Those who seek to understand the ultimate nature of reality."
Plato, The Commonwealth (475e)
In this essay, we'll inquire into the Essence, the Form, of Understanding. We'll also examine the ordinary meaning of understanding, to distinguish this from Perennialist Understanding and examine how the conception of "understanding" has become completely perverted in the present world.
The previous commonplace meaning of "understand" was:
The current operational concept of "understanding" now varies relative to two different mind-sets:
- To know the meaning of something, such as the words that someone is speaking
- In regard to an element (event, function, object), to know how it works or why it happens: this requires that the person knows what are the causal factors producing the element
- To know how and why someone thinks, feels, or behaves
- Sympathetic awareness of other people's feelings; tolerance and forgiveness
- The relativist, Trumpist, Republican Party mind-set: Whatever view seems good to me personally and to my leaders and peer-group
- "The Trumpian attitude toward truth--which is that it's defined by what benefits Trump and his friends, not by verifiable facts"
- Trump and his allies don't accept the very notion of objective facts. 'Fake news' doesn't mean actual false reporting; it means any report that hurts Trump, no matter how solidly verified.
[Paul Krugman, "Truth and Virtue in the Age of Trump," New York Times, 11/12/2018]
- The objectivist mind-set: recognition of the truth about social, political, and spiritual reality
"Democrats, being human, sometimes have biased views and engage in motivated reasoning. But they haven't abandoned the whole notion of objective facts and nonpolitical goodness; Republicans have." [Paul Krugman, Ibid].
"The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e. the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist." Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1952
Previously, for most people, faith in ordinary perception was total; they believed that they saw, heard, tasted, smelled, and touched a "real" world "out there," that their understanding of that world was unquestionably correct. They assumed that reality was as they perceived and conceived it and to them the ordinary world-view ("consensus reality") was not only acceptable but preferable to any other they might consider. They believed that their view of reality was correct because for the ordinary events of life their understanding was accurate enough to allow them to avoid running into tall buildings and anticipating that the sun would "rise" 1 in the morning without fail.
The average person's "understanding" of themselves and their world has historically been primarily fantasy and delusion. Most persons don't even want to understand. When they're brought face to face with the truth of what's really going on in the world, they deliberately stop trying to understand it. They're happy with what an insane previous President Trump or the mainstream media tells them is going on in the world. They don't want to understand political truth: that both the Democratic and Republican candidates for the American Presidency in 2016 were criminals, one of whom was put into power to systematically destroy the working class and install totalitarian Fascism in America. American and world leaders not only do not understand what reality is, but they are so insane that they want to impose their insanity on the whole world.
The History of Understanding
The history of Understanding began with the evolutionary development of homo sapiens, the first creatures who, through their development of language, were able to achieve understanding. Prior to homo sapiens, members of the homo habilis and homo erectus strains had trained themselves in such skills as fire-making, hunting, shelter-building, and food gathering. But to them, human experience was merely a series of events without long-term significance. They did not understand themselves or their world.
When homo species tribes invented language, they represented events and objects by written and spoken signs and gestures, which they understood to have meaning, that is, they signified some entity such as a person, animal, plant, place, thing, substance, quality, idea, action, or state.
A sign, such as the word, "fire," could be communicated from one person to another. Now humans could not only see, feel, and make fire, for example, but understand its significance: warmth, cooking, protection from predators, sterilization, and destruction.
With the development of language, the communication of meaning--and thus, understanding--began. Now, meaning and understanding could be transmitted from one person to another, one generation to another.
The Supernatural, Magical Nature of Understanding
Meaning and its concomitant, understanding, are truly supernatural, magical elements. We can best comprehend this by examining the early life of Helen Keller.
As a young deaf and blind child, Helen lived much like an animal, rushing from one sensation to another, understanding nothing. Within a month after becoming Helen's teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan was able to impart the gifts of meaning and understanding to her. The awakening to meaning--and hence, understanding, was the event which made it possible for Helen to begin understanding instead of simply uncomprehendingly repeating what Anne was saying to her. Helen had been trained to repeat the word "water," by spelling it out on her hand, but it wasn't until she combined the experience of feeling water and trying to communicate the word "water" simultaneously, that Helen gained the magical gifts of meaning--and hence understanding.
Up to that point, Helen had been like a well-trained animal, memorizing words, speaking them, and receiving praise from Anne. But now, suddenly, she realized! The word "water" actually referred to, pointed to, meant this marvelous liquid reality that ran through her fingers. She could now understand herself and the world around her.
Perhaps the best way to grasp the mystery of meaning and understanding is by thoughtfully viewing the water scene from the movie "The Miracle Worker," the story of this miraculous event in the early life of Helen Keller.
"It is from understanding that power comes; and the power in the ceremony was in understanding what it meant . . ." John Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks
In each culture, the public meanings are transmitted through educational institutions (schools, academies, monasteries, universities) and through the media (Internet, newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV). The small ruling elite (specific politicians, financiers, warriors, priests, scholars, scientists, corporations) of any society always try to create and instill a twisted understanding of persons, events, objects, meanings, and the world, geared to their own purpose of manipulating and destroying the working class.
In most cultures, the "ruling ideas" have fostered violence and class warfare. In only a few instances in history, has the generalized understanding fostered the betterment of common people and society at large. One example of such a transcendent era was the eighteenth century Enlightenment, which encouraged humans to develop broad understanding in all fields of knowledge. Highly educated, intelligent groups in Europe and America developed democratic nations and ways of life, created constitutions, and founded institutions for public education and welfare.
Culture as a creation of humankind is a neutral element--it can be used for positive or negative ends. Through the process of acculturation, the process beginning at infancy by which human beings acquire the culture of their society, individuals are stamped with social norms, generalized knowledge.
"The idea of understanding is surely distinct from the idea of knowing something. We frequently say things like, 'Well, he knows a lot of math, but he doesn't really understand its basis,' or, 'She knows the meaning of the words but doesn't understand the sentence.' . . . An understanding is a mental construct, an abstraction made by the human mind to make sense of many distinct pieces of knowledge. If students understand, then they can provide evidence of that understanding by showing that they know and can do certain specific things. . . Understanding is the ability to marshal skills and facts wisely and appropriately, through effective application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Doing something correctly, therefore, is not, by itself, evidence of understanding. It might have been an accident or done by rote. To understand is to have done it in the right way, often reflected in being able to explain why a particular skill, approach, or body of knowledge is or is not appropriate in a particular situation. . . . Knowledge and skill, then, are necessary elements of understanding, but not sufficient in themselves. Understanding requires more: the ability to thoughtfully and actively 'do' the work with discernment, as well as the ability to self-assess, justify, and critique such 'doings.'"
Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Understanding By Design, "Understanding Understanding"
True understanding is intelligence, the ability to see through the subterfuge of conditioning, propaganda, and consensus reality. The lack of intelligence--true understanding of the world--by most persons today, is the reason we live in the capitalist, fascist, imperialist, militarist, criminal nightmare we do. Understanding is the essential element that must be fostered if the world's population is ever to overcome their current plight of wage slavery, unemployment, homelessness, endless warfare, and annihilation. It will be necessary for a small group of people to retrain the human race in generalized intelligence--true understanding--before there can be any hope of an improvement in humankind's condition.
"Not . . . until popular government had been made possible by the diffusion of intelligence was the world ripe for the realization of such a form of society [commonwealth]. Until that time the idea, like the soul waiting for a fit incarnation, must remain without social embodiment. Selfish rulers thought of the masses only as instruments for their own aggrandizement, and if they had interested themselves in a more exact organization of industry it would only have been with a view of making that organization the means of a more complete tyranny. Not till the masses themselves became competent to rule was a serious agitation possible or desirable for an economic organization on a co-operative basis."
Edward Bellamy, Equality, 1897
True Understanding Requires Discernment of the Range of Subtlety
To understand any element of reality (persons, objects, events, processes) you must be able to discern its range of subtlety. For example, let's take a particular human being, John F. Kennedy. You cannot understand this person without discerning what kind of family he came from, where he went to college, what he did as a navy officer in World War II, why he decided to enter the field of politics, how his family's money and influence assisted him to become a Senator and then President of the United States, and what he did as President that provoked the criminal cabal to assassinate him.
You cannot gain understanding of any element merely by looking at its obvious features or using the programmed viewpoints of "consensus reality" or "generalized understanding." These are in essence "books" titled "Reality For Dummies," and they tell you what to believe, what to think, and what to do. They DO NOT teach you how to understand reality. If you follow these "books" you definitely are or will become a Dummy and you will be treated by your rulers as a Dummy.
"The breakdown of the infantile adjustment in which providential powers ministered to every wish compels us either to flee from reality or to understand it. And by understanding it we create new objects of desire. For when we know a good deal about a thing, know how it originated, how it is likely to behave, what it is made of, and what is its place amidst other things, we are dealing with something quite different from the simple object naively apprehended.
Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals
Most persons never work to gain the capability of discerning the range of sublety present in all elements of reality. In some instances, ignorant persons (those without understanding) pretend that they recognize the subtleties in a particular element, but choose not to pay attention to it. In a recent interview, a current writer of fantasy novels asserted that when accused of shallow characterizations or lack of subtlety, he took it as a compliment, as he was not writing for that audience. The truth is that this writer doesn't have the ability to create profound, complex characters and has no idea what subtlety is.
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections 2
Or the beauty of innuendoes, 3
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways Of Looking At a Blackbird
"You can be told no new thing. You can be told the words, but you will not understand them. Action is all of development. . . Any new thing must be acquired by experience, by action before it can be told, either by you to yourself or to you by someone else. . You must first confront it, become aware that it exists. It is something - just something. You cannot understand because you have no experience. Then you must act; and from the act and its result you have knowledge.
"As self-awareness expands its circle, a necessity is born for understanding. And the more a man or a race demands to understand that which has heretofore been accepted on what you call faith, the wider, the more embracing, you may conclude has become the circle of self-knowledge of complete self-awareness which is his measure.
Betty White, Gaelic Manuscripts, 1928
The Subtlety of Truth and Falsehood
Courts of law recognize that there is subtlety to truth that must be addressed when a person gives testimony. This is why a person testifying is "sworn in," agreeing to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." We recognize that there is something called "the truth:" the reality of the situation. The "truth" is not "my truth" or "President X's truth," there is objective, non-subjective truth. Such truth can be subverted if a person testifying makes known to the court only part of the truth; hence the requirement that a person tell the "whole truth." We also realize that if we add falsehoods to truth, or if we substitute opinion or feelings for truth, that we are not telling the truth. Hence the phrase: "And nothing but the truth."
"Whatever people believe, on subjects on which it is of first importance to believe rightly, they ought to be able to defend against at least the common objections. . . [If a person is] unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination." John Stuart Mill. On Liberty
Lying, telling falsehoods, has become endemic in America. Beginning in 2017, we have suffered under a President who told the electorate he was going to do any number of things, for example, strengthen the controls on Wall Street transactions, yet he now is making sure that the few controls we have are being done away with. All American government officials have become liars precisely as Upton Sinclair described Soviet lying in his Lanny Budd novels.
"Lanny Budd talked with officials, both military and civilian, about the curious Soviet practice of telling the most barefaced and obvious lies and maintaining them in spite of any facts offered in rebuttal. Was it an assertion of their ego, that truth was whatever they chose to make it? Was it a consequence of their denial of the existence of any moral law? Or was it just an expression of their contempt for their opponents? They would tell you a lie and then laugh in your face--not because they thought you believed it but because you were foolish enough not to understand that they were superior to both the truth and you. Because you were foolish enough to believe that there was actually any such thing as truth in the world! Because you were inferiors, doomed to early extinction, and it didn't matter in the least what you believed about anything! That was really the way they felt, and lying to you was part of the process of your extermination. They, the new master class, the future possessors and rulers of the world, yielded to nothing--not even the truth!" Upton Sinclair, The Return of Lanny Budd, 1953This phenomenon of lying with impunity is practiced by all forms of despotism: Italian fascism, Nazism, Communism, Zionism, and Capitalism.
The Subtlety of Intent and Motivation
We do not "understand" any element of human reality unless we're able to discern the subtlety of intent and motivation. A person can tell you: "I love you," and his intent may be only to manipulate you by saying this. Another person may tell you that he loves you and his intent may be to express honest feeling, regard, and concern for you. The two are worlds apart, yet the same act (verbal affirmation) and the same words ("I love you") are used in both instances. The subtle--and all-important difference--is intent and motivation.
Specialized, Esoteric Understanding
Genuine philosophers--lovers and seekers of wisdom--have always searched for understanding of the ultimate essence of all elements of physical and spiritual reality, never being content with mere opinion within the realm of ordinary reality.
"When its [the soul's] gaze is fixed upon an object irradiated by truth and reality, the soul gains understanding and knowledge and is manifestly in possession of intelligence. But when it looks towards that twilight world of things that come into existence and pass away, its sight is dim and it has only opinions and beliefs which shift to and fro, and now it seems like a thing that has no intelligence. . . Plato, The Commonwealth
But understanding the Form or Essence of any entity (person, event, object), as Plato makes clear in his diagram of The Line, is a Higher Element.
"When anyone forms an opinion of anything without rational explanation, you may say that his mind is truly exercised, but has no understanding; for he who cannot give and receive a reason for a thing, has no understanding of that thing; but when he adds rational explanation, then he is perfected in understanding." Plato, Theaetetus, 201d
Throughout the long centuries of human history, the Perennial Tradition has transmitted to select persons within humankind a specialized understanding of the terrestrial and supersensible worlds. This understanding contains esoteric 4 elements which transform the person attaining this realization into a new type 5 of human. This esoteric understanding is of the nature that a person may come into contact with it (see, read, or hear it), without comprehending its meaning; a person can apprehend this understanding without being affected by it in the least. It appears to the person to be mere expression of theories, perhaps misinformation, without any special meaning.
This specialized, esoteric understanding of terrestrial existence is presented by each Perennialist teacher during his or her era. The political-economic-social aspects of this understanding were first revealed by Plato (428- 348 B.C.E) in his Allegory of the Cave.
The contemporary expression of the allegory of the cave is contained in the specialized, esoteric understanding of the capitalist cabal and its destruction of all civilization.
"I can explain this to you, but I cannot understand it for you."
True Understanding Places A Person In A Higher Realm of Being
Plato, one of the foremost figures within the Perennial Tradition, conceived of Understanding as an achievement of only some humans--philosophers--that places them within the Intelligible, Supersensible Realm. Ordinary persons remain in the lower domains of Conjecture and Belief. Mathematicians and scientists attain a higher level of knowledge which is titled Thought. Only philosophers (seekers of wisdom) attain the highest level of comprehension termed Understanding. Understanding is the highest level of human comprehansion and is achieved through dialectical interchange.
If you are one of the few persons who achieves the capability of Discerning Understanding this places you in a special category which only a few persons attain and which involves great responsibility and esoteric knowledge.
"You have always confused understanding with knowing or having information. But to know and to understand are two quite different things and you must learn to distinguish between them. In order to understand a thing, you must see its connection with some bigger subject, or bigger whole, and the possible consequences of this connection. Understanding is always the understanding of a smaller problem in relation to a bigger problem. . . You cannot understand and disagree. In ordinary conversation we very often say: I understand him but I do not agree with him. . . This is impossible. If you understand a man, you agree with him; if you disagree with him, you do not understand him. 'to understand' means to agree. People who understand one another must not only have an equal knowledge, they must also have an equal being. Only then is mutual understanding possible.
"Another wrong idea which people have or which belongs particularly to our times, is that understanding can be different, that people can, that is, have the right, to understand the same thing differently. This is quite wrong. . . Understanding cannot be different. There can only be one understanding, the rest is non-understanding, or incomplete understanding. But at the same time people often think that they understand things differently. We can see examples of this every day. How can we find an explanation of this seeming contradiction? In reality, there is no contradiction. Understanding means understanding of a part in relation to the whole. But the idea of the whole can be very different in people according to their knowledge and being."
P. D. Ouspensky, The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution, 1945
"Understanding can be acquired only by actual participation in the reality."
Betty White and Stewart Edward White, Across the Unknown, 1937
The Perennial Tradition consists of a treasure trove of Immemorial Wisdom. Perennialist Teachers attain esoteric knowledge concerning how to assist selected students to earn discernment of Perennial Wisdom and entry into a Higher Life of communion with Advanced Beings.
Access to and discernment of Perennialist Wisdom is not a right but a privilege earned by those who prove through appropriate, discerning action that they merit it, feel a deep respect and need for it, understanding that their present character contains flaws which must be transformed into one of greater worth.
The superior experience and knowledge will be made available to
a man or woman in exact accordance with his capacity and earning of
it. Hence, if a donkey sees a melon he will eat its rind; ants will
eat whatever they can get hold of; man will consume without knowing
that he has consumed.
Hamadani makes it clear that humans do not have a natural right to Higher experience and knowledge, that these must be earned. Discernment of Perennial Wisdom is made available to a person in exact accordance to his earning of it. Discernment of Perennial Wisdom cannot be withheld from persons who deserve it, and cannot be given to persons who do not deserve it. Perennial Wisdom is the only substance with a discriminating faculty of its own, able to determine if a person has earned it or not, and to what precise amount that person has earned it.
"Whatever people believe, on subjects on which it is of first importance to believe rightly, they ought to be able to defend against at least the common objections... [If a person is] unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination."
"An opinion on a point of conduct, not supported by reasons, can only count as one person's preference; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt by other people, it is still only many people's liking instead of one. To an ordinary man, however, his own preference, thus supported, is not only a perfectly satisfactory reason, but the only one he generally has for any of his notions of morality, taste, or propriety..."
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
"The more subtle and discriminating, the more informed and sympathetic the understanding is, the more complex and yet ordered do the things about us become. . . . A world which is ordinarily unseen has become visible through the understanding."
Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals
Understanding is appraised by the kind (e.g. partial or knock-down) and amount of evidence that supports one's belief--or disbelief--in a specific element of truth. When understanding of a political-economic-military-social phenomenon is a matter of national security, intelligence services indicate "the degree of certainty" with which an opinion is offered to decision-makers. Our personal beliefs, formed by our own understanding, should be gauged similarly.
One way to tell if a person is developing true understanding--as opposed to mere bigoted, dogmatic belief--is to determine if they "hold" specific beliefs to the degree of certainty appropriate to the kind and amount of evidence supporting each of their beliefs.
One test of the validity of a person's understanding is to ask the question: Can you conceive of the possibility of your being incorrect concerning your belief concerning X? If the person cannot even conceive of the possibility of their being incorrect about a specific belief, they are not developing true understanding, but merely a dogmatic belief system.
The Search For Truth and UnderstandingThe unique Perennialist process of searching for truth and understanding is titled Progressive Awareness. This involves the careful consideration of multiple points of view and keeping our minds open to alternative sources of information. Unless we work at becoming progressively aware, the natural tendency is to limit our ideas to only those that are easily available and "seem" right to us, never really discovering or considering alternative sources of information or carefully examining the truth or falsehood of ideas and hypotheses.
As we develop the skill to become progressively aware, we learn to suspend judgment until we consider a variety of ideas or hypotheses. Progressively aware persons provide support for their beliefs, not merely holding opinions for no reason at all, merely on whim.
One facet of progressive awareness is critical thinking. As is the case in most fields of human endeavor, the counterfeits of critical thinking have all but driven out genuine critical thinker from public awareness. There are very few critical thinkers today and there have been very few throughout human history.
Who are the counterfeits of critical thinking?
Counterfeit critical thinking is evidenced by:
- Persons who have studied the concepts and principles of critical thinking but who don't embody them ( critical thinking "experts," "scholars," pedants)
- Persons who assume that critical thinking is something that everyone does all the time, making no distinction between critical and non-critical thinking
- Persons who assume that they understand the principles of critical thinking when they don't understand them: academic "teachers" of critical thinking or New Age psychology and Trump-like non-thinkers who form unquestionable beliefs based on nothing but personal bias
Genuine critical thinking is evidenced by:
- Forming beliefs and making decisions on the basis of:
- Incomplete evidence
- Spurious evidence
- Irrelevant emotions (some emotions sometimes can be relevant)
- Presenting arguments by:
- Attacking someone personally
- Poisoning the well - asserting (not proving) that a source of information is tainted
- Using spurious evidence
- Believing they're free (politically and intellectually) when they are "bound" by unconscious bias and egomania
- Believing it's okay to put up with tyranny to achieve relative ease
- Believing there's no need for citizen solidarity
- Believing we have economic and political equality of opportunity
Progressive Awareness is a set of skills you work to develop as well as a body of knowledge. You work toward both understanding critical thinking concepts and developing essential critical thinking capabilities and attitudes. Progressive Awareness is a capability that persons must develop if they are to be able to understand or in any way be involved with the Perennial Tradition.
- Finding and considering alternative points of view before making a decision or forming an opinion
- Forming opinions and making decisions on the basis of evidence
- Learning how to examine past and current social issues and discovering the solutions to issues
- Getting behind the curtains (propaganda, distortions) that hide reality
- Gaining self-awareness
- Being aware of one's own point of view
- Discovering misconceptions and egomaniacal feelings that keep one from the truth
- Developing a mind which is open to a variety of ideas
- Gaining social awareness - going beyond the superficial view of what's happening in the world
- Life-long commitment to learn and investigate
- Learning how to find alternative information sources
- Learning how to evaluate information sources
- Learning to identify and counter myths and unproven conspiracy theories
Investigation of sources thought to be reliable which provide viable hypotheses
Proving these sources to be reliable or not
Useful, possibly true hypothesis 1
Useful, possibly true hypothesis 2
Useful, possibly true hypothesis 3
- The search for Truth and Understanding involves investigation, proving sources to be reliable or not, and forming useful (useful hypotheses enable predictions by reasoning) hypotheses (provisional ideas whose viability and truth require validation), not moving to Absolute Certainty or Settled, Unquestionable Belief.
- We determine the reliability of sources in terms of whether they lead to viable (possibly true), useful hypotheses
- Even when we arrive at a hypothesis which appears to be true, it remains a hypothesis, never an Absolute Certainty or Settled, Unquestionable Belief
1 Note that our very language reveals a delusory conception of reality: a sun that "rises" and a "world out there" that is only pasted together from inner sensory experiences which lack any element of "out-thereness ."
2 Inflection: the way in which a word is changed or altered in form through subtle pronunciation or tone of voice in order to achieve a new, specific meaning
3 Innuendo: An indirect or subtle, usually derogatory implication in expression; insinuation, intimation, aspersion
4 The meaning of esotericism in the Perennial Tradition
5 I am using the word "type" in a very specific manner, referring to "the general form, character, or structure distinguishing a particular kind, group, or class of beings or objects" [Oxford English Dictionary, emphasis added]