Have you ever thought about the difference between knowing and understanding? Even though these two concepts are used interchangeably by assuming that they have the same meaning, the relation between these two words is not as simple as it seems. Let's travel through time; from the very beginning of humankind to today, people have always been in the pursuit of episteme to understand and give the meaning of the universe that we live in. For instance, we have done a lot of research, observed nature, shot numerous films and documentaries, composed countless poems, and philosophised about the universe in order to understand it better than we do today. And in today's world, we claim that we are solving the secret of the universe with each passing day with rapidly developing technology and that we understand many things. However, do we really understand and behave accordingly? Unfortunately, it's not the case. There are many examples that knowledge in life is not the same as understanding. Therefore, several studies have been conducted to find out how things function in our brain to understand science-based facts.
One of the most appealing of these studies is the Reverse Bicycle Experiment. When you learn a new skill or take up a new hobby, you probably meet the common phrase saying that it's like learning to ride a bike. We generally use that phrase for that particular skill which is almost impossible to lose when it's once acquired. As you all know, even after several years of not riding a bike, most of us can still remember how to ride one. As soon as you start to try riding a bike, something clicks in our brains and muscles after a few unsteady seconds, and we remember how to ride. You may all be wondering what this all has to do with our topic, so here's the story: Destin Sandlin who is an engineer and educational content creator for YouTube in his channel named Smarter Every Day (SED), was given a bicycle by a friend that was designed to turn the front tire in the opposite direction from the handlebars. When Sandlin turns the handles to the left, the front tire moves to the right and vice versa. You can watch his video on YouTube by clicking here: Reverse Bicycle Experiment. You might expect that adjusting to this tiny shift would take only a few minutes. However, the task turns out to be far more difficult than it appears.
Riding a bicycle involves several complex processes, including balance, coordination, steering, pedaling, and more. Each of these intricate actions requires exact direction and coordination from our brains, which means that learning to ride a backward bicycle necessitates full retraining of the cerebral circuits connected with bike riding. Sandlin was up for the task. He practised riding the backward bicycle down his 50-metre driveway for five minutes every day, failing and crashing every time. After failing and crashing for eight long months, Sandlin eventually rode the backward bicycle. He claims that he felt a path in his brain open up for a brief period of time. In brief, even if it took some time to ride the backward bicycle, he finally accomplished riding the backward bicycle with determination.
Sandlin was astonished when he tried to ride a standard bike and realised he couldn't. His mastery of the backward bicycle wrecked his years of riding a regular bike. Sandlin displays a video of himself unable to ride a conventional bicycle for several minutes. Until his brain "clicked" again, and he remembered how to ride a normal bicycle, what are the significant takeaways of this experiment? As you can guess, the terms "knowledge" and "understanding" are not interchangeable. We may know how to accomplish something cognitively, but we may not really comprehend how it works. Sandlin, for example, knew how to ride a backward bicycle by simply turning the handlebars in the opposite direction of his intended route. However, this knowledge was distinct from being able to ride a bike and comprehending how to execute that talent in his body.
To have further support on the particular issue, we created our survey and sent it to people to find out the relation between comprehending facts and behaviours of people who give a place to smoking, using drugs, shopping, excessive eating, playing video games and using alcohol in their lives, despite knowing the possible harm of these. 75 people from different countries, such as Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Cyprus, Afghanistan, Belgium, have participated in this voluntary-based survey and the age range of them is between 17-35. In the survey, participants are asked 12 questions both in Turkish and English, which would take 5 minutes to complete at most. The questions start by asking the items which have a significant/excessive role in the participants' lives. Through this question, the answers go from the most to the least as below:
“Eating (46,7%), technology (42,7%), video/computer games (33,3%), shopping (29,3%), cigarettes (16%), alcohol (10,7%) and drugs (1,3%) and the others.”
After being aware of these percentages, the actual questions come up by aiming to find out when the participants fall back upon these items; whether they know the possible harms of excessive consumption of them; if they have ever attempted to quit them; why they keep using them and lastly if they label themselves as addicted or what they feel/think when being labeled as an addict.
According to the participant's answers, people choose to fall back upon these items mentioned above when they feel bored, upset, nervous, or overwhelmed. When asked whether they know the possible harms of consuming them, the most stated answers are “wasting time for spending time through technology and games, wasting money on eating, video games, shopping, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs; ignoring the beloved ones, which has an adverse effect on their social relationships and unfavourable changes on their mental state such as feeling anxious or aggressive after using certain substances.”
When it comes to why they still keep using them, the answers are varied as “to have fun, to feel better, to fill in time, to feel relaxed and maybe most strangely to escape from real life.” Besides giving these answers, 34% of the participants acknowledge that they are addicted, while 66% of them do not think that they are addicted, and when someone from society calls them one, they feel as if they have no control over anything and get out of society no matter some of them agree with that person now and then. Moreover, 57.3% of the participants have tried to quit a particular substance, whereas the other 42.7% have never attempted to quit their participants in these behaviors.
After finalising the analysis process of this study case, we, as the young researchers of this case, and advocates of prevention activities, have arrived at a consensus that as stated in the Handbook on Youth Participation in Drug Prevention Work (2021), prepared by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, young participation in prevention activities has a significant role as for having a good impact on our peers. Why does everyone keep saying that? Let's go back to our fundamental question, which is "Everybody knows, do they really?" Yes, everybody really knows very well that consuming certain items possibly damages not only their financial and emotional state but also their physical and mental wellness. However, there is one thing that we should be focusing on here, which is reflected in the answers youth provided related to their perception of the reasons they continue to engage in behaviors that may be harmful: "to have fun, to feel better, to fill in time, to feel relaxed and to escape from real life."
It is in our hands to create a world where people would not need to run away from real life. Is it a miracle to happen? The answer would be no; by taking small steps, such as having quality time with our peers, prevention activities can bring us to beautiful destinations. We believe that, even though this study case included limited people, it managed to raise awareness for our peers, as they have questioned themselves while giving answers. We hope that this research may be a transition from knowing to understanding, as every real act begins through facing up the reality first and accepting it.