How Understanding Can be Defined
Updated: Jan 15
"Understanding is limited to those that possess such faculties" -- John Duran
The Mental Effort We Invest in Making Sense
Understanding is a mental process like any other cognitive ability we have. It requires first acknowledging the object, processing its details, and then analyzing those details to expand our acknowledgement to a state where optimal, if not complete, understanding is reached. The more complex the object is, the more mental effort and energy we will need to understand it as best as we are capable.
Any understanding, as mentioned, first requires some degree of acknowledgement of the object at hand. Without any acknowledgement whatsoever, understanding cannot technically begin. Even if, for example, you do not recognize a country you do not believe has the right to exist, you still acknowledge it by calling it by name. Acknowledgement therefore does not have to be only on a realistic level, as we are able to acknowledge objects as existent even if we think they are mere illusions or works of fiction. Deny something as existant, and you will not be able to acknolwedge it, and thus, fail to understand it.
The Three Pillars of Understanding
Things are understood by three levels:
Encourage yourself to respect what you do not understand. Keeping an open mind is key to understanding something, no matter how much you disagree with it.
After acknowledgment is reached, that the object at hand exists as either reality or illusion, we must process the information it contains. Processing data is the allows us to understand its importance, store it in our memory, and apply it whenever necessary.
An application of information in a way that matches our plans, can be seen an an expression of wisdom. Acknowledging the existence of a book, for example, does not make us understand its content instantly. Therefore we must read the book, or process any other information about it, similarly to a computer, in order to better know it as more than just a perceived object.
The search for information about it is called research. Information that is found from research is called a finding. Information processing allows us to better understand the very thing we acknowledged.
Likewise, without analyzing what we have read, we cannot, theoretically, reach a state of understanding, as understanding requires a conclusion to be reached. And in order to reach a conclusion, whether it is true or not, we must analyze the received information. A piece of knowledge that comes from understanding is called an insight.
Analysis does not have to be complex. This short video on "The Empire Strikes Back" is an example for a short analysis. The complexity of an analysis is often dependent on the complexity of the object itself, or of the specific component/s being analyzed.
There are many times when it can be superficial and/or quick. For example, if I find that I have traffic on my site, I don't have to do a lot of thinking in order to reach a conclusion about the nature of the traffic, AKA, its sources, its average duration, its specific locations within the website and so on. It is more philosophical and/or academic issues and subjects that require further, more complex verbal analysis.
Other than that, analysis is a more-careful examination of a piece of information, made as an operation to get a finer understanding of it. Students and apprentices may be required to examine whatever they're studying in order to, well, study it better. Not just process the subject at hand, just so they will write it down on an exam and forget it afterwards.
The Elusive Pursuit of Truth
It is important to note that understanding does not have to be correct, or at least completely correct, in order to be achieved. Much of our understanding is up for interpretation, if not widely disagreed upon, because understanding largely depends on the conclusion we reach, and that conclusion can be subjective. An incorrect understanding of something or someone is an inaccurate one. The more illogical we are, the harder it will be for us to understand reality correctly, AKA, with fine accuracy.
True knowledge, however, is objective and is not necessarily related to the three levels that are required for the achievement of understanding (as it's not have to be subjected for subjection). That is though understanding is possible for true knowledge as well, assuming that said knowledge is indeed true, and not false or deceptive. "True knowledge" is data that's pure of subjective bias, is about the world beyond the mind, and as such it is quite difficult to reach it and that's an understatement.
In other words, understanding can be correct or incorrect, and our own degree of understanding of something does not guarantee true knowledge, even though true knowledge indeed requires understanding. It is a one-sided connection—"A" necessarily requires "B," but "B" does not always lead to "A." For example, I can understand that atheism is a religion, but that does not mean that atheism is indeed a religion, just because I understand it as such.
We can deceive ourselves by not being too critical of our own understanding. We mustn't simply regard our current level of understanding to be sufficent, or we would make false conclusions of present data. When we acknowledge our understanding as too incompetent currently, we can then work on improving it.
Understanding is a tool for navigating reality. If it's faulty then it should be fixed regardless of what we feel about it. That is, of course, if we got the guts to admit it without being insulted that we have problems (as everyone is flawed either way, it's only a question of whether or not we wish to improve).
Bonus: Associations are also very beneficial for our understanding, as they heavily influence how people perceive and react to an idea.