Conceptual understanding is unlikely without detailed knowledge of fundamentals

In response to People seem to forget most of what they read, and they mostly don’t notice, many suggest that they don’t want detailed recall. They do most of their reading “to get a general picture,” or “just to get a conceptual understanding.” That might sometimes be possible, but in many cases it’s not possible to really understand a concept without a firm grasp of the details on which it’s built.

To illustrate this point, imagine you met someone who told you they had a “broad conceptual understanding” of French, but they didn’t know the meaning of “bonjour” or “au revoir.” You’d be pretty skeptical of their claim to a “broad conceptual understanding” of French!


Matuschak, A., & Nielsen, M. (2019). How can we develop transformative tools for thought? Retrieved December 2, 2019, from