Knowledge v. Understanding

Knowledge is acquired when we succeed in fitting a new experience into the system of concepts based upon our old experiences. Understanding comes when we liberate ourselves from the old and so make possible a direct, unmediated contact with the new, the mystery, moment by moment, of our existence. — Aldous Huxley.

I haven’t stopped to think about the difference in knowledge and understanding. Have you? Maria Popova suggests that knowledge can be transmitted from one person to another, where understanding is unique and cannot be passed on. We obtain knowledge from observation, other’s words, reading, listening, etc. How do we gather understanding?

Huxley writes:

Understanding is not conceptual, and therefore cannot be passed on. It is an immediate experience, and immediate experience can only be talked about (very inadequately), never shared. Nobody can actually feel another’s pain or grief, another’s love or joy or hunger. And similarly nobody can experience another’s understanding of a given event or situation… We must always remember that knowledge of understanding is not the same thing as the understanding, which is the raw material of that knowledge. It is as different from understanding as the doctor’s prescription for penicillin is different from penicillin.

Understanding is not inherited, nor can it be laboriously acquired. It is something which, when circumstances are favorable, comes to us, so to say, of its own accord. All of us are knowers, all the time; it is only occasionally and in spite of ourselves that we understand the mystery of given reality.

I wonder about what Huxley writes. Maybe the difference can be explained by the following: “Man acquires knowledge; God provides understanding.”

About the author

Webb Hubbell, former Associate Attorney General of The United States, is an author and speaker. His novels, When Men Betray, Ginger Snaps, A Game of Inches, The Eighteenth Green, and The East End are published by Beaufort Books and are available online or at your local bookstore. When Men Betray won one of the IndieFab awards for best novel in 2014. Ginger Snaps and The Eighteenth Green won the IPPY Awards Gold Medal for best suspense/thriller.

2 Comments +

  1. Explains our limitations regarding understanding well. Have we created a world filled with so much knowledge that it has overwhelmed the understanding process?

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