The Four Levels of Comprehension & How You Can Cultivate Deeper Knowledge

“If you know the way broadly you will see it in everything.” ― Miyamoto Musashi

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know more than you do. We all struggle here. It’s so common there’s a psychological term for it named the Dunning Kruger Effect — When a person overestimates their skill or knowledge in a subject. It’s a cognitive bias running rampant today, but that doesn’t excuse you or me. It’s a plague to a rational life and leads to ignorance, which opens the door to poor decisions and erratic conclusions (like the world is flat!!). Let’s eliminate it today.

The brain is a trickster. It’ll convince you of things so organically and smoothly that they sneak beneath your awareness. Just because you don’t currently believe in something you would deem ridiculous doesn’t mean you’re not infected. Everyone is; it’s just a matter of uncovering the extent of the damage.

The type of ignorance the Dunning Kruger Effect breeds ends in a shallow way of living. If we walk around believing we hold a robust framework for how the world works without ever actually testing and fortifying our knowledge, then we’re no different from Neo before he entered the Matrix. We walk blindly through a world with much greater depth than our eyes behold.

There are four levels of understanding. The average person tricks themselves into thinking they have a much deeper level of knowledge than is true. Let’s do our best to go above average.

The Four Levels‍

Surface Level

Strategic Level

Deep Level


About Mastery

There is a fantastic book written about one of the greatest Samurai to ever live called Musashi. Miyamoto Musashi dedicated his life to the way of the sword-to being a master swordsman. He largely accomplished this, officially winning 60+ duals in his lifespan. He lived with the singular focus on the craft of swordsmanship for over 20 years. He became a master at the highest of levels. What’s wonderful about him was how he cultivated a deep understanding of life through the mastery of one craft. I think his life presents us all with an incredible lesson.

“Small fish are in shallow water. If you want to catch the big fish, you have to go deeper.” — David Lynch

A life living in the depths is rewarding and enriched. It doesn’t matter the vehicle you use; it only matters that you spend a piece of your life discovering how deep it can go. To be immersed in the pursuit of Mastery and fall in love with the hardship and progress it rewards you with. Nobody can buy this form of fulfillment, but anecdotally — it appears to be the best life has to offer.

An Exercise You Can Do Now

I’m not going to give you an exercise to obtain Mastery, that is on you. However, I do have something that will help you explore and evaluate your depth of knowledge. An antidote to the Dunning Krueger Effect. An exercise that will enhance your ability to see this cognitive defect and avoid appearing ignorant in real-time.

  1. Pick a subject you think you understand well. It could be a work subject or a hobby you’re interested in.
  2. Once you have it, take 5–10 minutes to write down how you would describe it, in detail, to a class of college kids. The students do not know the subject at all. The catch is, you can’t look anything up. Write it all down from memory.
  3. Once you’ve finished, you can look it up. See any areas you explained weakly or forgot to include altogether. Read it over again. Would your explanation have taught the students well? Did you know as much as you thought you did on the subject?
  4. Develop the areas where you were weak and repeat this exercise in a few days.

Repeat this exercise with other subjects that interest you. Before you share an opinion on something, complete this exercise to see if you’re knowledgeable enough to be sharing the opinion!

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