Understanding

[do action=”virtue” virtue=”Understanding”/] [do action=”vfdictstart” title=”understanding”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”mental process of a person who comprehends; comprehension; personal interpretation: My understanding of the word does not agree with yours.”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”intellectual faculties; intelligence; mind: a quick understanding.”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”superior power of discernment; enlightened intelligence: With her keen understanding she should have become a leader.”/] [do action=”vfdictitem” contents=”knowledge of or familiarity with a particular thing; skill in dealing with or handling something: an understanding of accounting practice.”/] [do action=”vfdictend”/]

The word “understanding” is translated from the Hebrew word “tebunah,” meaning “to separate, to distinguish; hence, to discern, to mark, to understand, all which depend on the power of separating, distinguishing, discriminating; specially, to discern, perceive; to discern mentally, to understand; insight, understanding”; “discretion, reason, skillfulness, understanding, wisdom”.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the understanding we have lost in information?

[do action=”vfauthor” author=”T. S. Eliot’s”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Much learning does not teach understanding.” author=”Heraclitus”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Modern Man is the victim of the very instruments he values most. Every gain in power, every mastery of natural forces, every scientific addition to knowledge, has proved potentially dangerous, because it has not been accompanied by equal gains in self-understanding and self-discipline.” author=”Lewis Mumford”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”We apprehend material things by our bodily senses, but it is not by our bodily senses that we form a judgment on them. For we have another sense, far more important than any bodily sense, the sense of the inner man, by which we apprehend what is just and what is unjust, the just by means of the ‘idea’ which is presented to the intellect, the unjust by the absence of it. The working of this sense has nothing to do with the mechanism of the eye, ear, smell, taste, or touch. It is through this sense that I am assured of my existence; and through this I love both existence and knowledge, and am sure that I love them.” author=”Augustine”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Without an understanding of myth or religion, without an understanding of the relationship between destruction and creation, death and rebirth, the individual suffers the mysteries of life as meaningless mayhem alone.” author=”Marion Woodman”/]

What is Understanding?

Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object. Understanding is a relation between the knower and an object of understanding. Understanding implies abilities and dispositions with respect to an object of knowledge sufficient to support intelligent behavior. An understanding is the limit of a conceptualization. To understand something is to have conceptualized it to a given measure.

Examples:

  1. One understands the weather if one is able to predict and to give an explanation of some of its features, etc.
  2. A psychiatrist understands another person’s anxieties if he/she knows that person’s anxieties, their causes, and can give useful advice on how to cope with the anxiety.
  3. A person understands a command if he/she knows who gave it, what is expected by the issuer, and whether the command is legitimate, and whether one understands the speaker.
  4. One understands a reasoning, an argument, or a language if one can consciously reproduce the information content conveyed by the message.
  5. One understands a mathematical concept if one can solve problems using it, especially problems that are not similar to what one has seen before.

Is understanding definable?

Yes, albeit with difficulty. The easiest way to define understanding is to do so in respect of specific relationships. For examples one can define the concept in the context of trust between two individuals.

To understand someone or something, is to possess enough information about the person or thing to be able to accurately explain their unique behaviors and characteristics, accommodate their differences, or display tolerance and compassion in one’s actions or judgement towards them on the basis of the insight that the information possessed provides into their reality. He therefore defined understanding as “The successful sense-making or accurate synthesis of information relating to an entity (a person, an object, a concept, or a phenomenon) that permits a justified explanation of the characteristics, behaviors and events associated with the entity.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Divine verities should not enter the heart through the understanding, but the understanding through the heart.” author=”Blaise Pascal”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The human understanding is no dry light, but receives infusion from the will and affections; which proceed sciences which may be called ”sciences as one would.” For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and infect the understanding.” author=”Francis Bacon”/]

Understanding

Understanding implies an intimate knowledge, for “intelligere” [to understand] is the same as “intus legere” [to read inwardly]. This is clear to anyone who considers the difference between intellect and sense, because sensitive knowledge is concerned with external sensible qualities, whereas intellective knowledge penetrates into the very essence of a thing, because the object of the intellect is “what a thing is.”

Now there are many kinds of things that are hidden within, to find which human knowledge has to penetrate within so to speak. Thus, under the accidents lies hidden the nature of the substantial reality, under words lies hidden their meaning; under likenesses and figures the truth they denote lies hidden (because the intelligible world is enclosed within as compared with the sensible world, which is perceived externally), and effects lie hidden in their causes, and vice versa. Hence we may speak of understanding with regard to all these things.

Since, however, human knowledge begins with the outside of things as it were, it is evident that the stronger the light of the understanding, the further can it penetrate into the heart of things. Now the natural light of our understanding is of finite power; wherefore it can reach to a certain fixed point. Consequently man needs a supernatural light in order to penetrate further still so as to know what it cannot know by its natural light: and this supernatural light which is bestowed on man is called the gift of understanding.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Place is so important to understanding the past. Without an understanding of the past, what good are we for the future?” author=”Catherine Dean”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”There is first the literature of knowledge, and secondly, the literature of power. The function of the first is–to teach; the function of the second is–to move, the first is a rudder, the second an oar or a sail. The first speaks to the mere discursive understanding; the second speaks ultimately, it may happen, to the higher understanding or reason, but always through affections of pleasure and sympathy.” author=”Thomas De Quincey”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Furious activity is no substitute for understanding.” author=”H. H. Williams”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Each person has an ideal, a hope, a dream which represents the soul. We must give to it the warmth of love, the light of understanding and the essence of encouragement.” author=”Colby Dorr Dam”/]

Understanding

Only recently has cognitive science begun to suspect the importance of human feeling, emotion and affection (love) as the primal mover of the human understanding.

However, scientist/theologian Emanuel Swedenborg made this discovery centuries ago. His insightful ideas will become more important to future research in neuroscience and to forming a comprehensive multi-level cognitive theory that is broad enough to include a person-level framework.

“Love” is the key dynamic to formulating such a complex model.

Swedenborg showed how the three cognitive functions of knowledge, understanding and wisdom offer perfect illustrations, not only to the importance of love in human learning but that reaching higher levels of mind requires tapping into higher levels of the heart!

For instance, as children, we are first inspired to fill our memory-function with data from a love of acquiring knowledge. (Curiosity is nothing other than an appetite or affection, which are derivatives of love.) As we get older a new level of love can be activated—the love of understanding what we know.

Finally, when we mature into adults, we can obtain a new level of reasoning through a love to become wise. This noble level comes from a passion to recognize universal truths from the things we know and understand and to adopt these truths as principles to live by.

Virtue is the strategy to elevate the human mind and heart towards reaching wisdom. Having knowledge—or even understanding knowledge—does not lead to goodness. That is the main problem with our contemporary world, despite its increased knowledge of the world and technological advances. Most knowledge and discovery isn’t leading to understanding because it isn’t being driven by the love of goodness.

The world is in desperate need of men and women who are striving to become virtuous—not just those with “smarts.”

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” author=”Carl Jung”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”When we talk about understanding, surely it takes place only when the mind listens completely– the mind being your heart, your nerves, your ears- when you give your whole attention to it.” author=”Krishnamurti”/]

Little Understanding In the World Today

One of the reasons so many people are stumbling and falling today is because of ignorance…..ignorance not only as to how to live a “good” life, but also ignorance about themselves (understanding their own real motives, their own wrong dependencies, their own misconceived priorities, and so on). It is the virtue of understanding that reveals and exposes these things so that we can “deal” with them. When we are not receptive and work to grow this virtue, understanding is not allowed to operate, and we have a hard time finding our way. All of us have understanding lying in our laps, but many of us, because of busyness, distractions, hurts, unbelief, and other self-centered thoughts and emotions, don’t take the time to listen and hear what “understanding” is telling us. Instead, we depend upon our emotions, what others are telling us and what our circumstances are, and these are a poor substitute for “understanding”.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”God gives to every man virtue, temper, and understanding.” author=”William Cooper”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”A better world shall emerge based on faith and understanding.” author=”General Douglas MacArthur”/]

Knowledge vs Understanding vs Wisdom

We go through a series of steps in learning. First we are ignorant. Ignorant is not stupid, it is not knowing something. Ignorance is overcome by knowledge. Knowledge is knowing something about something. The more you know about something the more knowledgeable you become. Knowledge becomes understanding when we figure out how to apply the knowledge in a meaningful way. The more we figure something out the more understanding we have about something. Understanding requires a step of application. Once understanding is applied to something, then we have wisdom.

As the steps are accomplished, there are many sub-steps that finish a step. For example: If I want to drive a car and am ignorant, I have to do some study. Study may involve study of the steering wheel, the brake, the gear shifter, the clutch pedal, the gas pedal, the turn signal, the window crank, etc. To know a lot about these things means nothing if I have not understanding. Once I begin to see that the brake pedal and the clutch pedal have to be worked in harmony with the gas pedal, I am beginning to have understanding of this one sub-system of the car. After study and figuring out how they work together, I have to use them in harmony with each other. There is only one way to make that transition. Start trying the harmony in real application. The car may buck and stall a hundred times. This is not wisdom, this is still the last part of understanding and a beginning of wise application. After much practice and application, the motion of the car becomes smooth and the ride enjoyable. Wisdom on how to make the car go and stop is now a part of what I am.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” author=”Helen Keller”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Oh, how one wishes sometimes to escape from the meaningless dullness of human eloquence, from all those sublime phrases, to take refuge in nature, apparently so inarticulate, or in the wordlessness of long grinding labor, of sound sleep, of true music, or of a human understanding, rendered speechless by emotion!” author=”Boris Pasternak”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.” author=”John Lennon”/]

MY LESSON IN UNDERSTANDING

By Gen. Douglas MacArthur

One of my first classes at West Point was studying the time-space relationship later formulated by Einstein as his Theory of Relativity. The text was complex and, being unable to comprehend it, I committed the pages to memory. When I was called upon to recite, I solemnly reeled off almost word for word what the book said. Our instructor, Colonel Fieberger, looked at me somewhat quizzically and asked, “Do you understand this theory?” It was a bad moment for me, but I did not hesitate in replying, “No, sir.” You could have heard a pin drop. I braced myself and waited. And then the slow words of the professor: “Neither do I, Mr. MacArthur. Class dismissed.”

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” author=”Carl Jung”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”We pass the word around; we ponder how the case is put by different people, we read the poetry; we meditate over the literature; we play the music; we change our minds; we reach an understanding. Society evolves this way, not by shouting each other down, but by the unique capacity of unique, individual human beings to comprehend each other.” author=”Lewis Thomas”/]

What is Understanding?

What is understanding? Why is it important for us to have? Do you want understanding? These are important questions for the person wanting to grow in Virtue. They are also important if we want to live a life of peace and prosperity. Solomon gave the proverbs “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding”. According to “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance”, understanding is mentioned fifty four times in the bible. That should be a clue that they might be something we should pay attention to. The study of Virtue gives us instructions about how to live long and prosperous lives. The instructions given should cause us to ponder upon them. They should be ingested and digested and become a part of us. Virtue addresses all areas of our lives. If you want to prosper in business “understand” the instructions. If you want to have a good marriage, “understand” the instructions. To develop a good life, “understand” the instructions. There are too many people that either do not know the Virtues or are not wise enough to incorporate them into their lives. Their understanding has been clouded by the things of life and they are missing out on the better things of life. They are foolish and will regret their folly in the end. We make the decisions how we will live our life. Who or what we follow is up to us. We can lead a Virtuous life or we can follow our own understanding and live life our way. We can reap the benefits or suffer the consequences.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Without self-knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.” author=”George Gurdjieff”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed.” author=”Blaise Pascal”/]

The Difference Between Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding

Wisdom. The Greek term that best fits concept is “sophia”. In this context it means to have keen insight into the true nature of things. It is more on the theory side of knowing. Perhaps a good example is the ability to see through the sales pitch of a con artist, or a clever politician. Sophia also means skill, tact, or expertise in something.

Understanding. The Greek word is “phronesis”. It refers to good judgment, or the skill to govern our life in a careful, successful manner. This can be in the practical realm of living life. It is to be able to figure out the best decisions that will lead to the best results for our life. An example might be the skill to develop a step by step plan to build a business, or solve a practical problem, or to handle a relationship.

Knowledge. The best Greek word is “gnosis”. This concept involves the accumulation of information or facts about a certain object or thing. An example would be knowing a lot of facts about the doctrine of salvation, or maybe Marxism, or the Pittsburgh Steelers. The opposite of knowledge would be ignorance.

WHERE ARE AMERICA’S WISE-MEN?

If there is anything that we have learned recently it is that we need much more understanding if we are to prosper and avoid calamity in America.

Those who have trusted in themselves, and have trusted in market forces, have found themselves vulnerable to the greedy, the selfish, and the irresponsible. Human understanding is a broken reed. Secular reason by itself cannot prevent recklessness, or discern the motives in human hearts.

In the midst of unemployment, plunging profits, failed management, and government bailouts, there is a disconnect in Wall Street brokers and business executives who still think that they are entitled to millions in compensation when their clients, their employees, and the public have lost their jobs and substantial portions of their investments.

There is enough blame to go around. Most want to claim that it is the fault of someone else. Some economists think that if governments follow their advice and enact their solutions, that all would be well. But we have learned that life is much more complicated than they think.

Robert J. Samuelson, the distinguished Washington Post and Newsweek columnist has written a new book, The Great Inflation and its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence. Irwin M. Stelzer in his book review in The Weekly Standard writes that ‘a “central lesson” that Samuelson would have us learn from the Great Inflation and its policy responses to it is “that ambitious efforts to remedy obvious economic shortcomings can actually make things worse – that happened then, and it could happen now.

The law of unintended consequences went into overdrive and might again…What is relevant for our era is that these [failed] policies were not undertaken on ignorant whim. Rather, they embodied the thinking of the nation’s top economists, reflecting a broad consensus among their peers. It was the scholarly respectability of their ideas… that recommended them to political leaders and made them easier to sell to the public…..the Great Inflation’s intellectual godfathers were without exception men of impressive intelligence. They were credentialed by some of the nation’s outstanding universities…Academic pedigree alone is no guarantor of useful knowledge and wisdom.”

It is now obvious that we need more understanding than academics and politicians have. Where do we go to find it? How about one of the oldest and most widely circulated books on the planet?

Ancient Proverbs exhorts us to seek understanding and wisdom: “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.” (Proverbs 3:13-16)

Where can we find such understanding today?

The wise men, or the Magi were astrologers, soothsayers, magicians, advisors to kings, priests and prophets in their culture. They were seekers after truth, the intellectual elite of their day. Something must have grabbed their attention for them to have traveled so far from their privileged origins. They followed a star that portended the birth of a king of the Jews. They came to worship him with their treasures: gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They sacrificed their complacency, their reputation, their comfortable sinecure, in order to make this journey.

These mysterious figures represent for us the willingness to take a journey into the unknown, being led by what evidence they had, uncertain as it was, and to persevere until they reached the goal they had set before themselves. They wanted to get the wisdom, the understanding, the insight, that would reward them with answers to their questions and fulfillment for their souls.

If we are wise men and women we will be seekers after such truth, engaged on a quest to get wisdom and understanding. We will seek answers to the questions we have about life. We will be willing to move forward in our lives, from one stage to another, seeking to grow in faith, hope and love. It will be a search for meaning and purpose. We want to make sense of this life, we want to understand the universe, we want to know ourselves and what makes us tick, we want to contribute to human flourishing, we want to leave this place better for having lived in it, we want to feel that our lives have been valuable, and that we have matured and grown spiritually, that we have lived our lives to the full. We want to avoid making bad decisions. We want discernment on who to trust.

The Magi were restless to learn. They were willing to get on the road, and invest in a journey costly to them in time and treasure. They were willing to give their best to reach their goal. We are given the same opportunities, if not more than they had. We have the unprecedented opportunity to learn about every facet of life: about our mind, our emotions, our sensations, our will, our intuition, our attitudes, our behavior and our beliefs. Life is a journey in which we can grow in understanding and wisdom. We have the means to widen the range of our experiences. We can develop new and ever more healthy attitudes and emotions. We can sharpen our spiritual intuitions. We can learn to live virtuously.

Virtue gives us the ability to think right, and to live right. In Virtue is to be found all the answers to the questions of life. All the promises that understanding can bring are to be found in it.

If we want to get understanding then we all should act more like the wise men and let Virtue inform us and inspire us, and lead us away from America’s current “calamity of vice” and to the good life we all deserve.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”understanding, and action proceeding from understanding and guided by it, is one weapon against the world’s bombardment, the one medicine, the one instrument by which liberty, health, and joy may be shaped . . . in the individual, and in the race.” author=”James Agee”/]

Understanding is a Process:

  • Data comes about through research, creation, gathering, and discovery.
  • Information has context. Data is turned into information by organizing it so that we can easily draw conclusions. Data is also turned into information by “presenting” it, such as making it visual or auditory.
  • Knowledge has the complexity of experience, which come about by seeing it from different perspectives. This is why training and education is difficult – one cannot count on one person’s knowledge transferring to another. Knowledge is built from scratch by the learner through experience. Information is static, but knowledge is dynamic as it lives within us.
  • Wisdom is the ultimate level of understanding. As with knowledge, wisdom operates within us. We can share our experiences that create the building blocks for wisdom, however, it need to be communicated with even more understanding of the personal contexts of our audience than with knowledge sharing.

Often, the distinctions between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom continuum are not very discrete, thus the distinctions between each term often seem more like shades of gray, rather than black and white. Data and information deal with the past. They are based on the gathering of facts and adding context. Knowledge deals with the present. It becomes a part of us and enables to perform. However, when we gain wisdom, we start dealing with the future as we are now able to vision and design for what will be, rather than for what is or was.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”When there is freedom from mechanical conditioning, there is simplicity. The classical man is just a bundle of routine, ideas and tradition. If you follow the classical pattern, you are understanding the routine, the tradition, the shadow – you are not understanding yourself.” author=”Bruce Lee”/]

Knowing is Not the Same as Understanding: What is Understanding?

By Professor Y.K. Ip

Many students equate ‘to know’ with ‘to understand’. However, ‘knowing’ something is not the same as ‘understanding’ something. Worst still, students may take knowing the ‘definition’ of a term as understanding the ‘concept’ of the term, both of which are actually quite different.

Governed by the ‘learning as knowing’ metaphor, many students regard the teacher as a dispenser of information and themselves as the receiver of information. They aim to increase the amount of knowledge that they possess. They believe that learning outcomes can be evaluated by measuring the amount of knowledge acquired.

However, learning involves getting the ‘meaning’ of the knowledge. Meaning is generated by the interplay between new information and existing concepts in the students’ mind. Without existing concepts, information can have no meaning. Learning is achieved through students selecting relevant information and interpreting it through their existing knowledge. As Resnick (1989) aptly noted, “learning occurs not by recording information but by interpreting it”. Hence, students are not recipients of knowledge but constructors of knowledge. How the student structures and processes knowledge is much more important than how much is learned. Structuring and processing knowledge means that students must ‘select’, ‘organize’ and ‘integrate’ new information with prior knowledge in their mind. To do so, each student must acquire metacognitive (reflective) skills for controlling his/her cognitive (thinking) process during learning.

So, how do you understand something? To understand is ‘to comprehend’, and to comprehend is ‘to take in’ or embrace. Seeing solitary facts in relation to a general principle is the essence of understanding. What is an understanding then? An understanding is a generalized meaning or insight. An insight is a basic sense of, or feeling for, relationships; it is a meaning or discernment. A tested generalized insight is an understanding; it is a meaning or discernment that one may profitably apply to several or even many similar, but not necessarily identical, situations or processes. The most valuable insights are those confirmed by enough similar cases to be generalized into an understanding. A student understands any object, process, ideas or fact if he/she sees how it can be used to fulfill some purpose or goal. The outcomes of a collection of understandings are generalizations, theories, generalized insights, general ideas, concepts, principles, rules and/or laws.

How do you achieve understanding? Well, ‘how’ you approach learning (strategy) depends on ‘why’ you want to learn it in the first place (motive) (Biggs, 1987). If your desire to learn springs from the urge to gain a paper qualification with minimal trouble or effort, it is likely that you will focus on what appears to be the most important topics (as defined by examinations) and reproduce them. Because of this focus, you will not see interconnections between elements or the meanings and implications of what is learned. However, if your motive to learn is based on curiosity, you will adopt a strategy to seek meaning. There is a personal commitment to learning, which means that you will relate the content to personally meaningful contexts or to existing prior knowledge, depending on the subject concerned. You will search for analogies, relate to previous knowledge, theorize about what is learned, and derive extensions and exceptions.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Large skepticism leads to large understanding. Small skepticism leads to small understanding. No skepticism leads to no understanding.” author=”Unknown”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding the third” author=”Marge Piercy”/]

Knowledge Without Understanding

It seems that we have an addiction to knowledge without an interest in understanding. We go to conferences and seminars but we return home and little ever changes. In the church, we hear sermon after sermon exhorting us to live this way or do that and, like a fad diet, we might try out a few suggestions for a day or two and then let it go by the wayside. We have become junkies for academic degrees but tend to divorce what we are learning from life. Game shows glamorize those who have memorized endless strings of facts with absolutely no emphasis placed on being able to apply or to interpret those facts in a way meaningful to life. As the early church father, Tertullian, lamented, “What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?” Or perhaps, to put it in today’s vernacular: “What does real life have to do with book learning?”

In the world of Artificial Intelligence, there is a running debate over the question as to whether it is possible for a computer to “think.” In other words, can a computer ever be designed and built in such a way that it will be able to use inductive logic and make inferences based on new situations. Though the science-fiction community has been toying with the idea of thinking robots for quite some time, science-realty has not been able to produce such a machine. The simple reason is because no matter how fast or sophisticated the computer processor or the algorithms that make up the software, a computer is little more than a processor of information.

The Philosopher, John Searle, developed a useful analogy to help understand the limitations of computers. He described a man placed in a room that contained nothing but two books written in Chinese. There was also a slot where pages could be put in and a slot where pages could be sent back out. Imagine, he continued, that a man were put into the room that had never studied or even heard the Chinese language. The process would look something like this. A page of paper would be put in through the first slot that contained Chinese characters. When he found the matching character, that book sent him to a page in the second book and then the man would write down the characters he found in the second book on a page of paper and send it back out the second slot.

Over time, one might expect that the man in the Chinese room would become proficient at his task and thus become both very swift and very accurate in his writing of the symbols. In fact, the man might become so proficient that he would no longer need to use the books as references. Yet, at no point will the man ever learn Chinese. The symbols themselves only carry meaning in terms of which symbol he is to write and not with the thing or idea that the symbol represents. And essentially, a computer chip is little more than a man in a Chinese box (just much smaller!).

Yet, as computer engineers seek to develop a computer that “thinks” more like a human thinks, humans are becoming conditioned to think more like computers…essentially as repositories of vast quantities of information but never applying that information to life. We gorge ourselves on information, but never slow down and reflect enough to incorporate all of the data we ingest into a unified system of thought and life.

The reality is that technology surrounds us and has become a part of our daily lives. While we can control our obsession with information, we cannot step away from the reality that information is a part of the DNA of our times. What we can do, though, is to better filter that information through a mature and unified worldview…one based upon virtue. All the while, always discerning how new ideas fit into the whole. If ideas are consistent with the fabric of virtue then they should naturally fit into ones system of thought; if not, it should be held in suspect while seeking to understand the ramifications of the new view. Is it corrective or destructive to the whole system? The one direction that we cannot afford to go, though, is the direction we are traveling…that of holding many contradictory ideas in tension, never unifying them in a system, but affirming any bit of information as equally valid and considering that knowledge of many things is more valuable than the understanding that comes from being able to apply those things to the whole.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”If God wants people to suffer, he sends them too much understanding.” author=”Yiddish Proverb”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it” author=”Charles F. Kettering”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!” author=”Dennis Alejo”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Some go to the light of nature and the use of ”right reason” (that is, their own) as their guides; and some add the additional documents of the philosophers. They think a saying of Epictetus, or Seneca, or Arrianus, being wittily suited to their fancies and affections, to have more life and power in it than any precept of the Gospel. The reason why these things are more pleasing unto them than the commands and instructions of Christ is because, proceeding from the spring of natural light, they are suited to the workings of natural fancy and understanding; but those of Christ, proceeding from the fountain of eternal spiritual light, are not comprehended in their beauty and excellency without a principle of the same light in us, guiding our understanding and influencing our affections. Hence, take any precept, general or particular, about moral duties, that is materially the same in the writings of philosophers and in the doctrine of the Gospel; not a few prefer it as delivered in the first way before the latter.” author=”John Owen”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The heart to conceive, the understanding to direct, and the hand to execute.” author=”Junius”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” author=”Albert Camus”/]

DO WE UNDERSTAND?

We have arrived at a point in our human evolution, the characteristic of which is that we know a lot, but we understand very little. Our chosen navigation has been piloted by reason, and leading into the port of knowledge. As such it has been an overwhelmingly successful navigation. We have never in all of our existence, accumulated more knowledge than during the last one hundred years. We are celebrating the apotheosis of reason, but in the midst of such a splendid celebration we suddenly have the feeling that something is missing.

Yes, we can achieve knowledge about almost anything we want. We can, for instance, guided by our beloved scientific method, study everything there is, from theological, anthropological, sociological, psychological and even biochemical perspectives, about a human phenomenon called love. The result will be that we will know everything that can be known about love. But once we achieve that complete knowledge, we will sooner or later discover that that we will never understand love, unless we fall in love. We will realize that knowledge is not the road that leads to understanding, because the port of understanding is on another shore, and requires a different navigation.

We can only reach the port of understanding by sailing on the ship of personification and personalization.

We can only understand that of which we become a part. Understanding is the result of integration, while knowledge has been the result of detachment. Understanding is holistic, while knowledge is fragmented. At least we have reached a point in which we are finally becoming aware that knowledge is not enough, and that we have to learn how to attain understanding in order to achieve the completeness of our being.

We are, perhaps, beginning to realize that knowledge without understanding is hollow, and understanding without knowledge is incomplete. Understanding requires internalization and personification of the abstract concept.

Perhaps we are learning that we cannot simply talk about virtue, we need to live it to possess its true meaning.

[do action=”vfquote” quote=”Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.” author=”Bible Quotes”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”A life in harmony with nature, the love of truth and virtue, will purge the eyes to understanding her text.” author=”Ralph Waldo Emerson”/] [do action=”vfquote” quote=”Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, sharpens understanding and softens the heart.” author=”John Adams”/]