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Explain it to a Six year old

March 24, 2009

I passed by this quote a few weeks ago.

If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself. – Albert Einstein

This quote really got me thinking and I realized how little I really know. I am a big believer in always growing and learning, so I plan on using this idea in the future.

Before I am done researching and/or learning a topic I will try to ask myself “Can I explain this to a six year old?”.
If I don’t believe I can then I will continue with my research. However, this brings up some very intereting points.

  1. What if I can never understand a subject to that extent?
  2. Over time one losing or forgets things, so I would always have to be relearning old concepts.

I believe the solution to these issues is priorities. Currently I am helping to develop a RubyOnRails application, therefore, my priority is to learn as much as possible on the language and framework and hopefully to the extent that I can explain it to a six year old.

My problem right now is that I have little to no interaction with six year olds. This means that I don’t really now what it takes to explain something to a six year old. However, I don’t believe that was the exact point of the quote.

“If you can’t put something simply, then you simply don’t understand it.” – Berek Bryan

I like Einstein’s better.


From → skill-building

  1. Mark Robinson permalink

    Did you just quote yourself in your own blog ? I think its not about just putting a high level concept in simple terms, its underundstanding the concept enought to explain or teach someone about the concept who has zero background so they are able to fully understand the concept as well.

  2. I agree with Mark, which is why I think the best professors are the ones that take a subject that sounds impossible and make it seem ridiculously simple. (Dr. A vs. Bykat)And here’s another quote for you, ‘Its easy to make something hard, its hard to make something easy’

  3. I like what both of you said. I had a lot of trouble trying to rephrase the question. You guys but it much more elegantly then I did. Thanks.Yes, I did quote myself.

  4. Michael permalink

    “My problem right now is that I have little to no interaction with six year olds.”

    < -- Right here buddy. Einstein's quote here is ridiculous and shouldn't be taken seriously. Six year olds have trouble understanding certain concepts that you and I pass off as facts. For example, death (I haven't had the opportunity to play with a six year old in quite a while so I'm not 100% on this example) is difficult for a child to understand, but when someone we knows dies then we are fully aware of what that means and the effects it has on others. Present to a child a well thought out and simplified explanation of a complex and convoluted idea and watch their eyes glaze over as they begin to contemplate what flavor ice cream is their current favorite. Mark's point holds water, but I think it's also a bit flawed. There are people who can convey their ideas and knowledge much more easily than others, and for that reason they are much more suited to be teachers or professors. Others are very knowledgeable about these same topics but are unable to easily converse on the topic, be it real-time or not, for whatever reason. That's not to say they don't fully understand it, but are maybe unable to say it in layman's terms. I think that gauging your understanding of something based upon your ability to teach it to someone else is silly.

  5. @Michael great points. Very well thought out.

    I think my general point was to say: to an extent one should be able to explain a concept to another person if he/she truly understands the said concept.

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