(This entry was created as a post to the philosophical forum, Ilovephilosophy.com.)
I like to give credit where credit is due. I was in coberst's thread "Will understanding be extinct in 2050?" but I can't give Chuck all the credit. I didn't even answer his question. I was there because a bad habit I am trying to kick suggested "knowledge" and "understanding" should perhaps not be separated. I concurred but then after the second of my two replies another poster requested from coberst, definitions of "knowledge" and "understanding". I considered offering my definitions there but more often than not my posts seem to end a thread. So I decided that rather than see my effort die at the end of coberst's thread, if it is to, I should see it die at the beginning of my own. ILP works in mysterious ways.
I was never an epistemologist. I learned that word today by searching "knowledge" and clicking on Wikipedia. Had I been interested in epistemology 40 years ago, I would be still be occupied with it. There is a ton of leads which could be followed; and one of the entries stated nothing has been decided. My interest was in explaining life and a definition of knowledge was required by the definition of human nature I created to explain life. If you would like the complete context of my definition click "THE LAST WHY" in my signature and spend 10 min. reading it. Whatever, to make a slightly longer story shorter I settled on the definition we are a seamless integration of body/mind/spirit/ in reaction to the void. "body/mind/spirit" I contracted to "life" when I began my thread "Life:a reaction to the void". Since this aspect of our nature is dealt with there I won't elaborate further in a post about knowledge. Similarly I'll leave "spirit" with the definition "light of life". For body/mind I needed definitions that make us identical but individual; and that recognize the physical/mental continuum. So I decided to define body as the integration of realized potential physical capacity, physical activity, and physical knowledge; and mind I defined as the integration of realized potential mental capacity, mental activity and mental knowledge. The integration, maintained by a continuum of physical/mental activity, is identical for all of us while our capacities make us unique; but now I needed a definition of knowledge.
I began my definition by suggesting there is a continuum of knowledge from the entirely physical to the purely mental but acknowledging a physical brain is a prerequisite. The physical knowledge begins with that necessary to transform a single cell into an adult form and along the way we acquire the knowledge of how to use our arms, hands, legs, feet, bodies and senses. I hope for ease of understanding, I 'put' mental knowledge in a cube containing four equal cubes. Looking down at the large cube I 'put' factual knowledge in the upper left cube, theoretical knowledge in the lower right cube, sensory knowledge and emotional knowledge in the other two cubes respectively. Along the line that forms the inside corners of all four cubes I put concepts like the void, belief, faith and God that don't fit into the cubes of knowledge. I imagine the sides the cubes share are at least porous.
Mental activity and to a certain extent the physical activity through our senses, fills the cubes. The capacity for association, memorization, interpretation, speculation, deduction, induction, extrapolation, question, rationalization, organization, categorization, analysis, recollection and... is innate but can be expanded. Understanding is similarly innate but I think not expandable. I see it more as an autonomic activity like breathing except we seem able individually to exist without comprehending life. I think understanding is a secondary activity dependent on primary mental activity thus joined to them. Metaphorically speaking, at the beginning of our mental life I see us standing on the bottom of the big cube, ideally, precisely in the center, over the point shared by the four cubes. I suggest understanding is the mental activity that solidifies under our feet, the knowledge we accumulate with our other activities.
On my most optimistic days I see our ideal collective understanding rising us up to a level at which we can comprehend life. On my other days I see us being off center which causes our understanding to be unbalanced. As a consequence we spend our time trying to maintain our balance so that though we can understand aspects of knowledge, there is no possibility of being raised up enough that we will comprehend life. While I don't believe our collective understanding of life is "extinct" I am inclined to think it is endangered and will become extinct if we don't make the effort to become "centered". If our understanding of life becomes "extinct" I believe we will cease to live. I'm not sure how long after we cease to live we can exist; but then it won't really matter because we will not be unable to understand the possibility of comprehending life.