Human understanding as a mystical knowledge

Human understanding as a mystical knowledge; Why ? rationally why?; There are several things that keep  us  wondering in life. There are also several things we assume to understand, but later realise that we actually don’t. There are many instances when we make statements like “I thought I understood so and so, but I really don’t.” Thus, the idea of understanding has a metaphysical connotation bearing on so many areas of our lives. Let’s examine some of these areas briefly.

Understanding One’s Self: The first most significant and most intimate subject of understanding is oneself. I am seriously interested in understanding myself—my desires, attitudes, aspirations, being, and so on.  Such self-understanding is not  restricted to a set  of information about me: that I’m a man, a working class student, a musician , a digital marketer, a doctor, etc. This reason can make human understanding as mystical knowledge.

It is a critical subject because there are many times we find ourselves doing, things that  we uncritically see as not being in our character. In other words, there are many times when we surprise ourselves because we did things we never thought we are capable of either negative or positive. What other people say about me may be very important, but does not form a part of self-understanding.


Understanding other people: Following from the above, another crucial subject for understanding that makes the concept a difficult one is understanding other people. This type of understanding is as difficult as self-understanding. It is more so because there are so many things that hang upon an understanding of those whose stories intersect our own.

The problem is really that our supposed understanding of others has been subjected to shifting circumstances that fight with our intuition about, say, a particular person. Thus, statements like “s/he was so high in my opinion until…”

A consequence of understanding other people is that of understanding people in the past. This involves an attempt to understand a person and the person’s past motives, intentions and desires. What makes this dimension of understanding difficult is that what we seek to understand already lies in the past, far away from immediate memory.


Understanding Cultures and Societies: We also attempt to understand cultures and societies that are different from ours. There are so many cultural practices and beliefs that would, in the light of our own cultures, appear troubling, laughable and even barbaric.  Yet, these practices may be meaningful in their own lights. Understanding these cultures implies an attempt to get into their own light in order to see what they see.


Understanding Religions: This is particularly critical because religion constitutes the cause of most conflicts especially in the Nigerian state. Remember, for instance, a  religious crisis in Nigeria sparked by an insensitive cartoon about Prophet Mohammed.

The understanding required by religions is made difficult because religious beliefs, symbols and artifacts are usually buried under a whole load of religious terms, concepts, rites, symbolisms, doctrines, mysteries, rationality and so on that make explanation superhuman. For instance, it is still a difficult thing for non-initiates to understand the Eucharist and the principle of transubstantiation.


Understanding the Law: The law is another area where people struggle for understanding. This involves the explanation and interpretation of legal codes, principles, terms and precedents. Ardent followers of the Nigerian political history would remember the legal debate that attended the attempt to interpret the idea of “2 1/3 majority” in the Nigerian House of Assembly in the second republic.

According to Mason, law “shares with personal and social understanding a reading of hidden or lost intentions and meanings, and also a characteristic indeterminacy about correctness. Understanding a law or a legal code requires not only deciding on what constitutes a right interpretation, but also on the criteria for achieving a right interpretation.


Understanding Texts: The same kind of problem that an understanding of law faces could also be faced by the attempt to understand texts. The complexity does not diminish if the text is in a person’s language or in another language. So much confusion, for instance, has attended the precise understanding of, say, the Bible. This is so for texts because there is an on-going attempt to arrive at the intention or meaning intended by the author of the text. A particular story like Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Achebe’s Madman presents a problem of grasping the textual or narrative sense of  the work.  Again,  this rides on the significance that one places on authorial intention embedded in the text.

There are so many other issues that are the subjects of understanding. People attempt to understand nature, mathematics, arts, moral values, language, economics, animal behaviour, and so on. These various subjects of understanding, it would seem, demand different means of understanding.

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