Illusion of Understanding

18 Sep

Though the recent renewed acquaintances from shelfari did embarass me a little, it was furthered when I tried to list the books that I have read so far. I wasnt too worried about the fictional bunch which, in my opinion, had very little value addition to my knowledge, other than the entertainment it provided. I was looking at all the technical or scientific books that I have read so far. From a mere bookcase point of view, it was quite impressive. But, I stopped for a moment to reflect on what I learned out of all those books. Yes, I did read those books. But, did I really understand everything that was conveyed? Very questionable…

I have always wondered about how people perceive about what they know. Someone once told me that, you have to have the power of unlearning things in order to learn something new. Though learning, implicitly assumes that you dont know about the thing that you are trying to learn from, reality is, we just try to fill in the perceived gaps that we have in our knowledge base. Most of us, inherently think that our gaps are very small..including me…:)… May be, that is the way human mind behaves… In my opinion, the smaller the perceived gap you think there is, the larger the gap becomes as you learn on top of it.

If such is the case with learning, what about understanding? I think, learning and understanding are two different things. Until someone really understands what they learn, nothing comes out of it. In other words, learning, in my opinion, is closely equivalent to storage of information. It does have it’s benefits in certain topics. But, if you think about it, ideas evolve out of you only on things that you really understood. So, if I have never had any new ideas evolve out of me, it probably means that I didnt understand what I read. The only exception to this rule, is the generation of flawed ideas…:) May be, I should get back to school and try out those subjects to really check how far fetched my theories are with respect to reality. Now, should I take that risk… Knowing my capability, I think that wont be necessary..:)


Posted by on September 18, 2007 in From AM-KICKING blog


8 responses to “Illusion of Understanding

  1. Manohar

    September 18, 2007 at 10:52 pm

    @mindframes: If ‘A’ is a pre-req for ‘B’., non-occurrence of B doesn’t mean A doesn’t exist.

    I’m referring to- ideas evolving out of understanding. But just because u don’t have a new idea doesn’t mean u don’t have understanding.

    I could throw another alternative.. ideas evolve because of understanding and imagination (lets say). So you could just be bad at imagination 🙂

  2. Mindframes

    September 18, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Point taken… I shouldn’t have said that lack of new ideas point to lesser understanding, necessarily…

    What I wanted to convey, in big picture is that, if one reads a lot of books, that doesnt necessarily mean much unless they “understand” it as it should be understood… Adhukku edhukku ivvalavu periya blog ezhudhinennu kekkade…:)

  3. Mad Max

    September 19, 2007 at 7:20 am

    @ Mindframes: Lack of new ideas does not necessarily mean there is a lack of understanding. Consider this. You might read a paper and really really understand the intricacies of it. However to generate new ideas, what you need to think laterally or be creative. Understanding is useful in the sense it gives you direction. But that does not mean that it will give you new ideas (unless the creative part of the the brain also clicks at the same time).

    What say??????

    @ Mano: Necessary vs. Sufficient conditions. Sufficiency is really a second order effect. So lack of sufficiency (sufficient understanding) does not mean that the first order effect of generating new ideas are non existent. Point well taken

  4. Mindframes

    September 19, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    learning => understanding => new ideas

    Above is the sequence that I thought of. Ofcourse, not generating new ideas doesnt necessarily mean lack of understanding but the other way is true unless one generates flawed ideas…

    The real statement that I wanted to emphasize was that, reading a lot of books (technical or scientific), in my opinion, doesn’t amount to anything unless there is a standardized way of determining whether they’ve understood it or not… In general, I have seen people claiming to have read about a lot of things with a lot of disparity in terms of their understanding…

  5. Survivor

    September 19, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    @ Mindframes,
    I love reading fictional thrillers.Though it is mostly for entertainment,most of the fictional writers do a lot of research before writing and that definitely adds to knowledge. It will not be just some creative mind writing fiction, but rather lot of true facts added through out the story. So, maybe you should change your perception about fiction.

  6. Saumya

    September 19, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    Whatever book you read works towards enlightening/engaging your thought process in some aspect. If not, you would not be reading it.

    Now, everything you read or find interesting, you may not use. Some things you think you inderstand when you read it, but later the idea seems foggy.

  7. Mindframes

    September 19, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    @survivor: I dont have anything against fiction. It’s just that I am lazy and it is too much to read for too little information…on top of it, I am a very slow reader…

    @saumya: I agree with your thought process. We read what interests us and we do think we understand it. Unless we are “tested” for our understanding, especially in the case of a technical topic, the fact that someone read a book is immaterial…It is like everyone who finishes engineering have the same rank…:)

  8. bumblebee

    September 20, 2007 at 12:23 am

    Books are a good medium to gain exposure and also appreciate some creative minds out there.

    I am sure that with all books you can learn something sub-consciously and absorb some information. Its hard to say at that point whether the learned information is useful or not. The knowledge may go dormant, but come in handy sometime later when you least expect it.

    About perceived gaps, I have found incremental learning really makes subjects more interesting. That is smaller the gaps, more interesting I find the books. Just like a conceptual diagram helps before you see a detailed one.


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