Tag Archives: cognition


yesterday we went car shopping. after driving the sixth test car, in which we were quite interested, the salesperson made us a very tempting offer. we did the rational thing and retired for a family powwow to a nearby fast food place. after briefly going through the pros and cons of another car that was quite attractive, the decision to accept the offer came fast and unanimous.

then we finalized the deal, and the question of warranty insurance came up. my husband left the decision up to me. it had gotten dark outside, i was getting tired from a day of car shopping, and suddenly that decision, which was much less important, and involved much less money, suddenly began to wear on me. after 30 minutes of back and forth, we finally came to a decision on that one, too.

afterwards we went to an east indian restaurant. i hadn’t been to one for a while and chose to eat a bit more than i had planned.

(hold on, i’m going somewhere with this :))

before i went to bed, i realized that i hadn’t done any exercise yet. what to do, what to do? go for a

the fool, a tarot card

image by ark in time on flickr

walk, use the stationary bike, or dance downstairs in my studio? argh! i hadn’t been outside enough and the stationary bike would be really easy, and my studio is beautiful! then i decided to just quickly draw a tarot card and drew the fool. pretty clear image: the fool is on a hike. so i went for a walk.

what i found really interesting was that each step underscored what we know about decision making:

the first step, when we decided to buy the car, was very much carried out along the lines of rational decision making. we gathered all the information, didn’t get swayed by cute arguments (“it has heated seats and adjustable cup holders!”) and didn’t act without reflection.

and then decision fatigue started to set in. i started getting tired, my glucose level went down, and things started to slow down.

by the time i reached the east indian restaurant and one of my favourites, palak paneer (spicy spinach with fresh cheese curds), was particularly well cooked, ego depletion was in full force – all my rational “muscle” was used up, and my food choice was made by that little gremlin inside of me jumping up and down, slobbering with anticipation of devouring yet another tasty morsel.

it was the last situation that i found perhaps the most interesting. typically i consider myself a happy and vigorous decision maker (note to self: ask family how delusional i am with that assessment.) and yet, here i was like a deer in the headlight – quick, tell me with way to go! it looks like indecision is not as well researched as decision . but there was another level to it: i knew at some level that i did not want to choose any of the options. but because a) i want to see myself as someone who engages in at least moderate exercise and b) the option of not doing anything was VERY tempting, i could not add that forth option. instead i head to tell myself that “i don’t know what to do.” i knew EXACTLY what i wanted to do, which was nothing! having removed my favourite option, the next best thing i came up with is to shift the burden of decision to someone/something else. i wonder how often that happens?

by the way, the walk was lovely. the moon, still almost full, poured a magical light over the neighbourhood full of sparkling christmas lights.

understanding understanding

after reading this morning that BC philosopher and counsel to psychologists sydney banks had died, i thought i’d write a bit about him.  alas, i cannot find in myself any interest in his work.  he talked about the three principles of mind, thought and consciousness. if there’s a sydney banks fan among you out there, please feel free to enthuse and educate me!

instead, i decided to play a “follow the link” game on wikipedia.  i started at “psychology” and the game landed me at “understanding” (not so different from what banks talks about after all, is it?).  want to understand understanding?  here is the article.  material to talk about for quite a while.

understanding (also called intellection) is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object.

an understanding is the limit of a conceptualisation. to understand something is to have conceptualised it to a given measure.

  1. one understands the weather if one is able to predict and to give an explanation of some of its features, etc.
  2. a psychiatrist understands another person’s anxieties if he/she knows that person’s anxieties, their causes, and can give useful advice on how to cope with the anxiety.
  3. a person understands a command if he/she knows who gave it, what is expected by the issuer, and whether the command is legitimate, and whether one understands the speaker (see 4).
  4. one understands a reasoning, an argument, or a language if one can consciously reproduce the information content conveyed by the message.
  5. one understands a mathematical concept if one can solve problems using it, especially problems that are not similar to what one has seen before.

is understanding definable?

it is difficult to define understanding. if we use the term concept as above, the question then arises as to what is a concept? is it an abstract thing? is it a brain pattern or a rule? whatever definition is proposed, we can still ask how it is that we understand the thing that is featured in the definition: we can never satisfactorily define a concept, still less use it to explain understanding.

it may be more convenient to use an operational or behavioural definition, that is, to say that somebody who reacts appropriately to x understands x. for example, one understands swahili if one correctly obeys commands given in that language. this approach, however, may not provide an adequate definition. a computer can easily be programmed to react appropriately to commands, but there is a disagreement as to whether or not the computer understands the language (see the chinese room argument).

according to the independent socionics researcher rostislav persion:

in the cognitive model presented by MBTI, the process of introverted thinking (TI) is thought to represent understanding through cause and effect relationships or correlations. one can construct a model of a system by observing correlations between all the relevant properties (e.g. the output of a nand gate relative to its inputs). this allows the person to generate truths about the system and then to apply the model to demonstrate his or her understanding. a mechanic for example may randomly, or algorithmically probe the inputs and outputs of a black box to understand the internal components through the use of induction. 

INTP, ISTP, ESTP and ENTP and all use TI and are usually the best of the 16 types at understanding their material environment in a bottom-up manner. these types may enjoy mechanics and digital electronics because of the 1 to 1 correlation between cause and effect relationships in these fields.

understanding is not limited to these types however as other types demonstrate an identical process, although in other planes of reality; ie. social, theological and aesthetic. a potential reason for the association of understanding with the former personality types is due to a social phenomenon for asymmetrical distribution of gratification.

in the field of engineering, engineers probe or study the inputs and outputs of components to understand their functionality. these components are then combined based on their functionality (similar to computer programming) to create a larger, more complex system. this is the reason why engineers attempt to subdivide ideas as deep as possible to obtain the lowest level of knowledge. this makes their models more detailed and flexible. it may be useful to know the formulas that govern an ideal gas, but to visualise the gas as being made up of small moving particles, which are in turn made up of even smaller particles, is true understanding.

people who are understanding (through the use of TI) usually value objects and people based on usefulness, as opposed to the people who use extroverted thinking (TE) who view people or things as having a worth. in order to test one’s understanding it is necessary to present a question that forces the individual to demonstrate the possession of a model, derived from observable examples of that model’s production or potential production (in the case that such a model did not exist beforehand).

rote memorization can present an illusion of understanding, however when other questions are presented with modified attributes within the query, the individual cannot create a solution due to a lack of a deeper representation of reality.

another significant point of view holds that knowledge is the simple awareness of bits of information. understanding is the awareness of the connection between the individual pieces of this information. it is understanding which allows knowledge to be put to use. therefore, understanding represents a deeper level than simple knowledge.

the concepts of comprehension, thought and understanding are also used in the short science fiction story understand by ted chiang.

religious perspectives

in catholicism and anglicanism, understanding is one of the seven gifts of the holy spirit.

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