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#22650 - 07/06/07 12:27 PM Understanding: a way of seeing
coberst Offline
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Registered: 07/04/07
Posts: 369
Understanding: a way of seeing

Know is see. Understand is grasp. These are rather common metaphors. Such metaphors help us comprehend.

Empathy is a technique for understanding. We can try to understand another person by creating a means whereby we can ‘walk a mile in her shoes’. We can create analogies of what the other person experiences as a means for us to ‘put on their shoes’.

An artist may paint in the manner of Picasso, or perhaps in the manner of a Rembrandt, or perhaps in the manner of a Monet. These different forms of painting represent different ways of seeing. They represent a personal understanding which provides us with a prism for seeing.

Mathematics is a way of seeing. Mathematics is the science of pattern. Imagine a very elaborate Persian rug. Imagine that you have only a small fragment of that rug. Mathematics offers a means whereby you might be able to construct the rest of that rug to look exactly like the original. Math can perhaps create a formula for the pattern in the rug such that you can, by following that math formula, exactly duplicate the pattern from which that rug was created.

Understanding is a stage of comprehension whereby a person can interject them self into the pattern through imagination. ‘Understanding is math’ because it helps the individual to ‘walk in the shoes’ of some other entity.

Understanding might correctly, in my opinion, be considered to be a personal paradigm. Knowledge is about truth but understanding is about meaning. Understanding is a means for placing the individual within the picture including the entity about which the individual wishes to become very familiar.

Understanding is a creative process that extends knowing. Understanding may or may not enhance the truth quality of comprehension. Picasso and Monet may paint the same object but have they captured the truth of that object.?

Is truth anything beyond what is normally considered to be truth?

Is truth anything beyond what humans have normalized (standardized)?

Does understanding aid or deter normalization?

Are you normal? Would you rather be normal than right?

Dare to be abnormal, but not foolish!

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#22653 - 07/06/07 02:04 PM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: coberst]
TheFallibleFiend Offline
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This is closer to philosophy than science, I think, and should probably be under the "not quite science" portion. Just a thought.

Nevertheless it's interesting, namely because it's thought along these lines that underpins scientific inquiry.

"Understanding ... [is] a personal paradigm."
Agree.

"Knowledge is about truth but understanding is about meaning."

I'm not sure that knowledge has any different relation to the truth than does understanding. Our observations are like pieces of an immense, detailed jigsaw puzzle that have been scattered by a hurricane. We have to look all over for the few we find. We invariably miss the obvious piece stuck in our collar. Our knowledge is the way we have put the few pieces we find together. Our understanding is the picture we think we see emerging.

Neither knowledge nor understanding nor even observation is Truth - and yet, in some sense, all of them (even when they are false) are a kind of truth (small t).

"Understanding is a means for placing the individual within the picture including the entity about which the individual wishes to become very familiar."
I don't think this is a good definition of understanding - at least, I'm having trouble assimilating it, given my own preconceptions of these terms.

Certainly truth is something other than what we have standardized. Probably the best anyone can hope for is understanding. However, people mean different things when they say they "understand" a thing. Some people fit two pieces together and say they understand. Others thing having a LOT of disconnected pieces is understanding. Others have forced some pieces together, the intellectual equivalent of peeling of the colored stickers to solve Rubik's cube.


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#22654 - 07/06/07 03:29 PM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: TheFallibleFiend]
coberst Offline
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Registered: 07/04/07
Posts: 369
Fiend

You are correct, just about everyone has an opinion about the meaning of 'understand' and that is why I think it is important to give this concept due consideration. I would say that the way to examine this concept is if you experience something that I call 'understanding' and do you also experience something we all call knowing. If so do you not find that the concepts are differnt in kind?

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#22655 - 07/06/07 04:08 PM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: coberst]
redewenur Offline
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coberst: "If so do you not find that the concepts [understanding and knowing] are different in kind?"

Try this for size:

To understand is to identify new information as being consistent with our existing information (the process of assimilation), or to derive such new information by deduction (the deduction of conclusions from premises). I would call the information itself "knowledge".

Having said that, semantics being what it is, "knowledge" has a broader meaning when used in the context of "to have a knowledge of" where it encompasses not only information, but also understanding.
_____

TFF: "Neither knowledge nor understanding nor even observation is Truth - and yet, in some sense, all of them (even when they are false) are a kind of truth (small t)."

Yes, I go along with that. Our understanding is limited by the availability of information, and by the limited assimilative and deductive capacities of the human mind.
_________________________
"Time is what prevents everything from happening at once" - John Wheeler

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#22657 - 07/06/07 06:31 PM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: redewenur]
coberst Offline
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Registered: 07/04/07
Posts: 369

Comprehension is a hierarchy, resembling a pyramid, with awareness at the base followed by consciousness, succeeded by knowing, with understanding at the pinnacle.

I have concocted a metaphor set that might relay my comprehension of the difference between knowing and understanding.

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.


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 scientists, with their paradigms, are puzzle solvers. Puzzles require ingenuity but seldom understanding.

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#22659 - 07/07/07 05:56 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: coberst]
Ellis Offline
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coberst- Please could you define "seeing", and also "normal" versus "abnormal"?

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#22660 - 07/07/07 08:39 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: coberst]
redewenur Offline
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Posts: 1840
coberst: "Understanding is a long step beyond knowing"

Yes, I think you're right. Whilst both knowledge and understanding can only ever be limited and localised, the understanding that emerges from knowledge is arguably even less complete. My old biology teacher (many decades ago, alas), used to say, "OK, so you think you know it. Now ask yourself if you understand it". There's more to understanding than simply accumulating facts.

In my view, as I said before, understanding arises through the assimilation of both given and deduced information into a coherent and meaningful vision of reality. I also think that the gulf between information ('data packets', if you like) and understanding, is due not only to an ever incomplete 'data set' but also to limitations of the human mind.

I think we can safely assume that consciousness exists in other lifeforms on this planet, and that some of those lifeforms are intelligent and have a capacity for accumulating knowledge and - dare I say it - understanding. However, given that as true, there will come a point somewhere down the scale of sentient lifeforms at which understanding is totally absent. Data may be stored and utilised without any understanding being present, as in the (presumed) case of an ant. I think it's most probable that human understanding is, likewise, limited by physiology. There may well be other lifeforms (ET) with physiologies that allow a much greater measure of consciousness and understanding.
_________________________
"Time is what prevents everything from happening at once" - John Wheeler

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#22661 - 07/07/07 08:51 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: Ellis]
coberst Offline
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Registered: 07/04/07
Posts: 369
Originally Posted By: Ellis
coberst- Please could you define "seeing", and also "normal" versus "abnormal"?


We use the common metaphor 'know is see' and this is how I mean 'see' here. See what I mean? It is like looking at these pictures wherein we see somthing entirely different if we take a different perspective.

As I use 'normal' here we would have to take a poll to determine what is normal. Normal is what most everyone things is right. It was normal 4 years ago to think that America should invade Iraq. Today it is abnormal to think that America was correct to invade Iraq. Most people strive to be normal.

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#22665 - 07/08/07 01:47 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: coberst]
terrytnewzealand Offline
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Loc: Whangarei New Zealand
Coberst wrote:

"They represent a personal understanding which provides us with a prism for seeing".

We can only see the world through the eyes we develop as we grow up. Therefore our understanding is a result of our upbringing.

Also:

"Comprehension is a hierarchy, resembling a pyramid, with awareness at the base followed by consciousness, succeeded by knowing, with understanding at the pinnacle".

Now this idea of a pyramidial hierarchy is probably a product of your experience of the above. I don't think you can really regard any one as being more important than the three others. All our ideas are the product of the interaction of all four. In fact I'm sure others at SAGG might like to have more or less than four in any similar pyramid they might conceive.

Another of your comments:

"It was normal 4 years ago to think that America should invade Iraq".

I'm probably abnormal then. Mind you we weren't exposed here to the massive propaganda being delivered to US and British citizens.

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#22667 - 07/08/07 02:22 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: terrytnewzealand]
redewenur Offline
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OK, let's take an example of the common usage of the words:

I think the majority of the British were 'aware' of the lack of a sound reason for the invasion of Iraq. I guess they had sufficient 'knowledge' of the issues to form a judgement based on their own 'understanding'. Mr. Blair must surely have been 'conscious' of the fact that his premiership was about to run aground.

We all know what the words mean in the context of sentences like those, but it's a different matter when we try to dig deeper. We are faced with the fact that we don't know much about the mind. We don't even know what consciousness is. So it's very easy to get tied in knots over this subject. In our day and age, it's still very much a philosophical debate. Maybe in a hundred years from now, it will be firmly within the domain of science.
_________________________
"Time is what prevents everything from happening at once" - John Wheeler

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#22669 - 07/08/07 11:55 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: redewenur]
coberst Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 07/04/07
Posts: 369
Originally Posted By: redewenur
coberst: "If so do you not find that the concepts [understanding and knowing] are different in kind?"

Try this for size:

To understand is to identify new information as being consistent with our existing information (the process of assimilation), or to derive such new information by deduction (the deduction of conclusions from premises). I would call the information itself "knowledge".

Having said that, semantics being what it is, "knowledge" has a broader meaning when used in the context of "to have a knowledge of" where it encompasses not only information, but also understanding.
_____

TFF: "Neither knowledge nor understanding nor even observation is Truth - and yet, in some sense, all of them (even when they are false) are a kind of truth (small t)."

Yes, I go along with that. Our understanding is limited by the availability of information, and by the limited assimilative and deductive capacities of the human mind.


Carl Sagan has been quoted as having said "Understanding is a kind of ecstasy". I have had learning experiences that resemble this ecastasy that Sagan speaks of. It seems to me that understanding happens rarely and is a confluence of emotion and intellection.

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#22670 - 07/08/07 11:59 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: terrytnewzealand]
coberst Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 07/04/07
Posts: 369
Originally Posted By: terrytnewzealand
Coberst wrote:

"They represent a personal understanding which provides us with a prism for seeing".

We can only see the world through the eyes we develop as we grow up. Therefore our understanding is a result of our upbringing.

Also:

"Comprehension is a hierarchy, resembling a pyramid, with awareness at the base followed by consciousness, succeeded by knowing, with understanding at the pinnacle".

Now this idea of a pyramidial hierarchy is probably a product of your experience of the above. I don't think you can really regard any one as being more important than the three others. All our ideas are the product of the interaction of all four. In fact I'm sure others at SAGG might like to have more or less than four in any similar pyramid they might conceive.

Another of your comments:

"It was normal 4 years ago to think that America should invade Iraq".

I'm probably abnormal then. Mind you we weren't exposed here to the massive propaganda being delivered to US and British citizens.


I agree that what we perceive, know, and understand are based upon prior experience. I think that our schools and colleges have never taught us how to uderstand and it is possible that a person could lead their whole life and never experienced such an intellectual and emotional experience.


Edited by coberst (07/08/07 12:00 PM)

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#22672 - 07/08/07 07:34 PM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: coberst]
redewenur Offline
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Registered: 02/14/07
Posts: 1840
Originally Posted By: coberst
...it is possible that a person could lead their whole life and never experienced such an intellectual and emotional experience.

coberst: "I think that our schools and colleges have never taught us how to uderstand and it is possible that a person could lead their whole life and never experienced such an intellectual and emotional experience"

A kind of understanding:
In the early years of life, we are flooded with information that older kids take for granted. One of the things we're taught is subtraction. To begin with, it's not easy to see what 5 minus 6 means. How can such a thing be? If there are only 5 cookies on the plate, how can we take away 6? Then, eventually, by applying the concept to suitable examples in concrete reality, we understand it. Speaking for myself, I don't recall ever having an associated emotional experience with such a realisation - unless you count the relief that came with knowing that I wouldn't have to redo loads of sums with red crosses beside them!

A tale of a different kind of understanding:
Then there's a different kind of understanding. When I was in my late teens, I wanted to understand what existence meant - I mean I really wanted to know - you know, "life, the universe and everthing", as Douglas Adams put it. Actually, it was driving me nuts. I 'knew' that there was nothing to reality beyond the concrete. I 'knew' that everthing 'real' could be explained in concrete terms, and that anything 'other' was unreal. My difficulty was in the fact that it wasn't enough to justify (for me) the universe and everything in it. There was an absence of a profound purpose. I set about trying to see the world through the eyes of people who claimed differently. I attended various church services - Methodist, Evangelist, Catholic and so on - and Quaker meetings. I read all kinds of literature - the Bible, the Koran, Madam Blavatsky's works on Theosophy, Hindu texts, Buddhists texts (Indian, Tibetan, Japanese), various philosophers. I listened to many debates on TV and radio. The net product: an abundance of knowledge...and no understanding.

Then, one day...I picked up a couple of books on yoga. One was on raja yoga, the other on hatha yoga. After spending a few days getting the theoretical gist of it, I began with the hatha yoga exercises/meditation (half-hour mornings, hour and a half evenings) and established a compatible regime of living. What I experienced during the periods of meditation was an intimate awareness of the 'other', which had eluded me through all my studious efforts. Within a very short time, people who had been a real pain in the butt became very likeable. The days were physically brighter. The world changed. There was a vibrant peace. My mind had opened to the 'other'. This, indeed, was an understanding that had concomitant emotional content of the most sublime nature.
_________________________
"Time is what prevents everything from happening at once" - John Wheeler

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#22679 - 07/09/07 09:35 PM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: redewenur]
coberst Offline
Senior Member

Registered: 07/04/07
Posts: 369
Understanding is a rare experience and a very important one. I especially think that it is imporatant for young people to study something hard enough to have an understanding experience so that they will recognize its importance.

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#22680 - 07/09/07 10:54 PM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: coberst]
Tim Offline
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Registered: 08/16/06
Posts: 192
Loc: California
"I agree that what we perceive, know, and understand are based upon prior experience. I think that our schools and colleges have never taught us how to uderstand and it is possible that a person could lead their whole life and never experienced such an intellectual and emotional experience."

"Understanding is a rare experience and a very important one. I especially think that it is imporatant for young people to study something hard enough to have an understanding experience so that they will recognize its importance."

Two great quotes by coberst, hitting the bull's-eye. Good job.

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#22687 - 07/10/07 05:54 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: Tim]
Ellis Offline
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There is no such thing as 'normal' or 'abnormal'. as that which is totally 'normal' to one person can be seen to be blazingly 'abnormal' to another. Majority concensus does not infer normality, as to the minority it would still appear as abnormal.

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#22688 - 07/10/07 07:44 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: Ellis]
redewenur Offline
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Ellis: "There is no such thing as 'normal' or 'abnormal'."

The words "normal" and "abnormal" are normal smile

I mean, they have real meaning. If your doctor tells you that you have an abnormally high blood pressure, it's wise to face the fact of that abnormality. And at what time do office workers finish work? - If the tube train (subway) crush-hour is anything to go by, I'd say "normally" about 5pm. If I saw an advertisement for an office job with "abnormal" hours, I'd certainly anticipate that it would be something other than a five day week, 9 till 5 job.

I think almost any standard use of either of the words is acceptable, so long as the frames of reference are well defined. For example, living in Thailand, I am culturally "abnormal". That doesn't imply that I'm in any way wrong or inferior. It means exactly what it says: outside of the norm. There are certain uses of the words that have been abandoned owing to stigmatisation, but that's a fault of society rather than semantics.

To borrow from Albert E., everything is relative! It's essential that the frames of reference are clear. For example, if someone were to ask me what hours I usually work at the office, I might reply, " 4pm till 10pm are my normal hours". It's clear what I mean by 'normal'; and it's also clearly understood that such office hours are abnormal in a typical modern society.
_________________________
"Time is what prevents everything from happening at once" - John Wheeler

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#22698 - 07/12/07 12:26 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: redewenur]
Ellis Offline
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Registered: 01/08/07
Posts: 1490
Loc: Australia
It's those semantics again, and of course you are correct in saying that there has to be a sense of normal or abnormal in scientific and linear type measurements, BUT the way in which the terminology is used by corberst is a human-value judgement --

Normal is what most everyone things (sic) is right.

When considering the human community that is so NOT what normal is. There are many deviations within the definition of normality. To think otherwise is to allow yourself to surrender to totalitarianism of the worst sort! Think about it--- you are different from me and my friend, so you are abnormal- so go away or I will hurt you--- or possibly worse-- hang around and I will patronise you.

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#22701 - 07/12/07 02:37 AM Re: Understanding: a way of seeing [Re: Ellis]
redewenur Offline
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Registered: 02/14/07
Posts: 1840
There's a potential for 'normal' and 'abnormal' in everything - and in most things the potential is realised! However, let's get on with those semantics: since the word 'abnormal' has come to be associated with 'alarm' and 'anxiety', a better word is 'deviant'. So, we can talk about 'social deviations' rather than 'social abnormalities'.

"Normal is what most everyone thinks (sic) is right."

- Yes, this is the whole point. The blanket view that 'normal' = 'right' and 'deviant = wrong' is nothing less than a social disease.

"Think about it--- you are different from me and my friend, so you are abnormal- so go away or I will hurt you--- or possibly worse-- hang around and I will patronise you."

- You state the problem well. That is the common response to deviations from social norms - ethnicity and sexual orientation being the first to come to mind.
_________________________
"Time is what prevents everything from happening at once" - John Wheeler

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