"Understanding" can be among the most satisfying experiences in life, as in:
- "Oh, I get it"
- "That's what you meant"
- " Hmmm, there is something interesting there"
On the flip side, "understanding" can be a serious source of
misunderstanding... and hence of frustration, anger, even conflict:
- "I don't understand that"
- "You don't understand me"
- "I can't understand how they...."
Obvious when it happens, "understanding" is also mysterious. Everyone
has had the experience of "understanding" something without knowing
quite how, and without being able to explain it to others. And everyone
has felt two kinds of frustration: "understanding" something without
being able to convince others that it is so, and not being able to
acquire "understandings" that seem so obvious to others.
- How can one have it without knowing how one got it?
- How can one account for differences between different people in understanding the same thing?
A simple, and common, approach to such questions begins with the
presumption that there is such a thing as "the truth" out there. From
this beginning, "understanding" can be straightforwardly equated with
"knowing the truth". And "not understanding" means something like "not
yet having had the experiences that cause one to know the truth". The
needed experiences may involve dealing with the world, or sitting in a
classroom, or a sudden intuition, or an overpowering religious or
spiritual insight. The latter are difficult, though, to explain to
oneself, to say nothing of conveying persuasively to others, and the
former are notoriously unreliable. So it makes sense that it is often
hard to say where one's own understanding comes from, and that one can
frequently have difficult persuading others to accept one's own
understanding, and difficulty in accepting understandings of others.
The "knowing the truth out there" concept of understanding works in
lots of situations (it wouldn't be common if it didn't), But it has
some problems of its own (how do we know there is actually a "truth out
there"?, why do there seem to be so many different ways of getting to
it? how do they relate to one another?) . And it certainly doesn't
provide much help in dealing with the frustrations and conflicts that
arise from the existence of different understandings in different
The Three Doors of Serendip is an exploration of an alternate
way to try and make sense of "understanding", one which roots
understanding not in a "truth out there" but rather in the ongoing
process of finding ways to make sense of one's own experiences
(and those of others), in "getting less wrong
rather than being "right".
The Three Doors of Serendip is based on a game known
variously as "The Monty Hall Dilemma", "Let's Make a Deal", and "The
Three Door Problem" (see Resources
). If you haven't heard of the game, the left door below ("Hands on" understanding) is a good place to start. If you have heard of it and know something about it, you may want to start with the middle door below ("Experimental" understanding). In any case, you'll eventually want to see what's behind all three doors. And don't worry about
getting lost; the three doors are all connected to each other, one way
or another. See if you can figure out how...
Come along, have some experiences, try and
make sense of them, and let's see whether "The Three Doors of Serendip"
provide an entry into a more satisfying understanding of understanding.
| complete exhibit index |
Posted by Laura Cyckowski and Paul Grobstein on 3 Oct 2008.