“Understanding” and “knowing” are two words that are often used interchangeably. While the two concepts are related, they are not actually the same. Each is a unique “mental state” that involves cognitive grasp. The problem is that the use of the two is often conflated across the industry spectrum, from writing to science and everything in-between.
So what is the difference between “understanding” and “knowing”? Which is better: knowing or understanding something? In his article – It’s better to Understand Something than to Know It – featured on Quartz, Ephrat Livni gives the answers.
Knowledge and Understanding are Different
According to the article, knowing is static, “referring to discrete facts.” On the other hand, understanding is an active concept that describes the capacity to analyse and put these concrete facts in context to build a big picture. It goes further to state that knowledge is not necessarily to “understanding of the bigger narrative.” However, understanding can prove impossible without knowledge which forms the basis for gathering information. At the minimum, understanding is a tool that allows people to collect information and make sense of it.
Relevance to Communication in Science
Understanding is the central tenet of gathering information. For scientists, the concepts can be quite obscure. That is why scientists must learn how to communicate science to the masses effectively. According to the article, facts (information) must be gathered, analysed, and contextualised to link cause to effect. That can only occur when facts can be coupled with understanding. Definitions are also crucial to scientists; otherwise, language conflations cause further confusion in science and society.
It’s better to understand than to know something
Understanding is paramount when looking to weave facts. It’s also essential when contextualizing gathered information. That is right; it is impossible to evaluate knowledge without understanding. On the overall, scientific literacy in public can only become possible when there is real understanding.
Definitions make huge difference
Although science knowledge in public relies on gathered data, it is true understanding that bolsters scientific literacy. Even so, this can only be achieved when understanding is well defined and understood. By defining it, we can “weave, analyse, and contextualise” information without much fuss. This way, they can effectively communicate science to the public.
Learn more about why understanding something is better than knowing it by reading the entire articlehere.