Three Levels of “Understanding” – Essential (Intuitions and The Basic Ideas), Existential (Social and The Worldly – Facts and Thinking), and Verificational (Analysis of Thinking and of Thinking Self)

Paul Klee, “The One Who Understands”, 1934
Paul Klee, “The One Who Understands”, 1934

Following the self-centeredness (in Ptolemaic sense) of our mental functioning, let’s start our homage to Paul Klee with description of the central segment inside the head-like elliptical form, what Klee, it seems, defined as the central area of human mentality reacting on the world inside and around us. This quadrilateral irregular form is not only represents the very software of our perception of reality, but the focal point for observing our thinking as a part of our environment. In seems important that Klee positions this square (“headquarter” of our perception) in the very center of the human head, not above it as “identical with human brain” – the neuron substrata of our ability to react, to remember and to think. When we perceive our relations with our environment we, indeed, are not identifying with our brainy gray lobes but with intuitively felt “center” of our being which, according to Klee, is a combination of our vision, our speech function and our body. This combination defines the locus of our existential mental function exactly where Klee located it – between the brain (cortex and sub-cortex), eyes, mouth and body.

This irregular quadrilateral inside the human head is the heart-beat of our mental connection with the world. It has five antenna-like tentacles probing the environment and collecting a feedback – they are either part of the central axis or rhizomatic offshoots from it. One antenna going through the head up above the “head” into the space and above the painting is the top part of the central axis that is also horizontally branching through the head and out to the left from it, and after having slightly changed its direction, it is going down, where it is branching to the right of the head and continues to move down, crossing the “bottom” of quadrilateral in the center of our head, then crossing the “mouth” and, finally, branches to the left of the head and from this branch produces rhizome farther down. At the same time, from the right side of the quadrilateral “nucleus” of the mental function, from its right border, we see branching through the right part of the “head” into the space. So, in terms of the connectors with the world, we have three antennas to the left, all from the central axis – one directed immediately from our central axis, from inside of the quadrilateral and two others rhizomatically from under it, and three to the right of the head, one from the central axis, and two others – the upper one from the margin of quadrilateral and the lower from the margin of the head.

The central axis itself going from the area above the painting down through the head, along the left margin of the neck and even lower, signifies it seems the connection of the human mental function with what we can call “the ideal of perfect understanding, of absolutely truthful knowledge, the very rapport with god of understanding”. The feeling of cognitive connection with cognitive ideal is, probably a necessary stimulation of human need to understand reality, an exquisite intellectual itch some of us find irresistible before anything else, while majority finds much more immediately pleasurable things to do (to eat gluttonously, to make sex over-generously and to fight with one another super-passionately). But returning to our central axis – does this benign lightning from above the head down through the body make us some sort of a puppets of superhuman reason? Or, conversely does it make us fishermen of the meaning in the “waters” of the sky or in the wildness of the universe?

In Klee’s “Understanding Man” “antennas” are not that of alertness – he is too contemplative, too cool for (circumstantial) alertness. He is looking straight ahead but not at the world. His eyes are not human eyes but that of… understanding – they are like points of probing, of knowledge, points of intellectual saturation, there is a finality in them. But what is the white stuff encircling the “understanding man’s” neck and head, this foam and fume in a form of a scarf, as if, protecting the orientation of understanding man on understanding, from the compulsion to “survive” by attacking, appropriating and consuming, and from manipulation on part of the socio-political environment. This “scarf”, it seems, is a metaphor of a proper and benign psychological defense protecting our ability for disinterested thinking. The “understanding man” is connected with the world not to compulsively survive but to, indeed, understand, to be, first of all, free from the world through understanding it.

We know that “the one who understands” is an “existential thinker” by the fact that he is thinking not through one segment of his perception that defined by his profession, like a physicist, chemist, biologist, engineer, philosopher of science, specialist in poetry or a practitioner of propaganda. Klee’s protagonist tries to understand the world simultaneously in highly segmented and at the same time holistic way (when perceptive fragments are embraced by his psychological wholeness). Everybody has a head and this fact is not a proof of the presence of the brains inside, not to mention the psychological wholeness – a rarity today when the person has the time and energy to develop multiplicity of intellectual avenues to search the truth, and develop his/her existentially spiritual potentials making human cognition sublime.

The central area of our existential mental function (Klee’s quadrilateral inside our heads) consists of four segments, among which one includes the eye, while another eye doesn’t belong to the “central panel” of our mental function at all – it is located outside it. It belongs to the area of more “objective” perception/vision to counterbalance more “subjective” vision of the other eye. This peripheral eye seeing through the protective foam is the guardian of truth against sweet poisons of prejudices and seductive games of superstitions.

The more peripheral area of our mental function (in Klee’s painting – the very roundness of human head in comparison with its central box with basic software) consists of five segments representing the more elaborative thinking than the more basic, more hypothetical (albeit more absolutized by us) operations of our nuclear mental apparatus. And, finally, outside of our more general (the central area) and more elaborative (peripheral area) thinking – Klee’s schematic map of our thinking locates the cognitive representatives of the external world: our thoughts which can “argue’ with our more central mentalizing parts in the name of more exact truths. These peripheral spheres of our intellectual function are full of guards defending these truths from our prejudices, superstitions, our proclivity to bend the truth under the influence of our complexes and obsessions. This area (represented by Klee outside of our heads) consists of eight segments representing our mental functions whose tasks is to check and to verify our thinking from the point of view its correspondence to reality. It checks our intellectual and moral intuitions and our thinking procedures, our hypotheses and our facts.

Klee literary puts in front of us the fact that the quantity of segments of our thinking grows the farther we are from the center of our mental function (the irregular quadrilateral in the middle of our heads). The effectiveness and grace of our thinking come when we are able to overcome the self-centeredness of our perception, when we can allow more otherness to come into contact with our being and are able feel positively (not phobically) about it.

We see that the one who really understands is much more psychologically equipped to get real information about himself and the world because the multi-verse of his intellectual channels filters our subjective distortions. The closer is other world to us, the more other world settles inside us – the better it is for our thinking. Paul Klee is representing to us the cognitive anatomy of human mental function – from intuitive guesses (demanding from us believing) to systematic data/facts collecting, and eventually to thinking about what we think in order to verify our ideas and conclusions.

Paul Klee, “The One Who Understands”, (framed)
Paul Klee, “The One Who Understands”, (in frame)