Apprehending apprehension

The word apprehend is uncanny.

When I encounter it, I cannot fully comprehend what it means, in a way that makes me mildly anxious.

When I comprehend an idea, I am able to wrap my mind around it, conceptualize it as a complex whole, explain it to others and use it. Not so with the idea of apprehension. I can only touch it with my mind, not grasp it. It feels like trying to pick up a basketball by my fingernails.

My topological intuition suggests that I try some russian-reversal style eversions. Perhaps in apprehension the normal subject-object relationship is flipped. a) What I comprehend “belongs” to me as a fully-contained part of me. Apprehension is not mine in this way, and I might very well exist within it, as a mere part, or participant, not privy to the containing whole. b) I do not comprehend apprehension, but those incomprehensible beings I know only through apprehension might comprehend me.

These everted-comprehension relationships are identical with the relationship I have with reality that transcends my own existence. As I unceasingly try to comprehend this reality, with increasing recognition of the futility of the goal but the value in the action, reality hands me consolation prizes of new concepts and new modes of understanding. (I am reminded of a t-shirt design I’ve been laughing about for the last 30 years where a bulky weightlifter exclaims “I will not rest while gravity threatens my people.”)

However much we comprehend truths about reality, what is comprehended are mere intentional objects, not the realities themselves (“extensional objects”?). The realities are only apprehended. The anxiety we feel in the discrepancy between known reality and real reality ought to be called apprehensiveness.

I notice that I feel less apprehensive about the word apprehension. While the objects of apprehension cannot themselves be comprehended, the relationship between a knowing subject and objects of apprehension can, and this consolation prize is not only consoling, but useful.


In the past, when I needed a word for experiencing reality in a non-cognitive way, I used “perceive” (in contrast to “conceive”) or “encounter” (in contrast to “understand”) , but I think “apprehend” (in contrast to “comprehend”) might become my new word of choice.