Knowing Something and Knowing the Name of Something

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something. ~Richard Feynman

*Image Credit: “Richard Feynman — Paine Mansion Woods 1984” copyright Tamiko Thiel (used under CC license BY-SA-3.0)

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3 thoughts on “Knowing Something and Knowing the Name of Something

  1. I love this discussion. It reminds me of a discussion we had in a philosophy class one time. Thomas Nagel proposed that materialist theories of mind omit the reality of consciousness. In essence, there is a feeling of being one’s self. He used a bat. I think there were more examples the professor used, like a lab experience researchers did by attempting to view the world through cat vision. Regardless, what eyes they saw through, they could still never KNOW what it was like to BE the cat.

    • Indeed. I love this discussion, too. Identifying something is not knowing that which is being identified. But to observe, to very nearly try to trade places with that, is to get to know that being. What is it like to be a rock? What is it like to be the sky? What is like to know the universe? An answer to questions such as these can be discovered through knowing, not merely naming. I can name many things and yet not know much about. And then there are beings that I cannot name (like so many animals in the forest and insects) but I know much about them. I think there is a large difference between the two. Knowing also stems from intuition, whereas naming stems from a memory or regurgitation of the brain, a function of language.

      Philosophy class was always my favorite in school! 🙂

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