Understanding is a psychological process
Process (philosophy)
In philosophy and systems theory, basic processes, or logical homologies as they were termed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy, are unifying principles which operate in many different systemic contexts. For example, feedback is a principle that figures prominently in the science of cybernetics...

 related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person
A person is a human being, or an entity that has certain capacities or attributes strongly associated with being human , for example in a particular moral or legal context...

, situation, or message
A message in its most general meaning is an object of communication. It is a vessel which provides information. Yet, it can also be this information. Therefore, its meaning is dependent upon the context in which it is used; the term may apply to both the information and its form...

 whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object.
Understanding is a relation between the knower and an object of understanding. Understanding implies abilities and dispositions with respect to an object of knowledge sufficient to support intelligent behavior.

An understanding is the limit of a concept
The word concept is used in ordinary language as well as in almost all academic disciplines. Particularly in philosophy, psychology and cognitive sciences the term is much used and much discussed. WordNet defines concept: "conception, construct ". However, the meaning of the term concept is much...

ualization. To understand something is to have conceptualized it to a given measure.


  1. One understands the weather if one is able to predict
    A prediction or forecast is a statement about the way things will happen in the future, often but not always based on experience or knowledge...

     and to give an explanation
    An explanation is a set of statements constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies the causes, context, and consequencesof those facts....

     of some of its features, etc.
  2. A psychiatrist
    A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. All psychiatrists are trained in diagnostic evaluation and in psychotherapy...

     understands another person's anxieties
    Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

     if he/she knows that person's anxieties, their causes, and can give useful advice
    Advice (opinion)
    Advice is a form of relating personal or institutional opinions, belief systems, values, recommendations or guidance about certain situations relayed in some context to another person, group or party often offered as a guide to action and/or conduct...

     on how to cope with the anxiety.
  3. A person
    A person is a human being, or an entity that has certain capacities or attributes strongly associated with being human , for example in a particular moral or legal context...

     understands a command if he/she knows who gave it, what is expected by the issuer, and whether the command is legitimate, and whether one understands the speaker (see 4).
  4. One understands a reasoning
    Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

    , an argument, or a language
    Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

     if one can consciously reproduce the information content conveyed by the message.
  5. One understands a mathematical concept if one can solve problems using it, especially problems that are not similar to what one has seen before.

Is understanding definable?

Yes, albeit with difficulty. The easiest way to define understanding is to do so in respect of specific relationships. For examples one can define the concept in the context of trust between two individuals.

A good example is the definition proposed by a Doctoral researcher from the University of Cranfield UK. In his analysis of "understanding as an antecedents of trust in virtual organisations, Joel De Messan (2011) proposed the following explanation of Understanding. "To understand someone or something, is to possess enough information about the person or thing to be able to accurately explain their unique behaviours and characteristics, accommodate their differences, or display tolerance and compassion in one's actions or judgement towards them on the basis of the insight that the information possessed provides into their reality". He therefore defined understanding as "The successful sense-making or accurate synthesis of information relating to an entity (a person, an object, a concept, or a phenomenon) that permits a justified explanation of the characteristics, behaviours and events associated with the entity".

In this definition, Mr De Messan emphasizes that true understanding is independent of the belief of the person who understands. It is an absolute function of the logic applied to observations and the accuracy of one’s interpretation of the facts that concern the entity. True understanding can only be achieved if the observer obtains and processes enough information about the entity under scrutiny to arrive at conclusions that will always remain true.

One’s understanding of something only becomes equal to real understanding when the assertions made about the thing are absolute and always true. If future improvements in our logics, formulas, reasoning etc… could invalidate one’s current explanation of a phenomenon, then the understanding that yielded the explanation does not qualify as true understanding, or better still, is only as true as current knowledge permits.

Hence, he argues, there are degrees of understanding as well as understanding at a point in time (a collective state of opinion) all of which ultimately seek to become true understanding.

The conclusion of this definition is that our closeness to true understanding is only as good as the information we possess, the logic of analysis we apply to the information we have and the finality of our reference point.
As this shows, it is difficult to define understanding. If we use the term concept as above, the question then arises as to what is a concept? Is it an abstract
Abstraction is a process by which higher concepts are derived from the usage and classification of literal concepts, first principles, or other methods....

 thing? Is it a brain
The brain is the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals—only a few primitive invertebrates such as sponges, jellyfish, sea squirts and starfishes do not have one. It is located in the head, usually close to primary sensory apparatus such as vision, hearing,...

 pattern or a rule
Rule of inference
In logic, a rule of inference, inference rule, or transformation rule is the act of drawing a conclusion based on the form of premises interpreted as a function which takes premises, analyses their syntax, and returns a conclusion...

? Whatever definition is proposed, we can still ask how it is that we understand the thing that is featured in the definition: we can never satisfactorily define a concept, still less use it to explain understanding.
It may be more convenient to use an operational or behavioural
Behaviorism , also called the learning perspective , is a philosophy of psychology based on the proposition that all things that organisms do—including acting, thinking, and feeling—can and should be regarded as behaviors, and that psychological disorders are best treated by altering behavior...

 definition, that is, to say that "somebody who reacts appropriately to x understands x". For example, one understands Swahili
Swahili language
Swahili or Kiswahili is a Bantu language spoken by various ethnic groups that inhabit several large stretches of the Mozambique Channel coastline from northern Kenya to northern Mozambique, including the Comoro Islands. It is also spoken by ethnic minority groups in Somalia...

 if one correctly obeys commands given in that language. This approach, however, may not provide an adequate definition. A computer can easily be programmed to react appropriately to commands, but there is a disagreement as to whether or not the computer understands the language (see the Chinese room
Chinese room
The Chinese room is a thought experiment by John Searle, which first appeared in his paper "Minds, Brains, and Programs", published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1980...


According to the independent socionics
Socionics , in psychology, is a theory of information processing and personality type, distinguished by its information model of the psyche and a model of interpersonal relations. It incorporates Carl Jung's work on Psychological Types with Antoni Kępiński's theory of information metabolism...

 researcher Rostislav Persion:
In the cognitive model presented by MBTI, the process of introverted thinking (Ti) is thought to represent understanding through cause and effect relationships or correlations. One can construct a model of a system by observing correlations between all the relevant properties (e.g. The output of a NAND gate relative to its inputs). This allows the person to generate truths about the system and then to apply the model to demonstrate his or her understanding. A mechanic for example may randomly, or algorithmically probe the inputs and outputs of a black box
Black box
A black box is a device, object, or system whose inner workings are unknown; only the input, transfer, and output are known characteristics.The term black box can also refer to:-In science and technology:*Black box theory, a philosophical theory...

 to understand the internal components through the use of induction. INTP
INTP is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to refer to one of sixteen personality types. The MBTI assessment was developed from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl G. Jung in his book Psychological Types...

ISTP (personality type)
ISTP is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to refer to one of sixteen personality types. The MBTI assessment was developed from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl G. Jung in his book Psychological Types...

ESTP is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to refer to one of sixteen personality types. The MBTI assessment was developed from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl G. Jung in his book Psychological Types...

, and ENTP
ENTP is an abbreviation used in the publications of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to refer to one of sixteen personality types. The MBTI assessment was developed from the work of prominent psychiatrist Carl G. Jung in his book Psychological Types...

 all use Ti and are usually the best of the 16 types at understanding their material environment in a bottom-up manner. These types may enjoy mechanics
Mechanics is the branch of physics concerned with the behavior of physical bodies when subjected to forces or displacements, and the subsequent effects of the bodies on their environment....

 and digital electronics
Electronics is the branch of science, engineering and technology that deals with electrical circuits involving active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies...

 because of the 1 to 1 correlation between cause and effect relationships in these fields. Understanding is not limited to these types however as other types demonstrate an identical process, although in other planes of reality; ie. Social, Theological and Aesthetic. A potential reason for the association of understanding with the former personality types is due to a social phenomenon for asymmetrical distribution of gratification. In the field of engineering
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...

, engineers probe or study the inputs and outputs of components to understand their functionality. These components are then combined based on their functionality (similar to computer programming
Computer programming
Computer programming is the process of designing, writing, testing, debugging, and maintaining the source code of computer programs. This source code is written in one or more programming languages. The purpose of programming is to create a program that performs specific operations or exhibits a...

) to create a larger, more complex system. This is the reason why engineers attempt to subdivide ideas as deep as possible to obtain the lowest level of knowledge. This makes their models more detailed and flexible. It may be useful to know the formulas that govern an ideal gas, but to visualise the gas as being made up of small moving particles, which are in turn made up of even smaller particles, is true understanding. People who are understanding (through the use of Ti) usually value objects and people based on usefulness, as opposed to the people who use extroverted thinking
Extraversion and introversion
The trait of extraversion-introversion is a central dimension of human personality theories.Extraverts tend to be gregarious, assertive, and interested in seeking out external stimulus. Introverts, in contrast, tend to be introspective, quiet and less sociable. They are not necessarily loners but...

 (Te) who view people or things as having a worth. In order to test one's understanding it is necessary to present a question that forces the individual to demonstrate the possession of a model, derived from observable examples of that model's production or potential production (in the case that such a model did not exist beforehand). Rote memorization can present an illusion of understanding, however when other questions are presented with modified attributes within the query, the individual cannot create a solution due to a lack of a deeper representation of reality.

Another significant point of view holds that knowledge is the simple awareness of bits of information. Understanding is the awareness of the connection between the individual pieces of this information. It is understanding which allows knowledge to be put to use. Therefore, understanding represents a deeper level than simple knowledge.

It would be difficult if not impossible to provide citation for the previous point as it is incorrect. The actual order can best be clarified with a common usage example that can be applied to any task, in this case baking a cake. If one is explaining how to bake a cake to someone who has no previous constructs as to what exactly goes into baking a cake and the second person is able to grasp the material presented, it 'makes sense.' This statement that it makes sense does not imply any retention of the information beyond the immediate. If one watches cooking shows and can explain unprompted without immediate previous explanation what is necessary to bake a cake, they 'understand' baking a cake. This does not imply they have the necessary skill set to actually bake a cake. If one states they have knowledge as in 'I know how to bake a cake' it carries with it the understanding they can take raw ingredients and produce edible results. This example could extend to any common usage I can think of, such as watching construction shows, art shows, etc... may give you understanding of building a house, painting a picture but they do not carry with it the physical application that properly used, saying one 'knows how' does. I believe the previous point was drawn from revised Bloom's Taxonomy in which the original taxonomy had knowledge as the first tier and the revised taxonomy had understanding listed as the second tier. Note that neither model had both terms used together. Furthermore said correlation is in direct contradiction to common usage that has been accepted long before the models so 'if' the models are trying to say this, they are in fact flawed.

One final clarifying point is that of scope. Say we have someone who has watched many shows on deck building, cake making, whatever. That person could have significant understanding that goes beyond the level of a handyman who builds decks in a limited set of variations. The handyman 'knows' how to build a deck but the first person 'understands' a wider scope potentially of deck building. In the final analysis, the difference between understanding and knowledge in the most widely accepted common usage is therefore a matter of application. In reference to Blooms Taxonomy it is a theoretical model that doesn't accurately map common usage so I would submit therefore could use further revision. Knowledge in common usage would be roughly synonymous with 'Application' in the model.

Gregory Chaitin
Gregory Chaitin
Gregory John Chaitin is an Argentine-American mathematician and computer scientist.-Mathematics and computer science:Beginning in 2009 Chaitin has worked on metabiology, a field parallel to biology dealing with the random evolution of artificial software instead of natural software .Beginning in...

, a noted computer scientist, propounds a view that comprehension is a kind of data compression. In his essay "The Limits of Reason", he argues that understanding something means being able to figure out a simple set of rules that explains it. For example, we understand why day and night exist because we have a simple model—the rotation of the earth—that explains a tremendous amount of data—changes in brightness, temperature, and atmospheric composition of the earth. We have compressed a large amount of information by using a simple model that predicts it. Similarly, we understand the number 0.33333... by thinking of it as one-third. The first way of representing the number requires an infinite amount of memory; but the second way can produce all the data of the first representation, but uses much less information. Chaitin argues that comprehension is this ability to compress data.

The concepts of comprehension
Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object....

, thought and understanding are also used in the short science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

 story Understand
Understand (story)
Understand is a science fiction novelette published in 1991 by Ted Chiang. It was nominated for the 1992 Hugo Award for Best Novelette, and won the 1992 Asimov’s Reader Poll...

 by Ted Chiang
Ted Chiang
Ted Chiang is an American speculative fiction writer. His Chinese name is Chiang Feng-nan.He was born in Port Jefferson, New York and graduated from Brown University with a Computer Science degree. He currently works as a technical writer in the software industry and resides in Bellevue, near...


Religious perspectives

In Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 and Anglicanism
Anglicanism is a tradition within Christianity comprising churches with historical connections to the Church of England or similar beliefs, worship and church structures. The word Anglican originates in ecclesia anglicana, a medieval Latin phrase dating to at least 1246 that means the English...

, understanding is one of the Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are a medieval enumeration of seven spiritual gifts probably encodified by Thomas Aquinas along with five intellectual virtues and four other groups of ethical characteristics. They are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the...


See also

  • Active listening
    Active listening
    Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what they hear. The ability to listen actively can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding.When interacting,...

  • Awareness
    Awareness is the state or ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects or sensory patterns. In this level of consciousness, sense data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. More broadly, it is the state or quality of being aware of...

  • Binah (Kabbalah)
    Binah (Kabbalah)
    Binah, , in the Kabbalah of Judaism, is the second intellectual Sephirah on the tree of life. It sits on the level below Keter , across from Chokmah and directly above Gevurah...

  • Chinese Room
    Chinese room
    The Chinese room is a thought experiment by John Searle, which first appeared in his paper "Minds, Brains, and Programs", published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1980...

  • Epistemology
  • Informational listening
    Informational listening
    The process of informational listening focuses on the ability of an individual to understand a speaker’s message. It is a huge part of everyday life, and failing to understand the concept of informational listening can be very detrimental to one's contribution to society, and indeed, detrimental...

  • Knowledge
    Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something unknown, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject...

  • Meaning (linguistics)
    Meaning (linguistics)
    In linguistics, meaning is what is expressed by the writer or speaker, and what is conveyed to the reader or listener, provided that they talk about the same thing . In other words if the object and the name of the object and the concepts in their head are the same...

  • Perception
    Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs...

  • Thought
    "Thought" generally refers to any mental or intellectual activity involving an individual's subjective consciousness. It can refer either to the act of thinking or the resulting ideas or arrangements of ideas. Similar concepts include cognition, sentience, consciousness, and imagination...

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.