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?
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.”