Flying Spaghetti MonsterIt is possible to speak a fact without knowing it. This is obvious: I could be taught to recite “in storea cattus est” without ever knowing what that means. It is also possible to know a fact without understanding it. Knowledge and understanding are very different things. If I know a fact then I can express it in different ways and I can construct an argument with that fact as a premise but I do not necessarily understand it.

Understanding is not just the collection of facts. Nor is it the arrangement of those facts. The construction of a consistent logical system that incorporates a number of facts does not imply any understanding of those facts. Possession of facts is merely knowledge: although some orderings of knowledge can be more useful for some purposes than other orderings, no particular ordering implies understanding.

Understanding requires both a certain state of Knowledge and a commensurate state of Being.

Most people do not act in accordance with their professed beliefs. We have an amazing ability to justify our actions after we have acted. It would be impressive if it were not universal and automatic. We hide the real reasons for our actions from ourselves and then lie to ourselves so that we can feel happy that we acted correctly. This is nothing new. What is not so frequently admitted is the reason why we can do this: We can hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time. Not only can we do so but almost everyone does all the time.

This is not easy to illustrate because most people will not admit it and the only way to really understand this is to see that you yourself do it. It is easier to illustrate a discrepancy between words and actions. Sometimes such a discrepancy is just hypocrisy, in which a person tries to deceive other people into believing that he is something that he is not. But more often the deception is not intended for other people but for oneself: any deception of others is incidental to the more profound self-deception.

Understanding cannot include deception. You cannot understand something if you are deceiving yourself about that thing. Thus the easiest way to see if a person truly understands something is to see if they act in a way consistent with such an understanding. Understanding is not something that you know or something that you have, it is something that you do.

There is one fact in particular that I have been thinking about recently. It is the fact that humanity creates its gods. The gods were made by man. With the exception of the faithful, most people believe this. They know that man made the gods. But they don’t understand it. The great irony is that they know that they made the gods but they still unwittingly submit to their gods’ rule. If it weren’t for the fact that the modern gods have been unconsciously created by inauthentic drones it would be really funny.

Published in: on September 10, 2006 at 12:00 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. well said. For me the question, a hermeneutic one, is often, *how* is it that someone can hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and what does this then tell me about the landscape of their psyche?

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