Differences Exposed: To Know Vs. To Understand

To know something and to understand something are related concepts. However, they shouldn’t be used interchangeably. According to Quartz, “each is a distinct mental state involving cognitive grasp.” Knowing is static, a passive process as one refers to discrete facts. Understanding, on the other hand, is an active process. To understand is to analyze and place facts in context.

Without facts, understanding is impossible. However, having knowledge does not mean one understands the bigger picture. Without attempting to undergo the active process, this could lead to frustration and misunderstandings of both parties.

To Know

You know how you’ll try to communicate something important or describe an experience to a friend and they’ll reply often with an impatient, “I know, I know” or “Yeah, I get it”. This is knowing: they understand the basics and don’t have to think twice. Knowing something doesn’t require an extra cognitive step that people often overlook.

Knowledge itself is not static. Knowledge is continuously changing and evolving and introduced to the world in different forms and attitudes. Therefore, to assess new information, understanding is an important skill.

To Understand

Understanding is a “tool” as described by Quartz. “It helps people assimilate new information and continually refine their worldview by seeing connections”. We live in an era with so much information available at our fingertips. Therefore, it’s cognitively tiring to digest and evaluate the information we’re given. By exercising our ability to understand, it’ll help us be more open-minded and less likely to fall into manipulative language, propaganda, poorly sourced stories, and much more.

According to Pinola, a writer for Lifehacker, the difference between understanding and knowing is empathy. “Understanding is deeper because it comes from empathy or identification”. She used the example of racism where a white man, Zoller Seitz, was spared arrest despite being at fault while the Hispanic man he was fighting with got arrested. While racism isn’t new, Seitz reflected “that to truly understand another person–in any situation–we have to try to look at things from their perspective.” While cliché, it can help us to become less temperamental and to solve problems with a clearer mind.

Knowing And Understanding

“Your life will change when you change your mind,” Paul Jun, a writer at MotivatedMastery, writes. By remaining curious, seeking to understand rather than being right, and “to find knowledge that helps us become better humans”, are all processes to help rewire our minds.