How does it feel to understand something?
To feel that you understand something implies that it is conveyed to you in a language that you have previously understood.
Language is more than syntax and it includes semantics. Our natural language is full of metaphors and we understand what is spoken to us through our previous understanding of these metaphors.
Thus the feeling of understanding at the most basic level is its connection to what you already know. The great explainers make this connection using apt metaphors in their language.
But understanding will vary in degrees. An expert will understand the words of another expert in a different way than a novice will understand it.
That's because to get a better 'feel' of understanding, one has to touch the surface of the subject in many more ways. This requires more than passive engagement but rather understanding is enhanced by doing.
There is no deep understanding without doing. There is no understanding without interaction. This interaction may be physical or it may be mental.
The latter kind is more difficult because there is nothing to correct for errors other than one's previous understanding.
Thus understanding involves the interaction with this world to uncover the errors in understanding revealed by this world. We understand because we interact to see the errors uncovered by our interaction.
Thus when we again interact with a new subject and discover no errors in our interaction, we gain confidence in our understanding and thus the feel of understanding.
Human understanding involves connecting many related concepts. So, we feel that we understand when we can generate the connections ourselves. Passively seeing the connections is not the same as generating the connections.
Thus to persuade some to believe that they understand something, they have to generate the connections themselves. Which begins by planting the seed so that their understanding grows.
Once the seed is planted and it is grown within a person through repeated reinforcement, it becomes impossible to change a person's understanding. Arguments are insufficient. That is why disinformation is a very terrible thing.
The feeling of mastery of a subject is when we discover ourselves in the flow of thought, where we can navigate a complex subject with effortlessness.
Unfortunately, this can be a gift in disguise. Mastery can be a curse if one begins with the wrong seed. We may feel we understand the world, but it may be entirely wrong because it germinated from a seed that is not of this world.
What then is the 'right seed'? The right seed will always begin with a hypothesis. A hypothesis is imagined when one discovers an error in one's model of reality. It is through exploration of this error (or what one might call surprise) that we might generate a good hypothesis.
A good hypothesis is what Richard Feynman calls a 'first principle'. His first principle is in fact recursive "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”
This is when it hits you, many have fooled themselves into understanding the world they lived in. The germinating seed of Christianity is that we are all sinners. The germinating seed for understanding is that we are all fools.
We are fools because we have accepted to be fooled by the societies we live in. We believe we understand our world because our societies have fooled ourselves.
C.S. Peirce and @conways_law realized that the concepts that we create are the consequence of the organizations that we've invented. These concepts are reinforced by the organizations whose existence is justified by the validity of their ideas.
In every domain in science, we have organizations that have emerged to promote a specific perspective into reality. We build hermetically sealed communities that are unable to absorb new ideas from other communities.
We are unable to break out of a belief system because we grew up in that belief system. The most difficult thing to do is to throw away your belief system that took decades of effort for you to grow.
The first step in progress is to accept that your first principle is wrong. Unfortunately, you cannot do this because your entire livelihood, your entire being, is in jeopardy if you make this acknowledgment.
So the most convenient thing is to accept the reassuring lie. So even though we have a glimpse that we are wrong, we refuse to make the change. We have already sunk too big an investment in the wrong cause.
This is why most change comes from the youth. From the people who have yet to make an investment. From the people who do not benefit from the status quo.
From the people who know that they are fools.

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More from @IntuitMachine

20 Sep
There are so many classic songs that grab you because of the lyrics, but can be vastly improved by modifying the lyrics. Songs, like all art, involves a beholder's stake. The intrinsic ambiguity of art allows us to mold its meaning to ourselves.
The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel has always grabbed my attention. Paul Simon wrote this song when he was 21, but I doubt he could have predicted the emergent interpretations that listeners found in his song.
The Disturbed version of the song has an appealing interpretation (same lyrics). That captures that feeling of helplessness in a world of apathy.
Read 13 tweets
16 Sep
It is indeed surprising to me that @stephen_wolfram 's AKNS which has been around for around 2 decades isn't as commonly accepted. It seems I still need to re-explain the ideas in that book. Here's a recent interview by @lexfridman
It's a 4-hour interview and there's a lot of newer ideas discussed here. But essentially, all reality is computation. I had assumed that this to be true for a very long time, but it didn't occur to me that this needed to be stated and explained.
Wolfram believes that he is finally beginning to understand quantum mechanics in an intuitively graspable way. This is indeed a bold assertion, but I do think he is on the right path.
Read 21 tweets
15 Sep
There is a fundamental flaw that exists in almost every branch of science that is a consequence of the requirement for objectivity.
The most obvious manifestation of this the need to disentangle parts from their whole to gain understanding. In many complex systems (i.e. biology) this approach of reductionism is problematic.
However, I want to focus on something less obvious. What is less obvious is that there exists a notion of global truth.
Read 17 tweets
12 Sep
Language has many side-effects (or unintended consequences) that are critical to recognize if we seek to understand general intelligence.
One side effect that we frequently don't realize is that the use of symbols affords the user the ability to not think. Symbols and the abstractions that they refer to implies that thinking is deferred.
What this also implies is that many people use words without understanding the meaning of those words. In commerce there are a lot of buzzwords and salesmen have the ability to decorate their language with buzzwords without actually understanding what they mean.
Read 19 tweets
12 Sep
I am surprised to discover that 'mental affordances' is a new thing. Isn't intuition the same as mental affordances? That is intuition defined as automated mental processes that are learned through experience. academic.oup.com/mind/article-a…
That said, humans are equipped with innate affordances that aid in our ability to learn. For example, we automatically see the intentions of another and thus are able to mimic that behavior with the added knowledge of why that behavior was performed.
Related to this are mental affordances available also to other social species. The ability to recognized indexical expressions and the ability to coordinate actions.
Read 8 tweets
8 Sep
What should be baffling for so many but isn't mentioned enough is how a neural network that is based on continuous mathematics leads to things like GPT-3 that works on discrete tokens.
3 years ago, I wrote a rebuttal blog post that argued why Deep Learning could be applied to NLP. This was in response to a post making the rounds that it was impossible. medium.com/intuitionmachi…
The argument against Deep Learning was that it is based on continuous function and thus cannot be applied to non-continuous things like words: linkedin.com/pulse/google-h…
Read 18 tweets

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