Thursday 6 April 2023

On understanding - the need for simplicity and clarity

I spent most of my 'professional life' as a theoretical scientist within the field of biomedicine; and what I sought (the lack of which motivated me) was a clear and simple understanding of whatever I sought to know; because only when an understanding was clear and simple was something truly understood - such that the explanation could be communicated, evaluated, or used within science. 

In practice; genuine understanding can only be reached when the situation has been made sufficiently simple to be clear; graspable in a single act of comprehension and not by some chain of reasoning. 

That way, when we are wrong, the fact can be discovered. Clear and simple error soon reveals itself. But for someone whose false-'understanding' is complex and cloudy... well, he can never be brought to a point when he realizes his mistake.

Anything short of this meant that I did not really understand, but was just taking-on-trust; and if I communicated something I did not understand I was just 'parroting' it. 

That's how nearly everything in the public realm - including the discourse of Christian churches - strikes me: like the sound of parrots quoting parrots. 

Participants in Christian discourse sometimes believe that this parroting is what a Christian ought to do - as a sign of reverence and trust. People quote-and-believe those who they have been told are authorities, using words they have been told are profound - and so forth. 

I am prepared to accept that parroting was an acceptable path, in the past; when traditions remained true. Indeed - mere-obedience to (not-understood) church authority was a 'safe path' to salvation in some times and places. 

This kind of behaviour rooted in un-comprehending (maybe un-conscious) institutional-obedience was one common way of good living; at times and places when 'the authorities', in particular the Churches, were overall well-motivated and God-seeking. 

But nowadays, when 'Christian'-churches are only truly serious about pushing the evil agendas of totalitarian globalists -- well, deference to any major Western institution (up to and including any major Christian church) is to choose obedient service to a master who has taken the side of Satan in the spiritual war of this world. 

Nowadays, we must know for-our-selves if we are to know at all

Sometimes people claim to understand what they are saying - but all this means is that they have a low bar for that claim of 'understanding'! 

Often, it is simply that people have stunned-themselves with deference to authority such as they cannot really pay necessary attention to what is being asserted. 

Or that they bewildered themselves with abstractions - so they cannot keep track of coherence. 

Or they may have terminated the process of learning by declaration of 'mystery' - yet without becoming clear what they mean by mystery - and that such primary assumptions are necessarily foundational, not expedient. 

Well, each ought to lead his life in accordance with his primary convictions... 

On the other hand, for Christians dishonesty is a sin, and dishonesty with oneself is one of the most dangerous of sins (a sin that surely leads to other sins, without a tendency for self-correction) - as we see all around us.

And at the root of such dishonesty often lies a false claim of understanding. 



G said...

I have some theories about the atonement I'm going to post tomorrow. I'm going to try to put them in simple terms to see if I understand my own theories yet.

Bruce Charlton said...

@G - More than once I discovered that I did not really understand my latest biological theory, when I tried to explain it to colleagues or to students.

Not because of anything they said, but simply because I was failing to convince even myself.

Much the same applies, over the years, in blogging. For every WmJas whose nagging questions revealed my ideas about 'free will/ agency' were incoherent - there were half a dozen times when I realized that I was dissatisfied with what I had written.

For example, in trying more-clearly to explain Coleridge/ Barfield's very tough-to-grasp concept of 'polarity'; I recognized that their argument was defective (or, at least, very suboptimal) because it was trying to get rid of one kind of abstraction, by introducing another abstraction - asserting a qualitative division... and then trying to explain-it-away.

Even such truly-great thinkers as C&B were able sufficiently to confuse themselves with abstraction and complexity, that they missed significant problems.

That's sometimes the problem with difficult-to-grasp concepts - by the time you have reached the bottom of them, you lack the strength and will to recognize that they aren't actually correct in some vital way.

e.g. It took me so much effort to grasp hylomorphic dualism (Aristotle/ Aquinas), and I was so pleased with myself when I had; that it took several months before I realized that I disagreed with its basic metaphysical assumptions.

James said...

Reading this immediately made me think of the statement that faith withouts works is dead.
Wouldn't the first part of the work be understanding the instructions God has given to live a life that is good.

Bruce Charlton said...

@James "the instructions God has given to live a life that is good"

I suppose you mean that the Bible is this - a kind of divine instruction manual? But such an idea contains many assumptions about the nature and 'purpose' of the Bible, the relative authority of its Books, how it ought to be read, the nature of human consciousness/ understanding, the aims of God in creation etc.

These matters have become so confused that this way of thinking has become ineffectual - as can be seen by the anti-Christian behaviour of Bible-based churches during the 2020 global coup (birdemic).

It seems to me that all material sources of external authority are In Effect corrupted - including the Bible, tradition, hierarchy-authority, theology and the rest. Each Christian needs to work down to the roots for himself, discover/ rediscover for himself - satisfy himself.

The question then becomes one of how to avoid mere delusion and self-gratifying day-dream fantasy. That is the subject of many blog entries here.