Are you sure you understood?

This week I came across a blog post by Nabeel Qureshi on How to understand things and I knew I had to write about it. I know I was supposed to write the second part of previous post(which I will do by the end of next week), that talks about future of humanity, but this post mentioned above has got me thinking all week about how we understand things. Since the target this year(even when it comes to these weekly posts) has been to build an ability to better understand the things or atleast build a model to better understand anything or everything that has been particularly difficult for me to understand. Therefore this week’s post is dedicated to anyone who has been trying their hand at anything new, be it illustrating, coding,reading up non-fiction,learning a new software or as for me the past few months have been about enhancing my quantitative aptitude skills along with all the other things.

During my schooling years, I found it difficult to learn new concepts from the perspective of understanding it in great detail, and was asked to lay a greater emphasis on how to score well. The conversations were never about how well you understood a particular subject, but always about how well one could score in it. My brother on the other hand, loved the process of understanding anything new and built an aptitude towards learning, which I have been trying to build since by undergrad years, which is basically an attempt at fundamentally understanding something. One thing that particularly caught my attention while reading the above mentioned post, is that intelligent people have a very high bar to say when they have actually understood something. This made me retrospect my own bar of understanding and how I decide when I have actually made sense of anything new. I realized that in school I very quickly said that I understood something as long as I scored well in it. I have been a ‘smart’ student when it came to scoring well, but while picking up math once again in my life after 6 years of architecture for an exam that I want to give this year, made me realize that I hadn’t understood quite a lot because if I had, it would have stuck. So this time around I changed my process of understanding things, because I wanted to genuinely get better at understanding math(not the elementary level :P). As anyone who is trying/tried learning something new knows that it is euphoric when you can teach yourself into learning something that seemed nearly impossible.

There is a fundamental difference now when I try to learn something new than how would I go about learning in school. Schools have been and still are to quite an extent based on making learning score oriented. There are certain ways which mostly a major chunk of students who learn how to score well apply while learning, they know which topics would fetch more marks and how it is important to retain it without really asking questions such as why and where can I apply this apart from the exam. School curriculum is time based and asking too many questions could make one lag in his/her own class, given that their are so many things one expects of a student to learn in one year. This past month while writing for one of the posts related to economics, I had to read up about Bretton-woods system and was looking for readings that could help me understand that particular concept in greater detail. I was astonished to find that in my 10th class history book because I had no recollection of reading it.

The curriculum that my university followed while teaching me about architecture was entirely different. Something I will be eternally grateful for, because it made me appreciate the details that exist in understanding anything, and how with enough practice we can build your own intuition. While teaching about architecture, the faculty made us ask ourselves questions such as who would we build for, what are their needs, what could be the best suitable response for alleviating their situations in the most economic way possible. All these questions needed real answers for which we were asked to interact with people,to document their needs and wants and then start our work from their. It made me brave enough to ask questions which didn’t have possible answers in sight and that changed the way I look at learning now.

While trying to strengthen my quantitative skills now, I ask myself a thousand times where can I apply this in making lives better, and it makes learning much more interesting than what I was taught to limit it to. My attempt at understanding economics( though I am so far from it!) makes me more aware of the possibility , that how it also plays a role in a building better societies. Lastly, understanding anything is about being honest with yourselves, because it’s so easy to fool ourselves in saying that we understood something.

If you are looking for anything to brighten your day or just some source of optimism, do check out the post mentioned at the start of the post!

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