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To grok (pronounced /ˈgrɒk/) is to share the same reality or line of thinking with another physical or conceptual entity. Author Robert A. Heinlein coined the term in his best-selling 1961 book Stranger in a Strange Land. In Heinlein's view of quantum theory, grokking is the intermingling of intelligence that necessarily affects both the observer and the observed.

From the novel:

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 (because of our Earthly assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines grok as "to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with" and "to empathize or communicate sympathetically (with); also, to experience enjoyment." Other forms of the word include "groks" (present third person singular), "grokked" (past participle) and "grokking" (present participle).

In an ideological context, a grokked concept becomes part of the person who contributes to its evolution by improving the doctrine, perpetuating the myth, espousing the belief, adding detail to the social plan, refining the idea or proofing the theory.


[edit] Etymology

[edit] Stranger in a Strange Land

Robert A. Heinlein originally coined the term grok in his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land as a Martian word that could not be defined in earthling terms, but can be associated with various literal meanings such as "water", "to drink", "life", or "to live", and had a much more profound figurative meaning that is hard for Earthlings to understand because of our assumption of a singular reality.

According to the book, drinking is a central focus on Mars where water is scarce. Martians use the merging of their bodies with water as a simple example or symbol of how two entities can combine to create a new reality greater than the sum of its parts. The water becomes part of the drinker, and the drinker part of the water. Both grok each other. Things that once had separate realities become entangled in the same experiences, goals, history, and purpose. Within the book, the statement of divine immanence verbalized between the main characters, "Thou Art God", is logically derived from the concept inherent in the term grok.

Heinlein describes Martian words as "guttural" and "jarring". Martian speech is described as sounding "like a bullfrog fighting a cat". Accordingly, grok is generally pronounced as a guttural "gr" terminated by a sharp "k" with very little or no vowel sound (a narrow IPA transcription might be [ɡɹ̩kʰ]).

[edit] Adoption and modern usage

[edit] In counterculture

Tom Wolfe, in his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, describes a character's thoughts during an acid trip: "He looks down, two bare legs, a torso rising up at him and like he is just noticing them for the first time... he has never seen any of this flesh before, this stranger. He groks over that...."

Contemporary spiritual teacher Ram Dass, in Be Here Now, quotes a large passage from Stranger about the word.

Numerous examples of its use in the late 1960s appear, including in Playboy and The New Yorker.

The word is also used in passing in The Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, and frequently by Wilson in his other work.

According to Ed Sanders' book The Family, convicted murderer Charles Manson was a fan of Heinlein and Stranger and adopted many of the terms associated with both including "grok" and "thou art God".[1]

[edit] In science fiction

A popular t-shirt and bumper sticker slogan for Trekkies, seen as early as 1968, was I grok Spock (often showing the Star Trek character using the Vulcan salute). Other science fiction authors, such as David Brin or Greg Cox, have borrowed the term over the years as an homage.

[edit] In hacker culture

Uses of the word in the decades after the 1960s are more concentrated in computer culture, such as a 1984 appearance in InfoWorld: "There isn't any software! Only different internal states of hardware. It's all hardware! It's a shame programmers don't grok that better."

The Jargon File, which describes itself as a "Hacker's Dictionary" and has thrice been published under that name, puts grok in a programming context:

When you claim to ‘grok’ some knowledge or technique, you are asserting that you have not merely learned it in a detached instrumental way but that it has become part of you, part of your identity. For example, to say that you “know” Lisp is simply to assert that you can code in it if necessary — but to say you “grok” LISP is to claim that you have deeply entered the world-view and spirit of the language, with the implication that it has transformed your view of programming. Contrast zen, which is a similar supernatural understanding experienced as a single brief flash.

The entry existed in the very earliest forms of the Jargon File, dating from the early 1980s. A typical tech usage from the Linux Bible, 2005 characterizes the Unix software development philosophy as "one that can make your life a lot simpler once you grok the idea".

The book Perl Best Practices defines "grok" as understanding a portion of computer code in a profound way. It goes on to suggest that to "re-grok" code is to re-load the intricacies of that portion of code into one's memory after some time has passed and all the details of it are no longer remembered. In that sense, to "grok" means to load everything into memory for immediate use. It is analogous to the way a processor caches memory for short term use, but the only implication by this reference was that it was something that a human (or maybe a martian) would do.

[edit] Mainstream usage

In their book The Fourth Turning, William Strauss and Neil Howe write of 1996 Presidential candidate Bob Dole as "not a person who could grok values in the now-dominant Boomer tongue".

Groklaw is a website with information on legal matters, usually of an IT nature.

GrokCode is a website covering computer programming and software development.

Grok is a web application framework, written in the Python programming language and based on Zope 3.

In a 1987 Life In Hell strip titled "What I Learned In School", a character representing "The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening is depicted being dressed down by an unseen "hip" college professor: "Mr. Gru-nink, I'm getting bad vibes from you. The rest of the class groks what is going on -- why can't you?"

Songwriter Stephin Merritt uses the word "grok" in the song "Swinging London", from the 1994 Magnetic Fields album "Holiday" - "you couldn't grok my race car but you dug the roadside blur".

Groks Science Radio Show and Podcast is a science program that uses the term in their name.

The name of a commercial federated search engine, grokker.

In an episode of the television show "Silver Spoons" in 1985, Rickie calls chatting on a BBS "grokking".

In The Police song "Friends," lyrics state that the singer will "grok your essence."

In the straight-to-DVD Futurama outing Into the Wild Green Yonder Number 9 of the Legion of Madfellows says their group has "been grokking some super weird junk" from the life force Ch'i. The Legion of Madfellows are a group of (crazy, homeless) mindreaders that defend the universe.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Ed Sanders (2002). The Family. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN ISBN 1-56025-396-7. 

[edit] External links

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