Levels of understanding

When we go trough life there seem to be an infinite number of potential things you can learn at any moment in time. Recognising this, I try to always be learning something new in every situation I am in. When reading a book, listening to a podcast or even watching an episode of House of Cards being able to learn seems fairly obvious. But there are so much more moments it makes sense to try to learn something.

When commuting in the train looking out of the window and seeing the green grass of the fields for example I try to make connections about the world that I haven’t seen or experienced before. Or when walking in the woods in my hometown. Stopping the podcast I am listening to, and trying to figure out how it is possible that such a magnificent big tree grows out of a small seed that was randomly dropped there someday. All of these things are about learning and making sense of the world, it’s about levels of understanding.

While conversing - via email - with someone I have met on a message board for learning (Farnam Street LC) we were talking about levels of understanding and it came to me that this is a huge topic I wanted to dive deeper into. I thoroughly enjoy learning new things and as a result of that I read a lot of books. The books I tend to read are about 90% in the non-fiction genre, but in the non-fiction category I have a broad interest in almost anything. Combining all these different types of books and the insights they give me, I see the world through a different lens.

Discussing this topic made me realise that certain books are so much different the 2nd or 3rd time you read them. Of course the letters in the books haven’t changed, even though these same letters are able to struck a totally different chord in me on consequent reads. Investigating for myself how this is possible, the simple explanation (at least partially) is due to the fact that I am getting older and have been learning things in between the reads of these books.

But in a more general sense learning is also being able to link certain principles and ideas that are seemingly unrelated together. Which opens up new levels of understanding for all sorts of things.

An example of a book I have been re-reading a couple of times is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl. Frankl was a survivor of Auschwitz and the first time I read his book years ago, it did impress me very much, not being able to believe what the Nazi’s did in the concentration camps to the Jews. However on a 2nd and 3rd reading it impressed me even more. The first time I read the book I somehow completely missed the point that not all Jews are good and not all Nazi’s were bad, a point that Frankl makes in the book (He was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist). Nothing is black and white in these kinds of situations where lives are on the line.

Only after reading the book the 2nd time it became obvious to me that this was a big and strong point Frankl was trying to make by allowing me to see what people are able to do in times of stress. And on the 3rd read I think I grasped a little of what it would feel like to be in his, or his Nazi captors shoes. (Interestingly, shoes were important to survive the harsh winters, so a lot of the surviving Jews stole them off others). The thought that I could be doing similar things in the role of Nazi or Jew (depending on my heritage) if I lived in that period of time, was an insight that I was totally unaware of the first 2 times I read the book. My level of understanding was growing.

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