Understanding Stuff

Understanding stuff

I imagine comprehension to be a hierarchy, resembling a pyramid, with awareness at the base followed by consciousness, succeeded by knowing, with understanding at the pinnacle.

I am a retired engineer and my experience in the natural sciences leads me to conclude that these natural sciences are far more concerned with knowing than with understanding.

Understanding is a long step beyond knowing and most often knowing provides the results that technology demands. Technology, I think, does not want understanding because understanding is inefficient and generally not required. The natural scientist, with their paradigms, is puzzle solvers. Puzzles require ingenuity but seldom understanding.

I have for some time been interested in trying to understand what ‘understand’ means. I have reached the conclusion that ‘curiosity then caring’ is the first steps toward understanding. Without curiosity we care for nothing. Once curiosity is in place then caring becomes necessary for understanding.

I suspect our first experience with ‘understanding’ may be our first friendship. I think that this first friendship may be an example of what Carl Sagan meant by “Understanding is a kind of ecstasy”.

I also suspect that the boy who falls in love with automobiles and learns everything he can about repairing the junk car he bought has discovered ‘understanding’.

I suspect many people go their complete life and never have an intellectual experience that culminates in the “ecstasy of understanding”. How can this be true? I think that our educational system is designed primarily for filling heads with knowledge and hasn’t time to waste on ‘understanding’.

Understanding an intellectual matter must come in the adult years if it is to ever come to many of us. I think that it is very important for an adult to find something intellectual that will excite his or her curiosity and concern sufficiently so as to motivate the effort necessary to understand.

Understanding does not come easily but it can be “a kind of ecstasy”.

I think of understanding as being a creation of meaning by the thinker. As one attempts to understand something that person will construct through imagination a model–like a papier-mâché–of the meaning. Like an artist painting her understanding of something. As time goes by the model takes on what the person understands about that which is studied. The model is very subjective and you and I may study something for some time and we both have learned to understand it but if it were possible to project an image of our model they would be unidentifiable perhaps by the other. Knowledge has a universal quality but not understanding.

Waaaaaait a minute. Hold on, muchacho. I got lost right at the beginning. What do you see as the difference between awareness and consciousness?

Faust is correct. Awarness and conciousness are one and the same.

I think you understand something if you cannot question your understanding.

An example of awareness–driving a car without cosciousness then passing an accident and all of a sudden we are conscious. Passing the same shopping center all your life and never being conscious of the shoe store until one day you want to buy shoes and look in the yellow pages to discover the shoe store you were aware of but never conscious of. Your daughter introduces you to her new boy friend and you are not really conscious of the boy until later your daughter informs you that they will be married. You now become conscious of this young man.

I see what you’re getting at, but the same mistake identified above is still present: the phrase, ‘driving a car without consciousness’ is just not logically plausible, for example. I do not mean to say your central point is invalid - certainly most everyone can at least grasp your general meaning - but if the goal is to present a fundamental truism, one’s choice of words needs to be much more fine-tuned.

Bluntly: ‘consciousness’ and ‘awareness’ are synonyms, virtually no matter how much time you spend explaining their supposed differences, and one is never ‘without consciousness’ unless in a coma, a non-dreaming sleep, or dead - even then, questions!

You need to rethink this and present the idea in different terms; that is the crux of the above objection, if I may speak for Faust, not that you’re ‘wrong’ about anyting, per se.

Day - I think you may speak for me. But I actually have reservations about the entire pyramid. You’re right - not that I at this point know if anything is wrong, but because I don’t know what the terms mean, or what their relationship to each other is.

Intuitively, understanding as a creation of the thinker seems about right.


What coberst posited about the operation of a motor vehicle is accurate, it has happened many times for myself, and just about anyone I have ever known, we all do it.

Consciousness is simply sensory perception. Awareness is the ability of the perceiving entity to place itself within those stimulations, and act upon them with organized thought, not react out of instinct.

coberst, you and I will agree greatly on the subject of understanding, or more aptly, the lack of it in our species, and the failure of the education system to properly focus on this aspect of cognition.

Mastriani - If I may speak for Daybreak, we are talking about the english language, and not the school system.


Seeing as it is coberst’s thread, and he brought out the issue of education, it is within limits to address it as such.

For reference, english is taught by the education system, and as such, also shows the failure, with respect to the institutionalized system, and is still within limits to be discoursed upon.


Like many words conscious has many meanings

Conscious — perceiving, apprehending or noticing with a degree of controlled thought or observation

Conscious—capable of or marked by thought, will, design, or perception

My use of the word is the first definition.

Awareness–faces in a crowd.

Consciousness—smile, a handshake, and curiosity.

Knowledge—long talks sharing desires and ambitions.

Understanding—a best friend bringing constant April.

Thanks for the assist. Generally I get only negativity. I think most people regard the Internet as combat. So many have a spear in there hand as they approach their PC.

When I speak about the Internet I am not speaking about this forum. I post on many forums over many years. This forum is one of the better ones. I think that I have developed a formula and that is that the forums with many members has a very young membership and with that youth comes your standard misbehavior.

No sir, no spear in hand, even should we disagree.

Your writings are always interesting and thought provoking, which is the only premise which determines the need of our continued presence.

Mastriani, you mistake me. I have no objection to you, or anyone else discussing education. My point is that I was confused about the terminology being used. I specifically stated that I had no way of knowing if I had a more general objection. I know where english is taught. I also know (now) that coberst is using his own very special definitions. Which is fine. But it is not coberst’s thread, it is Ben’s.

Coberst - again, I was only asking. I am no child, by the way. If it is misbehaving to ask questions, I am guilty, however.

I’ll let you boys play. I mistook this for a philosophical topic - I see now that it is mere politics. Nothing wrong with that.


I tried to make it clear that my deragatory remarks about forums in general was not meant for this forum.

I did not mean my remarks to point at you.

Please accept my apology for this poor response on my part. I have been engaged in many forums where poor behavior is standard behavior. Such is not the case here.

Coberst, I appreciate the sentiment, but no apology is required. I think we both see now that I was assuming a rather standard dictionary meaning to your words. Probably if I had been around longer, I would have understood your meanings out of hand. And I do not think it a reasonable requirement that each poster include the entire history of his or her thought in each post. It was an honest question, however.

Your particular treatment here (of these words, I mean) is of no interest to me, which, of course, says something only about me.

Good tidings.