Wednesday, June 19, 2013


(This is the 10th post in my one-month challenge series!)

Last night, I decided to change the blog's look. I find the color a little too bright, but maybe it's good not to have my usual sombre colors..

Anyway, today I was seeing this link- which is very interesting (do check it out!), but today's post is about a different article on the same site.
It is basically an incident where a student tells a prof he didn't understand the solution to a math problem though he knew how to solve. However, when the prof repeated the same explanation, he understood.

My first reaction was- ideally students should not be able to solve a math problem without understanding it.

But then again, what is understanding? I remember reading somewhere that understanding basically means integrating new information to your existing knowledge without contradictions. Going by that, there are some subjects where things make sense to me almost automatically. I can see what the book/author is leading to or what should be done next. But there are some subjects (like Mechanics, which I really suck at) where I know how to solve problems, I know exactly what the principles mean and yet I never feel like I 'got it'. My adviser calls it 'having an intuition for the subject'. What he means by that is you can understand what people say/explain but are unable to extend that knowledge to new situations. What I call- "It doesn't fit in my head".

But when you think about it- the same idea can be understood differently by different people. As a prof told me once- "Think of a transistor. Both of us know it, but the way we think of it is vastly different. Is it just a 3-terminal device, a controlled switch or something to amplify signals with? When someone says transistor, what is the first thought in your head? The physical device, a symbol, an R-C model or the output characteristics?*" 

Which is an interesting point. How do you say someone hasn't understood you when they might just have understood the same thing differently?

And if you look at it even more closely- when have u really understood?  One of my Psych class discussions was about descriptions vs explanations. To say that "The sun rises in the east everyday" is a description. It is a verifiable fact. But to say that "The sun is a star around which the Earth revolves, giving us the notion of the sun rising" is an explanation. It tells why the fact happens. But then again, one might say this is in itself a description. If you ask "Why does the Earth revolve around the sun?" you would get into gravitational theory, then quantum physics and ultimately philosophy (a science with no answers!). So, I had argued with the prof that there are no explanations in this world- only descriptions of different levels. Some people stop at a particular point of asking why. Others don't.

Anyway,the reason I decided to write about the incident mentioned in the post is because something similar happens to me often- not with learning but with everyday issues. There is a particular idea/concept I believe in- like not losing hopes when things seem bleak. I know I just have to hold on. I know that giving up is not going to help.  And yet, sometimes it is so easy to forget it. It seems pointless to hold on or try harder. I don't get why I should. And then, when someone else tells me the exact same reasons that I usually have, it somehow magically makes sense. It revives my hopes and makes me feel better about the world.

I guess it is just hearing those thoughts aloud. Or hearing them from another intelligent human being in a logical manner..

*The actual example has been simplified a lot!

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