On the Meaning of ‘Grok’

excerpted from “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert A. Heinlein

“But Mike would have agreed,” Mahmoud went on, “if I had named a hundred other English words, words which we think of as different concepts, even antithetical concepts, ‘Grok’ means all of these. It means ‘fear,’ it means ‘love,’ it means ‘hate’ — proper hate, for by the Martian ‘map’ you cannot hate anything unless you grok it, understand it so thoroughly that you merge with it and it merges with you — then you can hate it. By hating yourself. But this implies that you love it, too, and cherish it and would not have it otherwise. Then you can hate — and (I think) Martian hate is an emotion so black that the nearest human equivalent could only be called mild distaste.”

Mahmoud screwed up his face. “ ‘Grok’ means ‘identically equal.’ The human cliché, ‘This hurts me worse than it does you’ has a distinctly Martian flavor. The Martians seem to know instinctively what we learned painfully from modern physics, that observer acts with observed through the process of observation. ‘Grok’ means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed — to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science — and it means as little to us as color does to a blind man.”

On the Meaning of ‘Grok’

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