March 16, 2014

  • March 16, 2014
Understanding (Photo source: Fra.Europa.Eu)
Understanding - instinctive or learned?
What do you think, is understanding a natural thing or is it learned along the way?

I think there are different levels of understanding that are evident in different people, and in different cultures. 

Certainly, I think some of it has to be instinctive, something we are born with. 

"Common sense" is a type of understanding, a rationale that we use to see basic ideas are valid or invalid, whether they are ideas related to mundane daily matters such as "does it make sense to go the store today for bread if we already have 3 loaves in our panty", or whether they related to significant moral and ethical issues such as "is it right to steal that loaf of bread whether or not we have loaves in our pantry".

Then of course there is "factual" understanding, being able to understand and comprehend facts of a scientific nature, of a mathematical nature. Then there is also artistic and emotional understanding.

All of these things are related to intelligence and instinct. I think to draw a line and say that begins at one point rather than another is a rather specious argument.

Instinct, which I link it to genetic memory, is something that is the basis for much of our intelligence. Yet we, also, learn things along the way and develop new instincts, or one could call them psychological or emotional reflexes instead, perhaps. In any way it is viewed, I deem one has to conclude that both instinct and learning are part of understanding, part of intelligence.

Now, "understanding" has to be defined as more than simply knowing a fact. It is knowing how to use that fact to one's benefit, or to the benefit of society. 

We "understand" that are there are multiple ways in which a fact or a process can be used. Animals do much the same thing, and it's even been that many animals learn new behavior that then becomes instinctive as it is passed on to the descendants. One could argue that this then becomes part of genetic memory.  Certainly, in the history of the world we see an increase in our ability to understand and learn and memorize and apply information and news processes from one generation to the next through the eons.

Do this mean, then, that all understanding eventually resides in the instinctive parts of our brains?

Or is there something different at work?  Certainly, it has been proven that DNA can actually change during the life of an organism. Does our DNA, our foundation genetic makeup, actually then change as a result of what we learn, and then what we learn becomes instinctive?

My perspective is that is exactly what happens, either in our brains or in our DNA, or someplace. I see evidence all the time of new learned behaviors. And this, also, shows up in increased ability or capacity to understand things, especially intangible things.

The adage “one grows wiser with age” is certainly true of many things in life, maybe not always factual things but, certainly, things that require thought and analysis and evaluation and judgment, things that require an evaluative response rather than something as mundane as balancing a checkbook for our bank account.

So, to sum up, I think the evidence shows understanding is learned AND instinctive, and that, in fact, what is learned over the course of a life eventually becomes instinctive.
And I presume this topic can be discussed from a variety of viewpoints.



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