Understanding is similarly innate but I think not expandable. I see it more as an autonomic activity like breathing except we seem able individually to exist without comprehending life. I think understanding is a secondary activity dependent on primary mental activity thus joined to them. Metaphorically speaking, at the beginning of our mental life I see us standing on the bottom of the big cube, ideally, precisely in the center, over the point shared by the four cubes. I suggest understanding is the mental activity that solidifies under our feet, the knowledge we accumulate with our other activities.

On my most optimistic days I see our ideal collective understanding rising us up to a level at which we can comprehend life. On my other days I see us being off center which causes our understanding to be unbalanced. As a consequence we spend our time trying to maintain our balance so that though we can understand aspects of knowledge, there is no possibility of being raised up enough that we will comprehend life. While I don’t believe our collective understanding of life is “extinct” I am inclined to think it is endangered and will become extinct if we don’t make the effort to become “centered”. If our understanding of life becomes “extinct” I believe we will cease to live. I’m not sure how long after we cease to live we can exist; but then it won’t really matter because we will not be unable to understand the possibility of comprehending life.

sorry DEB it is all wrong, man is of God spirit for His Will, association of void, evil means desire, these are down, and sense of honnor and sacrifice for honnoring the honnor, sense to progress than always accept the best and be its reality, sense to invent so you are sure to always get highest move, these are senses of God, very few can be its apliances to their limits but i believe that they are in all men and that what make anyone guilty of not being them, you see it is of Him that we speak, as a tree is of his patience to grow in faith, and than you have also desire of God Love, the pilier of this creation, the Invention of God after a resumee of all His needs in real, your classifications comes from not knowing a thing but with a desire to love a tremandous explosif Giant complex unreachable God

dont underestimate the void, it was God inspiration to see above Him


I think that you are writing about your journey of discovery.

I think you are trying to understand. Understanding is creating meaning for you and by you.

Abstract concepts such as knowing and understanding are meaningful to you or to me only when we have thrashed the matter out in our own journey of discovery of meaning.

I use the word thrashed because I grew up in wheat country in Oklahoma. During wheat harvest the farmers use ‘thrashers’ to cut and to seperate the wheat from the chaff.

You are doing what we all have to do if we care enough and are curious enough to do the difficult but wonderful quest for understanding.

Happy trails to you!

Iman, when I first came to ILP I started a thread about life called “life after death”. Please look it up. You will find it near the bottom on page 8. You will find the page numbers at the bottom of this page. You will have to look for page 8 because it is hidden behind the three dots in the list of page numbers. When you find the article open it by clicking on your name in the "Last Post " colunn. Right above your last post is my last post to you. It was in response to your post in which you called me a moron. Please reread it so I don’t have to repeat it here; and try to get to the end this time because that’s where the message.

(later chuck)

you just proove that once again i was unfortunately too generous, i will never coop with your reality of being that s for sure, you dont love God I DEB thought that you have a sense of love but a lackness to see of you and above, well it is very bad to say to a woman truthful and geniune as i am that you are happy to sent me to a previous message where you see me in hell instead of thanking me for my intrests in your thoughts depth and to show some compassion of what you know i endure of wars, you are bad because too weak to be brave, hey young soul, when an adult talk to you you have to answer right or dont say any but you are not allowed to play the bad master treating with his slave sending him elsewhere to not having respect to his presence here and now, especially when he never play master as he could but never will

Thanks for replying coberst; but it bothers me to tell you this post is not about my journey of discovery. Had it been I would have told you that when I was about 10 I discovered I couldn’t quite master the technique of backing a grain wagon up to the elevator. I would have told you that despite being promised ‘success’ in General Motors I discovered the “real world” created a level of discomfort I could not tolerate. It wasn’t long after I quit a salaried career for a $5/hr job as a carpenter I discoverd I had extraordinary carpentry skills. I could go on because we are about the same age.

However, having to tell you that in this post I have presented only my definitions of knowledge and understanding, might be moving me further along in my journey of discovery. I could be discovering I am unable to explain myself very well and that bothers me. What’s even more troubling though is that after all these years I may be discovering it doesn’t really matter how well we express ourselves because what we have to say is of no significance.


I have discovered that writing an essay for myself in my effort to learn has become very important. I have discovered myself writing things that I did not know was in my thoughts. I found that the organization required in writing is very beneficial in learning.

Hi Chuck. Is there there any chance you would like to tell me why your “effort to learn has become very important”? If you do, maybe two old guys can have a stripped down conversation that eventually gets back to knowledge and understanding.

I am a retired engineer with some formal education and twenty five years of self-learning. I began the self-learning experience while in my mid-forties. I had no goal in mind; I was just following my intellectual curiosity in whatever direction it led me.

This hobby, self-learning, has become very important to me. I have bounced around from one hobby to another but have always been enticed back by the excitement I have discovered in this learning process. I label myself as a September Scholar because I began the process at mid-life and because my quest is disinterested knowledge.

You might think of this as a ‘second wind’. Like the marathoner developing a new source of energy and excitement at mid-race the self-learner undertakes a second-stage journey in life by creating a new worldview through an aroused curiosity.

I think that the person who gets an intellectual-life serves not only the self but the community.

Quote: “All men, like all nations, are tested twice in the moral realm: first by what they do, then by what they make of what they do. The condition of guilt, a sense of one’s own guilt, denotes a kind of second chance. Men are, as if by a kind of grace, given a chance to repay to the living that it is they find themselves owing the dead.”
“Coming to Terms with Vietnam,” by Peter Marin, Harpers, Dec. 1980.

what you are saying cannot be cob, dont fear the truth whatever it appears to you, you cannot be useful to anyone if it is not of you, you cannot give any objective truth as God made it that giving can be only of men being

Hi Chuck. It’s nice to hear from you again. There is too much here for me to digest in one post so tonight I am going to bite off only half. First of all, please reconcile fo me “engineer with some formal education”. In Canada engineers can only get what I call the “factual knowledge” they need to do their job, in the formal setting. (I asked in this way to relate a question of general interest to this thread :wink: ) Am I correct in assuming the self-learning you began at 45 was unrelated to engineering? If I’m right, were your interests diffused, or focused on philosophy? Finally for tonight, please clarify “disinterested knowledge”. It sounds oxymoronic to me.


I have an engineering degree. I am a retired electronics engineer. I also acquired an MA in philosophy along the way.

My self learning began in 1981 when I was reading a book about the Vietnam War. While reading this book I became curious as to how Vietnam politics could lead to a civil war in which father fought against son and parts of families against other parts of family could lead to such hatred and brutality.

I thought that if I were to better understand our own civil war in America I might better understand these brutal phenomena. This began my journey of discovery about American history and especially the Civil War in America. Actually I am still occasionally drawn back into this general part of our history.

Since that beginning I developed new questions about other matters and the thing just developed a life of its own. Questions developed faster than answers. Each effort led into other matters.

To follow this hobby I needed access to lots of books because my enquiry led in every direction. I discovered that I eventually had to get a library card from a university or college library because the local city libraries could not meet my needs. I discovered that many colleges have something they call the ‘Friends of the Library’ where a non student can for a small yearly fee gain a library card with complete access the their great library.

In this whole process I came to realize that seeking knowledge unrelated to my daily mundane world was an important aspect of this whole thing that I call my hobby—my intellectual life.

Disinterested knowledge is an intrinsic value. Disinterested knowledge is not a means but an end. It is knowledge I seek because I desire to know it. I mean the term ‘disinterested knowledge’ as similar to ‘pure research’, as compared to ‘applied research’. Pure research seeks to know truth unconnected to any specific application.

I think of the self-learner of disinterested knowledge as driven by curiosity and imagination to understand. The September Scholar (this is what I call myself) seeks to ‘see’ and then to ‘grasp’ through intellection directed at understanding the self as well as the world. The knowledge and understanding that is sought are determined only by personal motivations. It is noteworthy that disinterested knowledge is knowledge I am driven to acquire because it is of dominating interest to me. Because I have such an interest in this disinterested knowledge my adrenaline level rises in anticipation of my voyage of discovery.

We often use the metaphors of ‘seeing’ for knowing and ‘grasping’ for understanding. I think these metaphors significantly illuminate the difference between these two forms of intellection. We see much but grasp little. It takes great force to impel us to go beyond seeing to the point of grasping. The force driving us is the strong personal involvement we have to the question that guides our quest. I think it is this inclusion of self-fulfillment, as associated with the question, that makes self-learning so important.

The self-learner of disinterested knowledge is engaged in a single-minded search for understanding. The goal, grasping the ‘truth’, is generally of insignificant consequence in comparison to the single-minded search. Others must judge the value of the ‘truth’ discovered by the autodidactic. I suggest that truth, should it be of any universal value, will evolve in a biological fashion when a significant number of pursuers of disinterested knowledge engage in dialogue.

your desinterested knowledge is to poison God, think about it in all what you think have learned as truth, killing yourself for being a tool very happy and excited too much of repeating the satan words saying i am, is your choice of loving satan and what he does, let me tell you something young soul, all this knowledge of mind making is only for God a tool used to proove being elsewhere, all leads to VOID, and your excitment without the feeling of necessities as tools for means is to say your same excitment of whom are not

Chuck, I lost count of how many times I read your post looking for a way in. My frustration was compounded by a growing annoyance with your phrase “disinterested knowledge” I encountered each time I read your post and your attempt to explain it to me. It was driving me nuts. Everytime I’d say that in the presence of my father he’d say, “That’s not a drive, that’s a short putt”; but that’s a topic for another time. Finally I looked up disinterested and your phrase made sense; but Chuck, would you like to guess how many people there are like me that would think “disinterested” meant “uninterested” rather than “unbiased”. Apparently there are quite a few because my dictionary has a highlighted usage box for both disinterest and for disinterested both warning against the use of these words at the risk of being misunderstood.

Once inside your post I became more interested in what you were saying so I looked up intellection. The root is obvious but in all the years I’ve listened to the English language I’d never heard that word. It wasn’t even in my Canadian Oxford High School Dictionary. I had to ask Miriam Webster what it meant. ‘She’ told me intellection meant: 1. act of the intellect=THOUGHT and 2. exercise of the intellect=REASON. I would have defined it as mental activity and then advised against its usage to avoid appearing pretentious.

Finally I looked up “autodidactic” which was in my dictionary right under “autodidact” defined as self-learner.

Now I can talk to you. You might describe me as a January scholar. I am a jock. Somehow I graduated with a B. Physical Education and a BA(math) the ideal combination of degrees for teaching back in the days Phys. Ed. was considered important. I say “somehow I graduated” because I could not have been more uninterested in the knowledge I was presented. In my religious and philosohical classes I was introduced to the writing associated with the 6 major religions and an over view of philosophical presentations from the beginning to the present. While my class mates jumped in and waded around I sat on the sidelines wondering why there are so many libraries filled with so many biased explanations of life.

Once I began asking I couldn’t stop but rather than look in more books I distilled the ‘knowledge’ I had until I felt I had the essence of life. I think you are aware the results of my “quest” became an essay I called “What’s Happening: a view of life”. I believe you alluded to it in an unaddressed reply in your thread “Money as a Metric of Virtue” but I am not sure. Anyway, if you were addressing me you expressed an interest in my essay which I appreciated.

I have a spot for it on my web site. There I explained that the essay is 8 years old so I know it can be improved. However, though I may have been a fool to spend my time in a search that gave birth to an essay no one will read I don’t need to continue being a fool by improving something no one will read. I would just as soon build things, something I am very good at and for which I am well paid. What’s more it may not make sense and trying to improve nonsense would be the epitome of foolishness.

So as it stands I have offered to rewrite my essay on demand by “a significant number of pursuers of disinterested knowledge” who are interested enough in the poetic version of my essay to want the definitions like that of knowledge, expanded. That way I would be knowing that what I rewrite is making sense as I write. (Actually, one autodidact would be very useful.)

DEB says–"I have a spot for it on my web site. There I explained that the essay is 8 years old so I know it can be improved. However, though I may have been a fool to spend my time in as search that gave birth to an essay no one will read I don’t need to continue being a fool by improving something no one will read. I would just as soon build things, something I am very good at and for which I am well paid. What’s more it may not make sense and trying to improve nonsense would be the ipitome of foolishness.

So as it stands I have offered to rewrite my essay on demand by “a significant number of pursuers of disinterested knowledge” who are interested enough in the poetic version of my essay to want the definitions like that of knowledge, expanded. That way I would be knowing that what I rewrite is making sense as I write. (Actually, one autodidact would be very useful.)

Do not allow anyone, even yourself, say that “I may have been a fool to spend my time in as search that gave birth to an essay no one will read I don’t need to continue being a fool by improving something no one will read.” You wrote it because you have a value system that includes such things. And more power to you for having such a value system!

I shall tell you what I think ‘interested knowledge’ is and I shall tell you what ‘disinterested knowledge’ is and then I will connect these with what intellectualism is and what ant-intellectualism is.

A few decades ago there was much talk about ‘pure research’ and ‘applied research’. Applied research was directed at ‘how to make a better mouse trap’ while ‘pure research’ was directed at discovering truth even if that truth had no connection with killing mice or making money.

‘Interested knowledge’ is knowledge acquired to make money. ‘Disinterested knowledge’ is knowledge acquire in order to satisfy my desire to understand even though that understanding will not make any money for me. These two types of knowledge are meant to fulfill two different values. Because most people have lost any desire to understand when it does not lead to making money such distinctions have disappeared into the background. Disinterested knowledge has become merely an oxymoron.

Our society honors educated men and women because educated men and women make more money. Our society has little use for intellectuals because intellectuals spend a great amount of effort studying disinterested knowledge. Anti-intellectualism is directed at people pursuing disinterested knowledge. Today you will hear a comment like ‘why in the world do you want to get a liberal education? You cannot get a good job with a liberal education.”

Of course for young people any school work is a matter of discontent. To the school age youngster any kind of studying is considered to be intellectual. For the young person whose parents have not conditioned them with the admonition that good grades are essential will love the athlete and abhor and ridicule the nerd. The anti-intellectualism the youngster sees in the adult world becomes their excuse to hate school and everything school stands for.

Support intellectualism and fight anti-intellectualism at every opportunity!

coberst wrote:

I am not sure about any of this Chuck. First of all I think you are implying I had a value system and therefore I wrote an essay to inform the rest of humanity; but I’m quite sure that’s not what happened. I was training to teach. I could see the day a desparate student asked me, “What is the purpose of life?” My inhereted answer made no sense when illuminated by the facts of life. I felt I should have an answer I could give with as much confidence as it is possible to have before I started to teach. That was my only motivation at the time.

Now I have a different motivation. When I started I figured I’d take a few months to find the answer then get on with teaching. I grossly underestimated the time frame and the time required within that frame. I have a house I built but had it not been for my father’s continued support after his death I’d be penniless. I think of Bill Gates. Now he had a value system. What do you think his pension income is Chuck? “I could have been a contender” for that pension. I’d even settle for yours Chuck. So dispite your “more power to you” I am now motivated to present my answer to discover if I have been a fool.

I appreciate your explanation of “interested” and “disinterested” knowledge. I won’t use them myself but when you do I will know exactly what you are talking about. Although I define natural and unnatural activity and acknowledge the natural and unnatural knowledge we can accumulate by these activities, I can not separate the two; but that’s no problem because I see no need. I maintain our activity can theoretically be completely natural, can not be completely unnatural and that our present activity is a blend of the two but dominated by the unnatural. Based on this assessment I can conclude the present knowledge in our ‘cubes’ is unnatural to the same degree. Now If we feel we should change the ratio in favour of the natural because we sense our present knowledge is contributing to our self-destruction, we don’t need to analyse it. We can simply increase our natural activity and our knowledge will change accordingly.

You wrote:


Understanding is a question of accuratly predicting behaviors.

Understanding consists of memory and synthesis thought forms.

Knowledge is understanding.
Understanding is ability to predict.
“Thought” is the process of virtual reality being run within a mind, and being able to syncronize with the external reality at the same time, whilst being under the control of the thinker.

coberst wrote

Hey Chuck,

Well said. You’re an interesting fellow!

I tend to agree with your views on education. A university education once aimed to prepare a man for the world, whereas today’s specialized degree fields apparently have more in common with truck-driving schools than with such “quaint” aims. And yet, we’re not the first to lament this movement towards knowing more and more about less and less, presumably, until we each come to know everything about nothing.

I’m also interested in your interest concerning the American Civil War. I’m not interested so much in the various strategy or battles, but with the questions concerning the “justness” of the conflict. My views on this are non-convential, to say the least. I’ll initiate a thread in the Social Science forum titled, “Re-Thinking American History” in hopes that you might disagree - and thus we might gain a pleasant debate by it.


Michael says–"Hey Chuck,

You’re an interesting fellow!"

Thank you Mike.

My interest in the Civil War focused primarily on the motivation for the war. The following is an essay I wrote many months ago. I often write essays as a means for understanding.

I have been a self-actualized learner for more than 25 years. It began to develop into a hobby in 1980 while reading a book on the Vietnam War I decided that to understand this civil war in Vietnam I must understand our own Civil War in the United States.

I have since that time read many books about this important part of our history. The most enlightening book that best answered my questions was the book “The Mind of the South” by W.J. Cash. To quote Cash “With an intense individualism which the frontier atmosphere put into the man of the South also comes violence and an idealistic, hedonistic romanticism. This romanticism is also fueled by the Southern’s conflict with the Yankee. Violence manifests itself in mob action, such as lynching, and private dealings.”

One question that developed early in my reading was why the ordinary white citizen of the South was such a good soldier, superior to the Union soldier. Why did the ordinary southern man fight so valiantly to preserve slavery when he was not a slaveholder himself? This valiant southerner fought with very little comfort and support from the Confederacy because the Confederacy was a financially poor institution. The rebel soldier often did not even have shoes. The rebel soldier often had to find food on his own. Very little in the form of supplies were provided to the rebel army.

I have over the years discovered answers to my questions. One particular aspect of this situation, which I had not considered, was how the fact of slave labor in a culture affects the culture totally. In the South there was no free labor. Slaves did virtually all labor. The effect of this reality determined to a great extent the nature of the society.

The white man would not work for anyone because he considered laboring for hire made him no better than the black slave and his superiority to the black man was essential to his self-esteem. There was no labor class in the antebellum south. The slaves did the labor but the slave was a capital investment just like a horse or oxen. Here was a total society without a laboring class.

What were some of the effects of no free labor in the South? The most important factor I suspect was that the ordinary white man felt any labor was beneath his dignity. This lack of ‘free labor’ led to many of the characteristics of the Southern man and woman that probably is a factor today in the character of the Southerner.