Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Management & Systems Engineering

Committee Director

Andres Sousa-Poza

Committee Member

Andreas Tolk

Committee Member

Rafael Landaeta

Committee Member

Adrian Gheorghe

Committee Member

Arturo Tejada Ruiz


The concept of understanding is ambiguously used across areas of study, such as philosophy and cognitive sciences. This ambiguity partly originates from understanding's generally accepted definition of 'grasping' of something. Further, the concept is confounded with concurrent processes such as learning and decision making. This dissertation provides a general theory of understanding (GTU) that explains the concept of understanding unambiguously and separated from concurrent processes.

The GTU distinguishes between the process of understanding and its outcomes. Understanding, defined as a process, is the matching of knowledge, worldview, and problem. The outcome of this process is the assignment of a truth value to a problem, the generation of knowledge and the generation of worldview. Both accounts say what understanding is and what it does. Additionally, a construct of understanding is proposed to provide insight into the process of understanding. The construct does not only help explain existing theories about understanding, but also adds to the body of knowledge by identifying three types of understanding. Two exist in the literature while the third type is a contribution of this dissertation. Generalizing from the data it is shown how complexity of a problem depends on the effort an individual had to understand. It emerges that effort to understand converges to seven levels.

The theory provides insights in areas of interest to Engineering Management such as complexity and complexity's dependence on the observer while differentiating understanding from concurrent processes such as learning and decision making.