Understanding Our Understanding

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"Thinking You Know Is The Single Worst Place In The Universe To Be… Because If You Really Know You Don't Need To Think You Know!" But what exactly does that mean?

To begin discussing understanding we first need to look at a simple equation. This is the actual fundamental reality behind understanding itself. It states that "Experience + Knowledge = Understanding". This means that to understand something we have to have both knowledge and experience to make it happen.

Of course, nothing in life is really that simple. What we really need is the "correct type of specific knowledge" and "proper experience" before we can actually get "specific understanding". If we have the wrong knowledge or experience then the understanding we end up with will not actually be understanding at all… it will be "false understanding". It is also possible that we could have good experience and knowledge and still end up with the wrong understanding. Simply because they were not the exact right ones needed.

What makes things even more complex, and causes all sorts of problems when it comes to understanding, is that people think that knowledge can provide experience. That if you read a lot about a subject then you will be able to understand that subject. This isn't accurate… but it isn't false either. What you will in truth end up with is an intellectual understanding of the information. Even though both contain the word understanding… they are very distant cousins at best.

Lets take a moment to look at a simple example to help you wrap your head around this. If you read every book published on pain does that mean you know what it's like to have a ruptured disk in your low back? Does it give you the ability to know what the pain of child birth feels like? Of course not! This is intellectual understanding. You do indeed have the knowledge gained from the information and have the experience of reading it all… and thus you can understand the "information". Never having actually been there and done that however… you can't even begin to imagine what those things are actually like.

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The best that we could do there is take the worst kind of pain we have ever felt and tried to imagine what it would be like based on that. The problem is that we can't say that an abscessed tooth is 2.5 times more painful than a broken arm. That a heart attack is 3 times the pain of a stroke. There is no real way to say how anything compares because there is no comparison. There may be similar elements… but that does not make them anywhere near the same. Understanding works in the same way.

Now the interesting part of this situation is that the two elements, knowledge and experience, do also come with additional options as well. Knowledge for example can come from any source, any location, or any situation. It can even be stored in the mind or forgotten and still be useable. In modern society knowledge is one of the easiest things to get. This means that knowledge actually can require little to no effort to get. This also means we can very easily misinterpret that knowledge and turn it into something else entirely. Something that would of course distort any understanding we were to get from using it.

Experience on the other hand is very specific… it is a defined, non-alterable event or occurrence. Yet, even though it can't actually be changed our perception of it surely can. We can also misinterpret that experience and try and make it into something it isn't… at least inside our own mind. What makes experience even more complex however is that it can also create knowledge. This means that you can experience something, gain knowledge through that experience, and thus open the door to understanding. So in a sense experience can equal understanding… at least if you only look at the surface level.

This sadly is one of the most common reasons people "think they know" something when in fact they don't. They truly believe that the experience they have is enough. However, as we said earlier we need the "correct type of specific knowledge" and "proper experience" before we can actually get "specific understanding". What's happening here is that we have similar experience and knowledge that we are using to create specific understanding. It just isn't the same thing. The understanding we "think" we gained from these things simply isn't accurate.

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Lets look at the world of food to explain this. If we want to bake a cake we need flour and sugar (as well as other ingredients) to make it happen. If we replace the sugar with salt, which looks and feels exactly the same, we will end up with something totally different… and that tastes really bad. However, if we also replace the flour with sand then you wouldn't even be able to call the "thing" that you end up with a baked-good… let alone a cake. Of course flour and sugar can also be used to make pies, cookies, donuts, eclairs, pastry cream, and hundred of other products that each come in many countless different varieties and types. None of which is specifically a "cake" even though they contain similar ingredients and have many similar elements.

What all of this tells us is that no matter what we think, feel or believe… to truly have a real understanding of something we need the right pieces to make it happen. That even if those pieces are similar, related, or almost identical… we will end up with something that is not what we think it is. We will end up with a totally different understanding… something that may also turn out to be completely false.

Lets take a moment to look back at the saying we used at the start of this to show you why all of this is so important. "Thinking You Know Is The Single Worst Place In The Universe To Be… Because If You Really Know You Don't Need To Think You Know!"

What this is really saying is that if you have a false understanding that you claim to be real and are unwilling to allow it to ever be changed, altered, updated, etc… then you will never really understand. You will forever be bound by the false understanding that you take as being real… even though it isn't real!

This is one of the many reasons why Plato said things like "The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living". If we never examine our life, what we're doing, what we think,  etc… it can be anything we want it to be. It can be as real or delusional as we are willing to allow it to be. We will claim it's all real, we will even defend it as being real… and in turn will sell out, alter, ruin, or even destroy our life because of it. All without any idea that what we are holding onto so tightly isn't even real in the first place! All of which means we will actually destroy our lives to hold onto NOTHING! All because we didn't understand that our understanding wasn't actually real.

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A final note that you should also remember… "Anything Real Will Stand Up To Criticism And Challenge. Anything Fake Will Never Be Allowed To Be Criticized Or Challenged." This tells us very specifically that if there is something in our lives we are unwilling to look at, that we don't want to face, or that we will never allow anyone to challenge in any way… is that way because we actually believe that if it is ever challenged it will be proven to be fake. This is why so few people are willing to explore their own lives… because they know all too well that the life they "think" they are living has nothing to do with the life they are "actually" living!

This in a nutshell is why "thinking you know" is such an incredibly horrid and destructive thing! One that should be avoided… even though we live in a world that does everything to embrace it and call it "real"!

You are worth more than that… a lot more!

Copyright February 2009 - All Rights Reserved


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