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For other uses, see Experience (disambiguation).

Experience consists of knowledge of or skill of some thing or some event gained through involvement in or exposure to that thing or event.[1] The history of the word experience aligns it closely with the concept of experiment. For example, the word experience could be used in a statement like: "I have experience in fishing".

The concept of experience generally refers to know-how or procedural knowledge, rather than propositional knowledge: on-the-job training rather than book-learning. Philosophers dub knowledge based on experience "empirical knowledge" or "a posteriori knowledge".

The interrogation of experience has a long tradition in continental philosophy. Experience plays an important role in the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard. The German term Erfahrung, often translated into English as "experience", has a slightly different implication, connoting the coherency of life's experiences.

A person with considerable experience in a specific field can gain a reputation as an expert.

Certain religious traditions (such as types of Buddhism, Surat Shabd Yoga, mysticism and Pentecostalism) and educational paradigms with, for example, the conditioning of military recruit-training (also known as "boot camps"), stress the experiential nature of human epistemology. This stands in contrast to alternatives: traditions of dogma, logic or reasoning. Participants in activities such as tourism, extreme sports and recreational drug-use also tend to stress the importance of experience.

Types of experience[edit]

The word "experience" may refer, somewhat ambiguously, both to mentally unprocessed immediately perceived events as well as to the purported wisdom gained in subsequent reflection on those events or interpretation of them.

Some wisdom-experience accumulates over a period of time,[2] though one can also experience (and gain general wisdom-experience from) a single specific momentary event.

One may also differentiate between (for example) physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, vicarious and virtual experience(s).

Physical experience[edit]

Main article: Physical Property

Physical experience occurs whenever an object or environment changes. [3] In other words, physical experiences relate to observables. They need not involve modal properties nor mental experiences.

Mental experience[edit]

Main article: Mind

Mental experience involves the aspect of intellect and consciousness experienced as combinations of thought, perception, memory, emotion, will[citation needed] and imagination, including all unconscious cognitive processes. The term can refer, by implication, to a thought process. Mental experience and its relation to the physical brain form an area of philosophical debate: some identity theorists originally argued that the identity of brain and mental states held only for a few sensations. Most theorists, however, generalized the view to cover all mental experience.[4]

Mathematicians can exemplify cumulative mental experience in the approaches and skills with which they work. Mathematical realism, like realism in general, holds that mathematical entities exist independently of the human mind. Thus humans do not invent mathematics, but rather discover and experience it, and any other intelligent beings in the universe would presumably do the same. This point of view regards only one sort of mathematics as discoverable; it sees triangles, right angles, and curves, for example, as real entities, not just the creations of the human mind. Some working mathematicians have espoused mathematical realism as they see themselves experiencing naturally-occurring objects. Examples include Paul Erdős and Kurt Gödel. Gödel believed in an objective mathematical reality that could be perceived in a manner analogous to sense perception. Certain principles (for example: for any two objects, there is a collection of objects consisting of precisely those two objects) could be directly seen to be true, but some conjectures, like the continuum hypothesis, might prove undecidable just on the basis of such principles. Gödel suggested that quasi-empirical methodology such as experience could provide sufficient evidence to be able to reasonably assume such a conjecture. With experience, there are distinctions depending on what sort of existence one takes mathematical entities to have, and how we know about them.[citation needed]

Emotional experience[edit]

Main article: Emotion

Humans can rationalize falling in (and out) of love as "emotional experience". Societies which lack institutional arranged marriages can call on emotional experience in individuals to influence mate-selection.[5] The concept of emotional experience also appears in the notion of empathy.

Spiritual experience[edit]

Main article: Religious experience

Newberg and Newberg provide a view on spiritual experience.[6]

Religious experience[edit]

Main article: Religious experience

Mystics can describe their visions as "spiritual experiences". However, psychology and neuropsychology[7] may explain the same experiences in terms of altered states of consciousness, which may come about accidentally through (for example) very high fever, infections such as meningitis, sleep deprivation, fasting, oxygen deprivation, nitrogen narcosis (deep diving), psychosis, temporal-lobe epilepsy, or a traumatic accident. People can likewise achieve such experiences more deliberately through recognized mystical practices such as sensory deprivation or mind-control techniques, hypnosis, meditation, prayer, or mystical disciplines such as mantra meditation, yoga, Sufism, dream yoga, or surat shabda yoga. Some "primitive religions" encourage spiritual experiences through the ingestion of psychoactive drugs such as alcohol and opiates, but more commonly with entheogenic plants and substances such as cannabis, salvia divinorum, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, DXM, ayahuasca, or datura. Another way to induce spiritual experience through an altered state of consciousness involves psychoacoustics, binaural beats, or light-and-sound stimulation.

Social Experience[edit]

Main article: Socialization

Growing up and living within a society can foster the development and observation of social experience.[8] Social experience provides individuals with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own societies, as a society itself is formed[citation needed] through a plurality of shared experiences forming norms, customs, values, traditions, social roles, symbols and languages.

Virtual experience and simulation gaming[edit]

Main articles: Virtual Reality and Simulation Game

Using computer simulations can enable a person or groups of persons to have virtual experiences in virtual reality.[9] Role-playing games treat "experience" (and its acquisition) as an important, measurable, and valuable commodity. Many role-playing video games, for instance, feature units of measurement used to quantify or assist a player-character's progression through the game - called experience points or xp.

Immediacy of experience[edit]

Someone able to recount an event they witnessed or took part in has "first hand experience". First hand experience of the "you had to be there" variety can seem especially valuable and privileged, but it often remains potentially subject to errors in sense-perception and in personal interpretation.

Second-hand experience can offer richer resources: recorded and/or summarised from first-hand observers or experiencers or from instruments, and potentially expressing multiple points of view.

Third-hand experience, based on indirect and possibly unreliable rumour or hearsay, can (even given reliable accounts) potentially stray perilously close to blind honouring of authority.

Subjective experience[edit]

Subjective experience can involve a state of individual subjectivity, perception on which one builds one's own state of reality; a reality based on one’s interaction with one's environment. The subjective experience depends on one’s individual ability to process data, to store and internalize it. For example: our senses collect data, which we then process according to biological programming (genetics), neurological network-relationships and other variables such as relativity[disambiguation needed] etc.,[clarification needed] all of which affect our individual experience of any given situation in such a way as to render it subjective.

Works about experience[edit]

Contexts of experience[edit]

Experience plays an important role in experiential groups.[10]

Changes in experience through history[edit]

Some post-modernists suggest that the nature of human experiencing (quite apart from the details of the experienced surrounds) has undergone qualitative change during transition from the pre-modern through the modern to the post-modern.[11]

Alternatives to experience[edit]

Immanuel Kant contrasted experience with reason:

"Nothing, indeed, can be more harmful or more unworthy of the philosopher, than the vulgar appeal to so-called experience. Such experience would never have existed at all, if at the proper time, those institutions had been established in accordance with ideas."[12]


The American author Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay entitled "Experience" (published in 1844), in which he asks readers to disregard emotions that could alienate them from the divine; it provides a somewhat pessimistic representation of the Transcendentalism associated with Emerson.


In 2005 the art group Monochrom organized a series of happenings that ironically took up the implications of the term "experience": Experience the Experience.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Compare various contemporary definitions given in the OED (2nd edition, 1989): "[...] 3. The actual observation of facts or events, considered as a source of knowledge.[...] 4. a. The fact of being consciously the subject of a state or condition, or of being consciously affected by an event. [...] b. In religious use: A state of mind or feeling forming part of the inner religious life; the mental history (of a person) with regard to religious emotion. [...] 6. What has been experienced; the events that have taken place within the knowledge of an individual, a community, mankind at large, either during a particular period or generally. [...] 7. a. Knowledge resulting from actual observation or from what one has undergone. [...] 8. The state of having been occupied in any department of study or practice, in affairs generally, or in the intercourse of life; the extent to which, or the length of time during which, one has been so occupied; the aptitudes, skill, judgement, etc. thereby acquired."
  2. ^ Note for example Levitt, Heidi M. (1999). "The Development of Wisdom: An Analysis of Tibetan Buddhist Experience". Journal of Humanistic Psychology 39 (2): 86–105. doi:10.1177/0022167899392006. Retrieved 2010-01-21. "Instead of significant events, however, they spoke of gradual experiences, such as learning through teachings day by day." 
  3. ^ Compare: Popper, Karl R.; Eccles, John C. (1977). The self and its brain. Berlin: Springer International. p. 425. ISBN 3-540-08307-3. "You would agree, I think, that in our experience of the world everything comes to us through the senses [...]" 
  4. ^ Christensen, Scott M.; Turner, Dale R. (1993). Folk psychology and the philosophy of mind. Routledge. p. xxi. ISBN 978-0-8058-0931-2. Retrieved 2009-12-01. "Some identity theorists originally argued that the identity of brain and mental states held only for a few sensations. Most theorists, however, generalized the view to cover all mental experience." 
  5. ^ Kim, Jungsik; Elaine Hatfield (2004). "Love types and subjective well-being: a cross-cultural study" (PDF). Social Behavior and Personality (Society for Personality Research) 32 (2): 173–182. doi:10.2224/sbp.2004.32.2.173. Retrieved 2009-12-01. "Evolutionary theory theorizes that love is just one of the emotional experiences which have been selected during the evolution process since it has helped humans find mates for reproduction [...]" 
  6. ^ Newberg, Andrew B.; Newberg, Stephanie K. (2005), "The Neuropsychology of Religious and Spiritual Experience", in Paloutzian, Raymond F.; Park, Crystal L., Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality, New York: Guilford Press, pp. 199–215, ISBN 978-1-57230-922-7 
  7. ^ Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality, New York: Guilford Press, pp. 199–215, ISBN 978-1-57230-922-7 
  8. ^ Compare: Blumin, Stuart M. (1989). The emergence of the middle class: social experience in the American city, 1760-1900. Interdisciplinary perspectives on modern history. Cambridge University Press. p. 434. ISBN 978-0-521-37612-9. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  9. ^ Compare: Popper, Karl R.; Eccles, John C. (1977). The self and its brain. Berlin: Springer International. p. 401. ISBN 3-540-08307-3. "With the advent of computers, simulations can be done to provide for virtual reality [...]" 
  10. ^ Brown, Nina W. (2003) [1998]. Psychoeducational groups: process and practice (2 ed.). Routledge. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-415-94602-5. Retrieved 2010-03-06. "Experiential group activities can be effective parts of psychoeducational groups." 
  11. ^ Compare: Nowotny, Helga; Plaice, Neville (1996). Time: The Modern and Postmodern Experience. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 192. ISBN 978-0-7456-1837-1. Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  12. ^ Kant, Immanuel (1781). "Book 1, Section 1". The Critique of Pure Reason. 

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