The Art of Grokking

by Milo Clark

August 27, 2000


Note from the Editor:  As I was running a spell-check on Milo Clark's Follow-up on Margaret Wyles' Essay on Fascism I stumbled on the words "grok" and "grokking." Befuddled, I sent a short mail to Milo: "I'm going through a spell-check of your piece and can find no reference in the Webster's (unabridged) or the American Heritage of the verb grok and grokking that you are using in your piece. Please help. thanks."

What you are about to read was his answer.

As to the answer to his question (at the end of this short piece), only a grokker should know!


       Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land used the word "grok" to signify a kind of knowledge, understanding, comprehension which is both visceral and mental, i.e., integral.

       Ralph Abraham in Chaos Gaia and Eros (p. 13 et seq) thoroughly explores the dynamics of "The World According to Grok."

       "We grok something (an archaeological find, artifact, artwork, text, poem, letter, natural process, and so on) by a cycle of observing, thinking, poking and again observing. This is not the same as explaining it, representing it or translating it."

       Robert Heinlein introduced the word grok [in actuality revived it from mid-German] in his science fiction classic of 1961, Stranger in a Strange Land. It's a translation into English of the technical term verstehen, which was introduced by Wilhelm Dilthey into the literature of hermeneutics. Verstehen (from the German verb zu verstehen, meaning to understand) refers, not unlike the word hermeneutics (which comes from a Greek root meaning "to interpret"), to a special form of sympathetic, experiential and intuitive understanding."

       For my purposes, to grok extends beyond ordinary and even extraordinary levels of comprehension moving far into the vestigial core of being human and possessing, as well as using qualities rarely engaged these days. We may grok more from our reptilian brain segments than from the later evolutionary lobes.

       As we move beyond transcendent experiencing to genuine transmutations of consciousnesses [plural intended] of being, we move from understanding to grokking -- and then stay there, leaving behind all which is behind without, in any fundamental way, negating the qualities of knowing personally, individually and collectively the histories of humankind on this planet -- now quite lost, barely available through ordinary processes, education, etc. to most.

       Meditation practices pursued to realization, first levels of samadhi, for example, provide some sensing relevant to and transferable to ordinary, daily life which helps to break, to free from the lulling dualities dominating most. I am not talking about anything which suggests being superior or special. In fact, we are simply reclaiming qualities which have been acculturated out, what comes with all of us as we enter.

       I grok that humankind needs, must and, to some degree, will evolve a quite different and radically differing grokking of consciousness, experiencing of being, manifestation of being as a fundamental necessity for species survival in a symbiotic set of multidimensional relationships totally lacking domination and dominance.

       John Lukacs groks history and shares this vision as no one else I have yet to find. After grounding his readers in sets of actualities quite divergent from what we have been conditioned to believe, he postulates essentially a classic mythic process of descent and emergence. Trouble is that we are on the verge of descent when emergence might be more to our tastes.

       Abraham, who is no slacker himself, expands thus (ibid p. 21): "Chapter 1 described the hermeneutical circle as the motor of understanding and the fuel for the evolution of consciousness. Later we will expand this understanding to include textual interpretation, and eventually history itself. The fundamental process is the effort to understand one's sensory experience of the external universe. Here we arrive at cognitive psychology and the sociology of knowledge, subjects that attempt to grok grokking!"

       Question: Will Swans unwittingly perpetuate conditioned thought or contribute to grokking?


       Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine. Milo can be reached at Swans


Related links

Ishmael - Daniel Quinn

Sex, Lies and Fascism.... Again? by Margaret Wyles

Don't Get me Going on This Stuff, Please
A Follow-up on Margaret Wyles'Essay on Fascism
by Milo Clark



Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath


Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath

Published August 21, 2000
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