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The Experience of Understanding

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I have spent some time thinking about and examining the experience of understanding. In general we are all able to relate to one another through conversation, whether spoken or written, and as you read these words you are most likely having the experience of understanding them. But why is this? What is the nature of this experience? Aren’t the words that I type merely a mishmash of lines and curly symbols on a page? At what point do they become meaningful and what is the cause of their meaning?

In this post, we’ll briefly explore some answers to these questions.

Let’s begin with a helpful quote from Bryan Magee which hones in on the problem.

If I listen to a sentence or a tune, the actual sensory input at any given instant can consist of no more than part of a single note, or pause, or consonant, or vowel sound. For me to hear the sentence as a sentence, or the tune as a tune, I need at each point in it to retain in my mind’s ear all the sounds that have gone before, and to link them with one another and with my current aural input into something that I then apprehend as a whole.

Magee, B., Confessions of a Philosopher
(London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997), p259

In the 21st century Western world we’re inclined to see cognition as a process carried out by our brains, which are often believed to be like machines or computers that process information and control our thoughts and actions. That’s one possibility I’d invite you to consider. Do you really feel as though there is a computer in your head powering your understanding, or does your understanding feel more organic and free-flowing than that?

Another possibility, and this is where I believe the truth of the matter rests, is that our experiences are brought about by God. God is behind every sensation, thought, and emotion that we experience. He is animating all of the processes that we experience as part of our aliveness; everything from our hearts beating, to our blinking, to our thinking – to our understanding.

So the reason why we experience the sensations associated with understanding a sentence or a tune, is because God is giving us those experiences.

On close examination, what constitutes understanding is actually a series of subtle impressions in awareness, that can be best described as sensations of tension and resolution. Tension is caused, I believe, when God makes us feel a degree of isolation, and resolution is a sense of greater connectedness with God’s essence, which is love. Isolation and divine love are the two extremes of human experience, and the process of cognition is a subtle back-and-forth interplay between the two.

But understanding also relates to objects, events, and ideas, rather than being merely bodily sensations. If this is true then it must be the case that God, who I believe is omniscient, is able to remember things. When I remember to pick up my keys before I leave the house, God has prompted that memory to arise in my awareness, so I believe it must be the case that God sees and comprehends the big picture, including all past events, and is able to produce in us thoughts and feelings that are related to the past.

We must remember, though, that really the past and future do not exist. In reality there is only an eternal now, which I believe contains the fullness of God. This moment, and God, are ultimately one and the same, and they constitute all that exists in reality. Therefore it makes sense that God is in control of all our bodily processes, including the sensations and thoughts associated with the experience of understanding.


If you’re interested in further exploring the idea that God is in control of all things, I have written a book on the subject entitled Ultimate Truth: God Beyond Religion. For more information or to buy the book, click here. Thank you for reading!

32 comments

  1. Rather, I believe God created us with the ability to do the things you are mentioning. It is like a car maker producing a car which can do all we need it to do, but that car maker isn’t there when we drive the car. He gave the car everything needed to be driven, and we go from there. He doesn’t tell us where to drive or how fast to go, that’s up to us. Off the cuff, I think that’s the best analogy I can come up with.

    Thoughtful post, Steven, and I hope things are going well, especially in the situation you wrote about a few days back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi David! It would seem, from your analogy, that you believe we are like machines (cars are obviously machines). I just don’t buy it, though many in the scientific world would concur. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Okay, so how do you do it? How do you make your heart beat, your blood circulate, your food digest, your thoughts arise? If you are doing these things freely, can you please explain how you do them? Otherwise I guess you must believe your brain is a computer controlling these processes? But then they are not done freely.

          The other option is that God is doing them.

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  2. I think it is a mixture of both. Our spirit controls our conscious decisions, much like a person would give a computer command prompts. Our unconscious processes are controlled by God, like the software in a computer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ears to Hear! Many thanks for reading and commenting.

      I struggle with the idea that there are two wills (my will and God’s will) interacting in my activities. Let’s take the example of walking along the road. Is that my spirit controlling the walk or is God doing it?

      Having deeply considered these things it became clear to me that we can’t divide up our experiences into God’s action and our action, because all our activity is coordinated. There must be a coordinator, which is God.

      I hope you can see the logic!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this a lot of times to understand. I agree that God is behind everything. He created us, our brain, and our hearts to pump blood. He created us wonderfully, perfectly because He created us in His own image. That’s a gift from Him. But, He also gave us the freedom to choose that’s why we are in control of ourselves. He doesn’t want us to be in His full control because He want us to be willing and be happy. He is there to remind us things but the choice is in us if we want to be reminded or we want to do the things He’s reminding us. So in my personal understanding, I think I somewhat agree with your two points and somewhat disagree. To make a point, I believe that understanding is through our brain given by God with our own choice. Soooo.. I don’t know if that makes any sense for you but yesss.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Abby! Many thanks for reading and taking the time to try and understand my perspective, I appreciate it 🙂

      I agree that God is behind everything.

      I’m curious. Do you believe God set events in motion at the beginning of time (like a big bang or something) and now He is at a distance somewhere watching events unfold? Or do you believe God is actively unfolding events? And a related question: What do you believe about the nature of God (i.e. what exactly is God?)

      He created us, our brain, and our hearts to pump blood.

      So do you believe your brain and heart operate mechanically, like a machine? Do you think you are a machine? Or is God making your bodily processes happen as they happen? Or do you have another explanation?

      There’s a lot more I could say in response to your comment, especially on the idea we have free will (which is of course the mainstream Christian view, so I’m not surprised to hear you making that argument). But let me just put a thought to you. When I pray to God, for instance to bless my friendships, or bless my health, or bless my work, I am doing that because I believe God is in control of my life circumstances. If you believe you have free will, then presumably you don’t pray these kinds of prayers?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I believe that I have free will. but that doesn’t mean I don’t pray those kinds of prayers because I do. I choose to believe in God. I choose to pray. I choose to depend on Him. I choose to be in God’s control. That’s why I somewhat agree with your point but does not fully. Yes, the reason why I chose that because I learned about Him and He reached out through the people around me and events I’ve experienced. But still, we have the choice to choose Him or the world. Maybe it’s a matter of complete surrender. Thank you for making your point. I appreciate it a lot and learned a lot.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi again, Abby! Thanks for your response.

          I believe that I have free will. But that doesn’t mean I don’t pray those kinds of prayers because I do.

          I choose to be in God’s control.

          I believe if you think about this deeply you will see that you are trying to hold onto two beliefs that are incompatible. If you choose something freely, then it is not under God’s control. And if you do something that is under God’s control, then it is not done freely.

          You didn’t answer my question about what you believe God is, but that’s fine, I won’t press you, I just want you to think about it 🙂

          Thanks again for reading and reflecting and considering these matters!

          Best wishes,

          Steven

          Like

    1. Hey, Tara! Thanks so much for reading. By all means chew it over, and if you’d like me to clarify anything, let me know. I realise I crammed in a lot to a relatively short post. God bless, and thanks again – I appreciate you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting reflections, Steven – it is clear that you have given the matter deep thought, indeed.

    This verse from Romans comes to mind for me, and I thought I’d share it:

    “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans‬ ‭11:33‬, NASB)‬‬

    Keep thinking and writing, Steven. Take good care!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello Steven. I’ve read your blog and all of the comments. My journey here on earth has lead me to a simple belief … God Is, therefore I Am. Through God all things are possible for me, even free will. And this “free will” given to me allows God to experience God as me. It all intertwined. My journey has lead me to this belief, but as you know we change as we continue to grow. Thank you for stretching my perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi (forgive me, I don’t know your name),

      Thanks for reading through the post and the comments, I’m grateful!

      God Is, therefore I Am.

      I think that’s quite profound. I like it. I even think you’ve outdone Descartes there!

      Through God all things are possible for me, even free will.

      I believe freedom from God is impossible as God is boundless. It seems to me that human freedom would place limitations on the being of God and be incompatible with His omnipotence and omnipresence. Also, when I observe activity in existence (in the human person and in nature) it’s clear to me that there is an animating force, which is God. But I respect the fact that you might take a different view.

      Thanks again 🙂

      Peace and blessings!

      Steven

      Like

  6. I replied via my phone, but somehow it got lost in cyberland, however it might just show up. My name is Cynthia. The words “God Is, therefore I Am” came to me many years ago through conversations and studying. Have a great day Steven!

    Liked by 1 person

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