Understanding: The Challenge

Understanding: The Challenge

Understanding is a concept that is difficult to communicate. Everyone knows what knowing is so it presents no problem in communication regarding what is known. This fact I think points toward the reality of ‘understanding’; it is a very personal and very subjective phenomenon.

I have recently had the experience of digging out the root system of a tree that I had cut down. I think this experience might be useful as an analogy for communicating my understanding of ‘understanding’. I would say that cutting down a tree might be comparable to ‘knowing’ and digging out the root system might be comparable to ‘understanding. Not everyone has had the pleasure of digging out tree roots but I suspect few will have any difficulty in immediately understanding the analogy.

I think that it is appropriate to describe philosophy as a domain of knowledge directed toward understanding. I suspect that understanding what mathematics is really about is very difficult but knowing addition, subtraction, division, calculus, etc. are relatively simple. I would say understanding the nature of mathematics is a matter of understanding but ‘doing’ math is a matter of skilful application of knowledge.

I suspect you could ask any engineer if s/he knows math and they would quickly reply, yes. I think they would be far more hesitant in such a reply if you asked them if they understood math. We can look out our plane window when flying over the Grand Canyon and truthfully say we know the Grand Canyon. We might spend three months living in and exploring the length of the Grand Canyon before we would be willing to say we understood the Grand Canyon.

Understanding Newton’s Mechanics is much easier, I think, than understanding Quantum Mechanics. The parameters Newton deals with are such things as distance, time, momentum, acceleration, velocity, etc., all parameters that we live with in our daily lives. From what little I know about QM no one really expresses their confidence that they understand it even though they have the knowledge necessary to predict the behavior of the phenomenon with startling accuracy.

If I am understanding you correctly, your argument seems to lie with making the distincting between understanding-that-comes-from-experience, and understanding-that-comes-from-learning.

Experiential Understanding is, in my humble opinion, always the most genuine of all knowledge. People are meant to learn best by doing what it is they are learning. It is not enough to merely study a textbook on how to perform multiplication. One must also demonstrate and, in the process, exercise his skill by personally doing multipication problems. Only then, can he be certain that he has grasped a true understanding of multiplication.

Did I understand your point correctly, or did I completely miss it? :confused: :wink:

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” (Jimi Hendrix)

Better yet, Knowledge Speaks, but it is wisdom that causes one to put knowledge in to practice. :wink:


I consider reading a book to be experience just as reparing an automobile is experience. I suspect each is important to the mechanic. I suspect some experiences are better than others in different matters. I suspect that reading Hamlet might help one understand human nature better than talking with a man on the street. I am confident that having a child will leave the mother with a great deal more understanding than will reading a book but I guess the Doctor will find that helping the mother and reading the book to be of equal value.

Of course. In many situations, experience is simply not possible. But if experiential-learning is an option, I personaly find it to be a more effective tool for learning. There are always going to be some exceptions, though. :wink:

knowledge is a consequence of perception and reason, experience provokes thought, knowledge is gained through true judgement. could wisdom be the application of reason?aka decision making skills

Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand. … It is the doing that brings understanding and hopefully some wisdom.