Quotations about   understanding

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The Creator had a lot of remarkably good ideas when he put the world together, but making it understandable hadn’t been one of them.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Mort (1987)
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Added on 6-Apr-18 | Last updated 6-Apr-18
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Remember, gentlemen, an order that can be misunderstood will be misunderstood.

Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) Prussian soldier
Comment as Chief of the Prussian General Staff, Battle of Sedan (Sep 1870)
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We readily inquire, “Does he know Greek or Latin?” “Can he write poetry and prose?” But what matters most is what we put last: “Has he become better and wiser?” We ought to find out not who understands most but who understands best.

[Nous nous enquerons volontiers: “Sçait-il du Gre ou du Latin? Estriil en vers ou en prose?” Mais sìl est devenu ou plus advisé, c’estoit le principal, et c’est ce qui demeure derrier. Il falloit sènquerir qui est mieux sçavant, non qui est plus sçavant.]

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
The Complete Essays, I:25 “On Schoolmasters [Du pédantisme]”
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Better keep yourself clean and bright: you are the window through which you must see the world.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
The Revolutionist’s Handbook, “Honor” (1905)
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Grammar, perfectly understood, enables us, not only to express our meaning fully and clearly, but so to express it as to enable us to defy the ingenuity of man to give to our words any other meaning than that which we ourselves intend them to express.

William Cobbett (1763-1835) English politician, agriculturist, journalist, pamphleteer
A Grammar of the English Language, Letter 2 (1818)
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Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

Charles "Charlie" Stross (b. 1964) British writer
The Nightmare Stacks, ch. 18 (2016)
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A variant of Clarke's Third Law.
Added on 3-Oct-17 | Last updated 3-Oct-17
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Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) Swiss-German artist
“Creative Credo,” sec. 1 (1920)
Added on 31-Jan-17 | Last updated 31-Jan-17
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Man masters nature not by force but by understanding. This is why science has succeeded where magic failed: because it has looked for no spell to cast over nature.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
Lecture, MIT (26 Feb 1953)

Reprinted in "The Creative Mind," Sec. 4, Science and Human Values (1961).
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Every man hears only what he understands.

goethe-every-man-hears-understands-wist_info-quote

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe, #385 [tr. Saunders (1892)]
Added on 25-Jan-17 | Last updated 25-Jan-17
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The world is not always a kind place. That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.

Fred Rogers (1928-2003) American educator, minister, songwriter, television host ["Mister Rogers"]
You Are Special (1994)
Added on 24-Jan-17 | Last updated 24-Jan-17
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We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself.

Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Mere Christianity, “Let’s Pretend” (1952)
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The test of a religion or philosophy is the number of things it can explain: so true it is. But the religion of our churches explains neither art not society nor history, but itself needs explanation.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1838)
Added on 24-Oct-16 | Last updated 24-Oct-16
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The chances of finding out what’s really going on in the universe are so remote, the only thing to do is hang the sense of it and keep yourself occupied.

Adams - keep yourself occupied- wist_info quote

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, ch. 30 (1979)
Added on 29-Aug-16 | Last updated 29-Aug-16
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I believe that only scientists can understand the universe. It is not so much that I have confidence in scientists being right, but that I have so much in nonscientists being wrong.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright (1978)
Added on 17-May-16 | Last updated 17-May-16
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Understanding everything makes one very indulgent.

[Tout comprendre rend très-indulgent.]

Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) Swiss-French writer, woman of letters, critic, salonist [Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein, Madame de Staël, Madame Necker]
Corinne, Book 18, ch. 5 (1807)
Added on 16-Feb-16 | Last updated 16-Feb-16
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What we have learned from others becomes our own by reflection.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Blotting Book 1,” (1826-1827)
Added on 27-Jan-16 | Last updated 27-Jan-16
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It is not written in the stars that I will always understand what is going on — a truism that I often find damnably annoying.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Friday [Friday Jones] (1982)
Added on 13-Oct-15 | Last updated 13-Oct-15
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He whose Belly is full believes not him whose is empty.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #2399 (1732)
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Don’t write so you can be understood. Write so that you cannot be misunderstood.

Quintilian (39-90) Roman orator [Marcus Fabius Quintilianus]
De Institutione Oratoria, Book 8, ch. 2, l. 24

Alt. trans.: "We should not write so that it is possible for [the reader] to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us."

Also attributed to Epictetus, Francis Bacon, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William Taft.
Added on 24-Aug-15 | Last updated 13-Jun-16
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The only difference between a problem and a solution is that people understand the solution.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
(Attributed)

Quoted in Thomas Alvin Boyd, Charles F. Kettering: A Biography (1957)
Added on 14-Aug-15 | Last updated 14-Aug-15
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You can’t help but try and follow an animal’s thought processes, and you can’t help, when faced with an animal like a three ton rhinoceros with nasal passages bigger than its brain, but fail.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
Last Chance to See, ch. 3 (1990)
Added on 3-Aug-15 | Last updated 3-Aug-15
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Those who are destitute of philosophy may be compared to prisoners in a cave, who are only able to look in one direction because they are bound, and who have a fire behind them and a wall in front. Between them and the wall there is nothing; all that they see are shadows of themselves, and of objects behind them, cast on the wall by the light of the fire. Inevitably they regard these shadows as real, and have no notion of the objects to which they are due. At last, some man succeeds in escaping from the cave to the light of the sun; for the first time he sees real things, and becomes aware that he had hitherto been deceived by shadows. If he is the sort of philosopher who is fit to become a guardian, he will feel it is his duty to those who were formerly his fellow prisoners to go down again into the cave, instruct them as to the truth, and show them the way up. But he will have difficulty in persuading them, because, coming out of the sunlight, he will see shadows less clearly than they do, and will seem to them stupider than before his escape.

Plato (c.428-347 BC) Greek philosopher
The Republic, 7.514

Summ. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, ch. 15 (1946)
Added on 11-Jun-15 | Last updated 11-Jun-15
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What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that’s really the essence of programming. By the time you’ve sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you’ve learned something about it yourself.

Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English writer
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987)
Added on 8-Jun-15 | Last updated 8-Jun-15
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To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) Lebanese-American poet, writer, painter [Gibran Khalil Gibran]
(Attributed)
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He that will believe only what he can fully comprehend, must have a very long head, or a very short creed.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, #470 (1820 ed.)
Added on 27-Feb-15 | Last updated 27-Feb-15
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The great business of study is to form a mind adapted and adequate to all times and all occasions; to which all nature is then laid open, and which may be said to possess the key of her inexhaustible riches.

Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) British painter, critic
“Discourse Eleven” (10 Dec 1782)
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Successful problem solving requires finding the right solution to the right problem. We fail more often because we solve the wrong problem than because we get the wrong solution to the right problem.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
Redesigning the Future (1974)
Added on 10-Dec-14 | Last updated 10-Dec-14
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It is the duty of the human understanding to understand that there are things which it cannot understand.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Journals (1847)
Added on 27-Oct-14 | Last updated 27-Oct-14
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Every man supposes himself not to be fully understood or appreciated.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (6 May 1840)
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Investment must be rational. If you can’t understand it, don’t do it.

Warren Buffett (b. 1930) American investor and financier
“About Investing: Only Buy Securities That You Understand,” Warren Buffett Speaks (1997)
Added on 17-Jul-14 | Last updated 17-Jul-14
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Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.

Esther Freud (b. 1963) British novelist, actress
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Attributed)
Added on 24-Mar-09 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [tr. Collins (1928)]

Alt. trans.: "The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress." [tr. Paul Auster (1983)]
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Candy smiled at me a little. “Look,” she said. “You’re a good guy. I know you care about me, but you’re a while male, you can’t understand a minority situation. It’s not your fault.”

[…] When the beer came, I drank about a quarter of it and said to Candy, “Extend that logic, and we eventually have to decide that no one can understand anyone. Maybe the matter of understanding has been overrated. Maybe I don’t have to understand your situation to sympathize with it, to help you alter it, to be on your side. I’ve never experienced starvation either, but I’m opposed to it. When I encounter it, I try to alleviate it. I sympathize with its victims. The question of whether I understand it doesn’t arise.”

She shook her head. “That’s different,” she said.

“Maybe it isn’t. Maybe civilization is possible, if at all, only because people can care about conditions they haven’t experienced. Maybe you need understanding like a fish needs a bicycle.”

“You’re quite thoughtful,” she said, “for a man your size.”

“You’ve never been my size,” I said. “You wouldn’t understand.”

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
A Savage Place, ch. 12 (1981)
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If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
Drift-Wood, “Table Talk”
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The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

Hand - spirit of liberty - wist_info quote

Learned Hand (1872-1961) American jurist
“The Spirit of Liberty,” speech, “I Am an American Day,” New York (21 May 1941)
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It is not so much the suffering as the senselessness of it that is unendurable.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) German philosopher and poet
(Attributed)

Paraphrased by Nicolas Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man, 2.2.5 (1931) [tr. Duddington (1955)]
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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) British writer
Profiles of the Future, “Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination” (Clarke’s Third Law) (1962; rev. 1973)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Feb-17
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