I See, Therefore I Understand

“Hehehe…. Dalam bahasa Sanskerta ‘idea’ itu ‘vidya’. Dalam bahasa Latin kita jumpai kata ‘video’ yang dalam bahasa Romawi artinya ‘melihat’.”

O, baru tahu. Sinta, kalau aku sudah melihatmu, terus maknanya apa?

“Tanya sama orang Inggris sana…. Hahaha…. Kenapa I see bermakna I understand?”

O, baru tahu. Bagaimana agar melihat bisa bermakna mengerti….

“Pakailah wisdom…. Jerman-nya wissen. Norwegia-nya viten, yang akar katanya sama dengan vidya di India…. Rahwana, pemahaman seperti apa yang kamu harapkan dari penonton ketika kelak bersama kekasihnya mereka saksikan ‘Rahvayana’ kita, Rahwana?”

Hmmm…. Mungkin aku ingin agar bola-bola lampu di kepala penonton kelak menyala seperti dalam cerita kartun “Woody Woodpecker”.

“Hmmm…. Oke, kelap-kelip di ubun-ubun itu pertanda bahwa mereka sudah melihat dan sudah memahami. Jadi, pemahaman yang seperti apa, Rahwana?”


–Sujiwo Tejo. Dardanella. Dalam: Sujiwo Tejo. Rahvayana: Aku Lala Padamu. Jakarta: Bentang Pustaka; 2014: h. 189-94.

English translation:

“Hehehe…. In Sanskrit, ‘idea’ is ‘vidya’. In Latin we know ‘video’, which in Romans means ‘to see’.”

O, I didn’t know. Sinta, if I could see you, then what does it mean?

“Go ask an Englishman…. Hahaha…. Why does I see mean I understand?”

O, I didn’t know. How could to see mean to understand….

“Use wisdom…. Wissen in German. Viten in Norwegian, which is the same with the Indian word vidya in etymology…. Rahwana, what kind of understanding do you expect from the audience when they finally watch our ‘Rahvayana’ with their lovers, Rahwana?”

Hmmm…. Perhaps I want them to have light bulbs on their heads turned on, like in “Woody Woodpecker” cartoon.

“Hmmm…. Okay, the light bulbs on their heads means that they have seen and they have understood. So, what kind of understanding, Rahwana?”


–Sujiwo Tejo. Dardanella. In: Sujiwo Tejo. Rahvayana: Aku Lala Padamu. Jakarta: Bentang Pustaka; 2014: p. 189-94.

I recently finished this book, and one of the parts of the book had me wonder. Why does ‘I see’ mean ‘I understand’ in English? I am not a pro in linguistic study, but the phrase instantly made me think of the Genesis book in the Bible, which I will recite below.

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

–The Bible, King James Version. Genesis, Chapter 3, Verse 1-7.

In verse 5, the serpent said, “…[if ye eat the fruit], then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” In verse 7, “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; …

Both those lines insinuate that humans used to be ‘not seeing’, and thus they didn’t know anything; they had no knowledge of good and evil. After they ate the forbidden fruit, ‘their eyes were opened’, and ‘they knew that they were naked’, just like the serpent said, ‘they shall be as gods, knowing good and evil’.

The ability to see makes humans know about good or bad (wisdom). When they ‘opened their eyes’, they finally ‘understood’ things. Is this one of the reasons why in English, ‘I see’ means ‘I understand’?

We often hear the phrase ‘open your eyes, open your mind’; this implies that in order to get knowledge or being open-minded, one has to ‘open their eyes’ or be open about things. Knowing a lot of things doesn’t make you wise, but understanding them will do – and to be able ‘to understand’, we have to open our eyes (‘to see’). If we refuse to ‘see’, we will not understand. Hence we sometimes call a closed-minded person as ‘closing their eyes to the fact’, or having a ‘limited point of view’, or like one of Aaron Hill quotes, “Don’t call the world dirty because you forgot to clean your glasses.

Some of my rants on Twitter:

I have always thought of Adam and Eve as the protagonists and God as the antagonist. Most stories and legends are about “weak” people (the protagonists) trying to fight for something good, something worth fighting for, and the antagonists are usually the “stronger” people, not necessarily bad guys, but most of the time, are the anti-thesis of the protagonists.

In the case of Adam and Eve, the “something worth fighting for” is the forbidden fruit, fruit of knowledge, or simply the knowledge itself. It is a story about a struggle to achieve knowledge, consciousness, and wisdom, to leave the ignorance state behind. And that results in the “original sin”. The main concept is to (subconsciously) manipulate people that “knowing or asking is a sin”.

The term “forbidden fruit” indicates that curiosity is forbidden, and a good follower shall not ask/question anything, but to simply believe. “Original sin” is to remind people that we all have a debt since birth, simply for being a human being. We have a debt, so we must obey. I admit that is a clever idea, since most people are easily controlled through fear and guilt. (And the threat of [being put into] hell.)

I sometimes wonder, is it the reward of heaven, or the punishment or hell, that drives people to do good? Which one is the stronger motivation? Will people still do good and avoid doing bad if there were no (concept of) heaven and hell? That’s why I disagree with the idea of original sin. In my opinion, curiosity and pursuing knowledge and wisdom are not wrong at all.

So, yeah, I’m pro Adam and Eve. But unfortunately I also don’t believe in creationism. :))

The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free.
–Baruch Spinoza


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