Understand Deeply

Understanding deeply is difficult. We overlook the holes in our own knowledge and run full speed at advanced topics.

During academics, pinpointing a lack of understanding is easy. If we’re clueless on an assignment or bomb a test, then we’ve missed some concepts. Since everything is naturally cumulative, it’s straightforward to figure out when things get fuzzy.

It’s when you look at your homework and have no idea what the f#$% is going on.

In the real world, it gets harder. We don’t have nice progress markers like “Assignment 3.4” to guide us.

For me, there was a distinct time when I lacked an understanding of a fundamental concept and it bit me in the ass — introduction to pointers with C.

I thought I understood the concept, but I really didn’t. Subsequently, I got destroyed on all homework assignments and tests after “learning” about pointers. Eventually, I had to sit by myself for awhile and soak it all in. I would not have been able to finish that class otherwise.

The concept was so foreign back then. I understand pointers now, but if I were to dust off my trusty C book I’m positive I would uncover some new subtleties.

The inspiration of this post, and also the title, comes from the book The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking. I completely ripped the title. Anyways, the concept of Understanding Deeply resonated with me.

The book is written by a group of professors and has a very academic perspective. It doesn’t include any examples for the real world, but the ideas are basic enough.

The rest of this post is going to summarize the major points behind Understanding deeply. Spark notes time!

Basic Idea

We must understand simple things deeply. Fundamental principles, ideas, and methods have to be mastered.

This results in a solid foundation which is everything.

Revisit Often

Once is never enough. There is always a concept that you can understand better by reading it again.

Simple ideas hold the secrets to the complex

Many of the most complex and profound ideas arise from simple and every day experiences.

Newton had an apple fall on his head, and he used that idea to explain how planets move.

Utilize a Blank Document

Open up a blank document on the computer. Do not refer to anything and write an outline of any concept you’re trying to understand.

If you can’t write anything, then you don’t understand it deeply.

Focus on Sub-Problems

Do not tackle huge issues in their entirety.

Find a sub-problem and understand it completely. Each complicated subject has a handful of core ideas. Isolate each one and figure out how it contributes to the whole.

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking is a quick read. It’s abstract and includes many stories. It doesn’t provide a concrete playbook, that’s still up to you.

I also made a video related to this with some similar ideas. No one knows knows it all, but if we purport to understand something, we better understand it deeply.





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