Friday, October 17, 2014

PBP: Week 42- Understanding

Understanding is a different thing, in my mind, than knowing. Knowing is more related to facts and book knowledge: memorization. Understanding goes much deeper than that. One way I like to put it is that it is when something becomes internalized...or when it picks up personal meaning to you. I can read an article and come to know something, but I don't typically understand it until I can apply it to my life.

Understanding is very important to me. I consider something learned until it is understood. And understanding isn't static, but made up of all kinds of plateaus. I think that anytime you start to study something, you gather knowledge, and then when you think about, practice or try to apply that knowledge you may reach a level of understanding. That understanding may change or even dissolve, if you later uncover new knowledge. The process starts over, as you work to bring the knew information into a different level of understanding.

There are things that I have studied for decades now. Some of them have grown and the understanding I have now is multi-layered and deep. Other things I have shattered my old understanding of them and developed a completely different understanding. Typically, I find that my understanding is challenged more by other people's experience than by uncovering new facts, although both can create room for growth.

There is a word, used in science fiction, that I heard when I was a child and loved. Grok: to understand intuitively or so completely that something becomes a part of you. This is pretty much what understanding is to me. I don't consider something learned until it is so familiar to me that it is like my own self. It is when you can do something without thinking about it, when it becomes instinctual. To me, this is the start of working with a skill. You practice it, study it, live and breathe it, until it becomes a part of you, and then you can really start to develop it.

I also like another word: kenning. There are a lot of different meanings for the word ken. It means to know, but it can also mean vision, as in how far can you see. And I think that vision is a part of understanding. The more open your eyes are, the further you can see, the deeper your understanding will be. If your eyes aren't open, you can think you know something and be very mistaken. Another meaning of ken is to teach. And I think that in order to teach effectively, you really have to understand a subject. While anyone can pass along facts, to share understanding requires a much more thorough grasp of the subject. And, as many people who teach know, often the act of teaching helps deepen your understanding of a thing. The teacher learns from the student through the questions and discussions they share.

One of my favorite meanings of kenning though is a metaphorical description of something. For example, Yggdrasil can be referred to as Odin's horse. On the surface, this doesn't always make sense, but as you explore the meanings, you uncover the reason behind the association. Hanging from a tree could be referred to as riding the tree, and as you ride a horse, the tree becomes the horse. Odin hung himself from Yggdrasil to learn the runes, and so Yggdrasil becomes Odin's horse.

Kennings give a lot of ways for us to explore and go beyond the facts and numbers. I have seen kennings all over. Many of the more fanciful names of herbs (things you might find in old spells and recipes) are kennings. Eye of newt is thought by many to refer to mustard seed (because it looks like a small yellow eye) rather than the actual animal body part. I also have found kennings in many games. Brain box being used instead of skull, whale road for the ocean.

I think that creating kennings of our own is a great way to challenge our own understandings. My favorite kennings are not too obvious, but if you know the lore or subject, then they make complete sense. In a lot of ways, kennings remind me of alternative alphabets and other codes. And I love those, and always have. There is something fantastical and wonderful about communicating in ways that are not immediately obvious.

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