Tag Archive | Meta-Understanding


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“A word is a label that points to something other than itself. That something is called the referent.

For communication to occur, the word must point to the same thing. It’s like having a visible landmark in the distance that helps everyone find their way.”

“Let’s take an example. 

Parkour is a phenomenon in the world. If you’ve been exposed to the phenomenon and see a practitioner training, you may recognize what he/she is doing as Parkour. When talking about Parkour-as-a-phenomenon, this recognition is the referent.

Parkour however is also an idea. When talking about Parkour-as-an-idea, the referent is different. In this case, the referent is your own understanding – your internal model – of it.

The referent can be an outer pattern. – Process: Recognition
The referent can be an inner pattern. – Process: Understanding

We might call the former outer referent, and the latter inner referent.

All words have an inner referent.
Some words don’t have an outer referent.

In case of the outer referent, the landmark is clear and unambiguous.
In case of the inner referent however, it is not.

In the latter case, different people can have vastly different internal models of the same thing. For each of them, the inner referent is different. If they assume they’re talking about the same thing, they talk past one another.

How often do people define the words they use?”

“Not that often, I imagine. That carries the risk of revealing your lack of understanding.”

“The consequence is that much of what passes for communication in the world is actually non-communication.”


The words you use to map reality will affect your experience of reality. Words do not just describe, words are generative. (Jason Silva)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is meta-thinking?”

“Language creates our reality.

Through objectification [<link; short read], we turn abstractions into mental pseudo-objects modeled after physical objects.
Through reification, we confuse our pseudo-objects with reality.

When you hear someone hatefully say things about a religion for instance, in their mind the abstraction has become reality. For them, this fantasy takes up mental space, and influences their behavior in the world, thus using up energy.

Language is the proverbial water to the fish. 

Meta-Thinking is seeing the water. 

Meta-Thinking means operating on a higher-order level of meaning.

In a sense, Meta-Thinking is Magic.”

Trap Concepts

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is failure?”

“A disempowering interpretation.

Let’s say you do something and do not succeed. There are various ways you can interpret it:

Neutral: I got a different outcome. (Concept: Result)
Positive: I got some useful information. (Concept: Feedback)
Negative: I didn’t succeed. (Concept: Failure)

The failure concept is useless. It encodes in language the act of directing attention to what you didn’t get instead of what you did.

The problem with concepts is that they create their own reality. If you evaluate yourself using it, you’re in a bind due to the very nature of the concept. I call this kind of concepts, trap concepts.”

Metaphoric Thinking

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What does Tranquility feel like?”

Open (Open-MindedOpen-Hearted)

“Most are metaphorical.”

Metaphor is for us like water to the fish.

We think in metaphor without realizing it.

I call the capacity to see the metaphoric water and use it as a tool, metaphoric thinking.”

The Feynman Technique

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the Feynman Technique?”

“It is a technique for understanding inspired by the brilliant physicist Richard Feynman.

It is possible to think you understand something without really understanding it. I call this phenomenon, pseudo-understanding. Pseudo-understanding is indistinguishable from genuine understanding. The only way to tell them apart is by testing.

The best way to test your understanding is by explaining. Expressed as a principle, I call it Learning by Teaching.”

“What if you don’t have someone to explain it to?”

“Explaining it to someone else is ideal because it gives you immediate feedback. The next best thing is simulating the experience by explaining it to yourself.”

“What is the technique?”

“Take a concept you want to understand and write it at the top of a page. Then, underneath it, try explaining it as if to someone else. 

How would you explain x? (level 1)

It helps if you actually verbalize your explanation. 

Use examples, analogies, or diagrams to clarify your thinking.

Once you’ve written down your explanation, test your understanding by checking the definition or the source material.

Then start deepening your understanding by adding challenge

How would you explain x to someone who knows nothing about it? (level 2)

This forces you to simplify. 

In essence, we understand concepts by using other concepts. To explain to a beginner, you need to identify the fundamental concepts, those that are not derived from other concepts.

Repeat the process from level 1 and refine your explanation.

Then get to level 3.

How would you explain x to a six-year old? (level 3)

This forces you to simplify even further. 

To a child, you need to explain even the most basic concepts. This helps you discover the concepts you’re taking for granted. 

Every stage is a process of progressive simplification. Every stage forces you to dig deeper until you get to the essence of it.”


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the essence of metaphor?”

“Expressed as a principle, I call it Identification.

The imaginal process of conceiving of something as something else.

is y.

Creating identity.”

“What do you mean by imaginal?”

“Imaginary refers to the outcome of imagination.
Imaginal refers to the process of imagination.

Identification is one of the fundamental operations of the human mind, which we use to shape our inner reality.”

Temporary Understanding

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the biggest obstacle?”


Every time you mess up, it’s because you’ve temporarily forgotten who you are and what you stand for.

It’s impossible not to forget. Your mind can hold onto a thought only for so long. The thought lingers for a while in the background, and then disappears back into the depths.

Life is a never-ending oscillation between forgetting and remembering.

And when you do remember, it’s only a fraction of the whole. You cannot access everything at once.

I call this process, Temporary Understanding.

I call the practice of increasing the frequency of remembering, The Memento Game.”

“Reminds me of the movie Memento.”

“That movie is a metaphor for the human condition.”


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is happiness?”

“If you look up happiness quotes on Google, you’ll find a huge variety of perspectives on what happiness is, many incompatible with one another.

Every single one of those perspectives is a conceptual model.

In trying to ‘make sense‘ of the word, people do just that – they create meaning. Something that is meaningful to them.

I call this process, model-making.
I call taking control of this process, intentional model-making.

The essence of intentional model-making was beautifully expressed by Bruce Lee:

Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is uniquely yours. 

The ultimate goal is to create your own model of happiness.”

On Knowledge 3

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is knowledge?”

“Knowledge is organized information.

I like to think of it as a network. A network has two components: nodes, and connections. In the knowledge network, the nodes represent potentially useful information, and the connections represent understanding.”

“So useless information is not knowledge?”

“Not in my view of it.”

“What if you don’t know whether a piece of information has the potential to be useful?”

“That’s a skill you can develop. Edward de Bono calls it ‘Value Sensitivity‘.

Useful information is instrumental. We might think of it as creative building-blocks.

The output of useful information – and of Thinking, more generally – is Creating Value. It can be in the form of problem-solving, optimization, conveying meaning, etc.

You can increase your knowledge in two ways: by creating more nodes, either through direct or indirect experiences [<link; medium], and by creating more connections between the nodes.”

“What about externally organized information. Does that count as knowledge?”

“We can make a distinction between internal and external knowledge. External knowledge is useful only insofar as it creates internal knowledge.

As Scott H. Young put it,

Knowledge that is not in your head can’t help you to solve problems.

On Thinking: Restructuring Patterns

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Capitalism is evil.”

“One of the most important aspects of Thinking is restructuring patterns.”

“What do you mean?”

“A word is a linguistic label. That label points to something other than itself. That something is a mental model.

When you encounter a word you don’t know, for you that word doesn’t point to anything. Let’s say you ask someone what a word means, and they tell you their interpretation of it. That becomes your initial model. That’s what the word points to for you now. Unless you subsequently refine the model, it will remain frozen in its current state.

I call this kind of model, a meaning-model.

Different people can have different meaning-models of the same word.

Represented visually as networks, they can form vastly different patterns.

On one level, what a word points to – the meaning-model – is a pattern. Restructuring patterns in this case means being open to revising your meaning-models.

Every word has a history. This means, at some point, the word ‘capitalism’ did not exist. Someone created it based on their own personal interpretation, which was rooted in their historical and social context and their own subjective model of reality.

Once created and widely accepted, words create their own reality, and skew you towards a certain interpretation of reality.”

“Are you saying capitalism does not exist?”

“Capitalism is a fiction, a construct. A frozen linguistic pattern.

On another level, the word itself is a pattern. Restructuring patterns in this case means letting go of fossilized patterns and creating more useful ones.

I think the only useful discussion about capitalism is one that starts with each person describing their own model of it.”